I Have Autism

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Growing Up

Like many people of my generation, I grew up odd. I wasn’t like other children. In some cases I was smarter and more direct than the adults around me, and in other cases I was completely and hopelessly immature. It didn’t help I was born with a baby face. Yet, my oddities weren’t ever enough to make me really stand out from the crowd and I matriculated through the education system with my peers. Sort of.

As a child of the 1970’s and 1980’s, I was raised at a time when people weren’t looking for autism or spectrum disorders and because Leo Kanner decided that autism, as a disorder, was both rare and always extreme, my area of the spectrum remained un-realized until I was already an adult. By that time, diagnosing me as a means of helping me to improve or to cope with the world around me had no purpose and I moved into adult life much as I went through childhood, different and unaware.

Being An Adult

As an adult, I almost immediately left home for a two-year commitment after which my unrealized autism led me to a period of solitude driving semis, which led to a series of job changes, entry into the IT and tech industry, and lots of moving around. In short, I followed the trends I saw all around me, I followed the money, and ignored the parts of my personality that led me to periodic and predictable job hopping and living alone.

However, one of the conditions of being an adult meant that I had to pay bills and date and go to school and find a career and have a family and become self-sufficient. Exciting, I’m sure. Which is exactly what my dad told me late one night when he chose to review (think horrible movie review) my life with me and everything I was doing wrong. The reality is, I wasn’t doing things wrong, specifically, but I also wasn’t doing what was expected of me by both the community and my parents.

Running Away

Which led me to effectively run away from where I was living, my parents and siblings, and what had become the de facto state of my life. Except, instead of packing up my Jeep and driving across the country until I either ran out of money or my vehicle broke down (and yes, this was the original plan) I made a plan to move and executed the plan, which took me to New Hampshire, which - itself - was totally awesome. For, like, fifteen months. I needed to prove, at least to myself, that I could survive without the de facto safety net of my parents and siblings and I think I sort of did.

Then I decided it was finally time to go back to college and do the college thing and finally get the degree everyone, everyone, EVERYONE told me I needed to be recession proof in terms of keeping a full-time job (liars). At which point my sense of economics kicked in and I realized I could follow prestige or affordability and I went with affordability and moved back west to finish my undergraduate.

School and Marriage

I started my full-time undergraduate study in January 2006 and finished it in December 2008. In between, I went ahead and followed my pig-headed goal of getting a Bachelor of Arts in English and because of various constraints I decided to forego a minor in anything (at one point it was going to be Information Technology in the Humanities). Moy first undergraduate job was as a research assistant for an associate dean and professor of education, but we had a falling out over No Child Left Behind and I moved on.

However, by the start of the fall semester, I took (at the advice of a professor-friend) a philosophy class on Moral Storytelling where I sat opposite Erin. As the class and projects progressed, we migrated toward each other (outside of class) and ended up dating, getting engaged, and marrying. I even flew to Massachusetts to meet her parents and brother. Eight months later, too long of an engagement according to my dad and the community we were in, we got married and a year later we had a baby. Three months later, I moved Erin and Cy across the country.

More School and Bad Stuff

At about this point we found that getting a job was nigh impossible (at least, a job that worked with my degree or experience) and it seemed, to us, that the world had effectively shut down to hiring. This was the beginning of what’s become known as “The Great Recession” and as a response to lack of work and a need to keep moving forward, I started a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program.

It was around this point that my moodiness, growing dissatisfaction with how life had turned out, and the needs of my little family started to really weigh me down. On top of this, I’d worked as an overnight stocker, in a call center, and in loss prevention (none of these were at all interesting or stimulating and all resulted in emotional and psychological beat downs).

Because there was also a world outside, Erin and I were going to a wedding, a planned weekend that was meant to be romantical (for us) that ended up beginning one of the worst periods of my life in terms of depression and anxiety and my marriage. On the one hand, I needed to feel as though I was doing something, on the other I was losing my ability to handle the world around me. Something had to give and while part of what changed was medication for depression, the reality was I had bigger and far more complex problems than just depression. We needed answers.

Realizations and Diagnosis

Time passed and as things go the world (or my perception of the world) started to change. I completed my MFA and Erin was working on her Masters in Education. She’d taken a class in common childhood disorders and on a couple different occasions suggested I look into Aspergers. I did and discounted a lot of the things I read because I didn’t see them as applying to me. Then I started reading about autism and its many flavors and realized that I needed to really figure out what was wrong with me.

I went in search of help and started seeing a counselor who helped me through the process of getting diagnosed. This included having things from my past weeded out as possible psychological or cognitive causes for what I was exhibiting. In effect, a chicken and egg scenarion: did I go through some experiences in life because I have autism; or do I present autism-life characteristics because I went through some things in my life.

Then there were tests. Lots and lots of tests, which resulted in a diagnosis of autism. However, about a year before that I’d decided I was willing to accept I was possibly autistic and that it made sense to at least read about and begin functioning under that assumption. There was sufficient evidence to support the hypothesis. Besides, regardless of the cause of my problems, the solution (occupational therapy) was the same.

On the day of the results, Erin went with me to the neuropsychiatrists office and as the Doctor went through the tests and told us what the results were, she finally said I was on the autism spectrum and would be somewhere in the Aspergers range, though she declined and I agreed to have a specific Aspergers diagnosis as the DSM 5 was doing away with Aspergers.

This was the loneliest and hardest day of my life. Until I was told I had autism, there was a possibility that I could someday learn to recognize emotions and emotional queues, that my cognitive delay in areas of humor or emotion or personal interaction would be less and less of a problem. I was under the misapprehension of Schrödinger’s Cat where there is no way of knowing if the cat is alive or dead and is therefore both alive and dead because of uncertainty. I was neurotypical and autistic simply because there was no definitive proof in either direction. Foolish me.

When reality settled in there was no way to share it with someone else, no means of allowing Erin or my parents or her parents in on my pain. I was alone. Rather painfully alone.

Today and Beyond

After the diagnosis and the initial depression and rejection, I realized that I have to learn more and be better at what I do. This is a massive shift and has led me down a variety of paths.

One of the blessings of autism has been releasing myself from worrying about whether or not I get along with people or if they even like me. I get to be myself and ask that people help me. Another blessing has been an open and ongoing dialogue between Erin and me where we try hard to overcome some of the disparities that exist between us both in terms of XX and XY, in terms of opinion, and in terms of Nuerotypical and Autism. We, together, decided to not hide my autism and to be there for other people.

I’ve been able to explore interests in terms of what I really like and enjoy and have found that I like and love things that were never a part of my life before New England. I’ve also come to realize that I have a passion for teaching, which is only further helped by my constant need to make sure I’m not offending people and that I’m doing what I can (within reason) to help accomodate for others.

Most importantly, I’ve been willing to be there for friends, family, and the community when it comes to autism and helping others with the disorder, understanding, and growing.