Autistic: Living Life on the Spectrum #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day one in the #AtoZChallenge, in which I’ll share a collection of miscellaneous musings. For my first post, I’d like to talk about a topic people who used to follow my A to Z posts on my old blog, are thoroughly familiar with, since I chose it for my theme in 2015 and 2017: autism.

I was first diagnosed with autism at the age of 20 in March of 2007. The clinician who diagnosed me, didn’t give me an Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis, like my support staff at the time had wanted. I didn’t care, as I at the time already didn’t subscribe to the rigid subtypes of autism, be it Asperger’s, PDD-NOS or classic autism, or high-functioning and low-functioning autism for that matter. I believe autism is a spectrum condition presenting differently in every affected person.

Later, in December of 2007, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s after all. This remained my diagnosis, along with a few mental health conditions, until the summer of 2016. Then, my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis got taken away. The psychologist who changed my diagnosis, claimed that my premature birth and the brain bleed I suffered as an infant, preclude an autism diagnosis. As if those genetically wired to be autistic are somehow exempt from being born prematurely or suffering brain bleeds. I know that, because the exact cause of autism is still unknown, it may be hard to differentiate autism from the mental effects of brain injury. However, since said psychologist couldn’t diagnose me with acquired brain injury either, because I sustained the brain bleed before age one, I ended up with no diagnosis at all that could explain my social cognitive differences.

I sought an independent second opinion and, on May 1, 2017, was rediagnosed with autism spectrum disorder under DSM-5. I am diagnosed with level 1 ASD, which is the mildest kind. I am pretty sure that, if the psychologist had taken the opportunity to assess me in a more natural environment, I’d be diagnosed as level 2.

Autism is still diagnosed based on the presence of social communicative difficulties and repetitive behaviors and interests. As of the release of DSM-5 in 2013, sensory issues are finally part of the diagnostic criteria. In my opinion, they aren’t given nearly the amount of attention they deserve. Neither are executive functioning difficulties. This is a term which describes organizational skills. I scored high for ADHD on the initial screening tool, but couldn’t be further assessed for it. Though I’m pretty sure I have some ADHD-inattentive traits, they could just as easily be part of my autism.

Autism, like I said, presents with social communicative differences. These include, in my case, difficulty making and keeping friends, difficulty interpreting non-literal language and tone of voice. Of course, because I am blind, I cannot read body language. My conversations also tend to be one-sided, in which I’m either the listener or the talker.

The other criterion of autism is the presence of repetitive behaviors and interests. I engage in near-constant stereotypical, self-stimulatory movements (or “stimming”). My language can also be repetitive, but this is particularly clear when I’m overloaded. As for special interests, I don’t have a lifelong obsession, like Temple Grandin does with animal behavior. Rather, my interests, though they change often, can be obsessive in intensity and focus. For example, I used to have an obsession with calendar calculation (calculating what day of the week a certain date falls on).

My main autistic trait though is overload. This is also a common brain injury symptom. In that sense, I’m doubly blessed.. I tend to be both sensorially and cognitively very easily overloaded. This then causes me to stim more, use echolalia (repeat other people’s words) and may lead to meltdowns or shutdowns.

Something interesting about overload is that it rarely occurs when I’m engaging with my special interests. This may make you think I’m just lazy, but I’m not. For one thing, my special interests involve little offline interaction. For another, they are my special interests because I’m good at them.

I hope that through this post, you’ve gotten a little glimpse into my life with autism and learned something new. For those not aware, April is autism awareness month. I encourage you to read other blogs by autistic people. You will find that most have a kind of difficult relationship with autism awareness month. I, like them, prefer autism acceptance.