Adult Autism Or Not?
Autism first came into my life when my older daughter was at nursery. I had never felt that there was any difference in her behaviour to other children, however I suppose I never saw other children to make a comparison. I never went to the playgroups and mum's coffee mornings that other mums like to attend. I couldn't think of anything more boring I suppose than chit chat and light conversation. To me that was and is normal. My daughter (aged 3 at the time) hated nursery school. She would scream and hold onto me as I left with her baby sister. I hoped it would all settle down but it didn't. It got worse and finally I was kept back after nursery collection time to discuss my daughter's behaviour. This was the first time I had heard autism being described as a concern. The lack of eye contact, no conversation (although her vocabulary was good but backwards/forwards conversation wasn't happening) and constant state of anxiety were the main red flags. At the time I blamed the nursery for not helping my daughter settle. Problems came up again when she started full time school at the age of 5. By this time things could not be ignored and the anxiety, sing song way of speaking, echolalia (and palilalia - see http://www.ahaparenting.com/ask-the-doctor-1/palilalia-child-whispers-and-repeats-under-his-breath ) were indicating that maybe the nursery school were after all right. Getting a diagnosis for autism was extremely easy which surprised me because I'd read so many horror stories about getting a diagnosis. The final diagnosis was high functioning autism. For an overview of autism http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/autism-symptoms
By this stage I had become very aware of the condition not just my daughter but in myself. Some evidence indicates that it is inherited although this isn't completely proven. I saw some of my daughter's behaviour in me. I haven't gone down the route of diagnosis partly because I can't see how it would help (or maybe I'm wrong). Anyway, the following points have got me thinking about whether I would be regarded as an adult with high functioning autism or not:
Very long memory. I can remember events in my life from when I was 1 year of age. I have always wondered why I can remember that far back and generally people try to pass it off by saying that I am looking at photos from my childhood that kid me into thinking I can remember that far back. The problem with this argument is that most of my memories don't have photos to back them up. Often I will remind my mum of things that happened back when I was 1 or the typical route that we took from my nursery back home. I lived by the sea until I was two and then moved up to the North of England. I can vividly remember the sea, the people, where I lived, my nursery and some of the conversations I had with my mum, her friends and children at nursery.
Feeling different. Even before 2 years of age I felt different. I remember retreating into my own world. This lead to the nursery workers becoming concerned that I was mentally retarded. When I was 3 they referred a social worker to me who did various tests to see if I was indeed mentally retarded. In the 1970s, autism was known about but not that well especially in schools and nurseries. Things have changed radically since then. I've heard of other adults who has official autism diagnosis who say that early in life carers or teachers have referred them to be checked for mental slowness. I asked my mum why they thought that about me and her answer was that I spent most of my time in my own world rather than interacting all the time with other children.
Funny habits. I won't name them all (too embarrassing) however having unusual habits (clearing throat, twirling hair) have been part of my life for as long as I can remember.
Unusual speech. I was laughed at when I was in primary school because of the way I talked. The other children said that I spoke slowly and in a monotone way (I know this because they did impressions of the way I spoke). I don't think I'm as monotone now (not that I've asked anyone) and I don't speak slowly anymore, but I obviously did when I was younger.
Intense interests. When I get into something it becomes my life and I basically know everything there is to know about it. I then 'need' to share this passion with everyone else. I've realised since my reading about autism that maybe people aren't that interested in what I love and that has 'taught' me to say less about my interests to other people, although sometimes I still can't help myself.
Clear sense of justice/right and wrong. I hate injustice. I have found myself ranting (yes ranting) about the latest injustice in the world. I used to do this with casual acquaintances however since my reading about autism I try to keep the rants for close family members. I still have to rant though, some things are too unfair and need to be discussed (although maybe the listener may not feel as passionately as I do).
Social ineptitude. As a child this was forgiven and I was seen as the eccentric kid who lived in their own very vivid world. As I've gotten older this has become much more of an issue. I couldn't really cope with the change from school to 6th form college when I was 16. All the new routines, people and trying to make new friends. I remember retreating into myself and sitting in the common room by myself daydreaming. On one occasion the stress was so bad I had a panic attack on the train into college. This only stopped when other students invited me into their groups. During this time some of the people I met told me I took myself too seriously (never thought I did), that I didn't have enough friends, that I was selfish because I liked to spend too much time alone, that I did not fit in (got kicked out of a rock band based on that reason). I spent 4 years at university studying for my BA and MA. At the end I had made 2 friends. University was hell at the beginning and I really felt that I couldn't cope. I had to get a friend to help me borrow library books, figure out the photocopying machine etc. I couldn't do it myself at first.
This has developed over the years and interfered with how I get on with people at work. I once had a supervisor tell me that she had never met anyone like me, that I was aloof, that I did not sit with my colleagues enough etc. This has happened at more than one place of work which explains why I now work from home (and much much happier for it). I can spend days and weeks (if given the chance) to be in my own world without having to bother with anyone (and their judgements). Life is art in the day, intensively working on my latest picture which I feel is a better mouthpiece than anything else for me, the evening is family. I work none stop on paid self employment for several months of the year which frees me up to do my art. I am so much happier not having to work with anyone. The downside is the school playground and other parents. I wait for my children to come out of school by myself surrounded by gossiping parents. I have one parent who talks to me now and again although I find it quite a challenge to maintain conversation (and in many ways would really just like to sit by myself). Sometimes I feel like I would like to be accepted by the other parents but that would mean learning the small talk and the social rules that go with it. I don't want to know about what they do with their kids, their after school clubs. Maybe I'm selfish or maybe I just like conversation about something rather than small talk. Thing is that most people seem to love the small talk and I don't get it. Often I switch off and can't keep up with it. It's like white noise. After social events such as family parties I have to spend time along to recharge. Even at an event or a family holiday spent with lots of people I need time out in my room for at least a couple of hours. Social ineptitude is definitely something that doesn't improve with age. I think it is more noticeable.
Finally, I sat watching television in 2010 and there was an investigation into adult Asperger/autism. At the end it gave details of a preliminary test that one could take online. I took it as a bit of light hearted fun. The criteria for autism was a score above 32, I scored 35. I have redone the test over the years and the score is never below 35. For the autism test http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html
So that is an overview of some of my thoughts (though not all) about where I might stand as a possible adult with autism.
Further reading about autism