Could You Be Autistic?
I didn’t know I was — until I was 38 years old.
I’ll never forget the evening that I realized I might fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. Before then, I hadn’t the slightest clue. In fact, because I don’t flap my hands, rock back and forth, cover my ears, go mute, or squeal, I never even asked the question. It simply never crossed my mind; it’s kind of like asking yourself “am I a radio?”
When the realization hit me, it struck in gradual, spaced-apart waves.
First there was the two-week period in which I scoured every research article in the medical journal NeuroImage archive, being sure to evaluate my interest in the titles before automatically and gleefully saving them to my laptop’s hard drive.
As I fine-tooth-combed through the various articles in the archive, I noticed titles such as, “Functional connectivity in an fMRI working memory task in high-functioning autism“, “Social stimuli interfere with cognitive control in autism“, “Neural mechanisms of advance preparation in task switching“, “Atypical neural networks for social orienting in autism spectrum disorders“, “Altered cerebellar feedback projections in Asperger syndrome“, and “The anatomy of extended limbic pathways in Asperger syndrome…”.
Certain catch-phrases stuck out at me, such as “task-switching”, “limbic activation”, “sensory gating”, and “cerebellar coordination” in relation to autism spectrum conditions. I seemed to have long-standing issues in all of these areas, too.
Something deep inside began to stir…
Then there was the flashback to a 2013 family reunion when I shared an unusual and instant connection with a distant cousin whom I had just met that seemed a little “off”, in an endearing way. She displayed characteristics that might distract or annoy others, but they never fazed me. In fact, looking back, I realized that those quirks were familiar.
Next, on the evening in question (in 2016), came the realization that all of the above — the traits, the memories, and the head-nodding-in-subconscious-agreement I had done along the way — all seemed to converge within me, at least in some form.
You could almost hear the click of the key in perfect fit with the lock.
Deep in my core, a pilot light lit, and then came the burning desire to investigate, to know.
I started where many start; I googled “autism quiz”. Google did not disappoint. I took several quizzes, scoring strongly in the “autism likely” realm each and every time.
My next step was to Google “female adult autistic blog” to explore the various writings from women on the spectrum.
My jaw hit the floor. Here was a whole wave of women whose posts so eerily mirrored what had I felt, thought, and experienced over the course of my entire life.
Of course, although Google didn’t disappoint, the “traditional” authorities did. Visiting “official” informational resources was like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard.
I was amazed–and devastated–at how, in 2016, with our diagnostic imaging and laboratory capabilities, and our ever-expanding flood of scientific knowledge and discovery, the “authorities” could be so wrong. So out of touch. So backward. So ignorant. So inaccurate. The research on autism and its diagnostic criteria are mostly designed around the obvious characteristics observed in 6-year-old boys.
Where were the girls/women? Where were their voices? Where was their influence?
I’ll tell you.
We’re here. We’ve always been here. The autism spectrum itself is not exactly an “epidemic” in the traditional sense. I don’t think there are necessarily more people on the autism spectrum than there were before.
What has become more “epidemic” is an awakening, a wave of not only awareness, but understanding and realization. Awareness is on the rise; education, acceptance, and respect are following more slowly, but they’re coming.
Actually, the most powerful autism awareness I’m witnessing is occurring within ourselves.
In my experience, there are multitudes of adults, especially women, who may be realizing that they may actually be autistic. This realization may be striking them well into adulthood.
For a moment, I wondered why nobody had picked up on this. I’d been through extensive family counseling with talented therapists. My mother had even earned her Masters degree in Special Education. And yet, I received diagnoses of depression, anxiety, or perhaps attention deficit, if I received a diagnosis at all.
How did I fly under the radar? And how did so many others do the same?
It’s no one’s fault, usually. Maybe we came of age long before Asperger Syndrome was recognized and the criteria for autism had been more accurately refined, and we missed that boat in childhood. (Or, maybe we came of age after Asperger’s was removed, in the United States, from the latest version of the DSM, the DSM-V.)
Or maybe it was someone’s fault. Maybe we were overlooked. Ignored. Misunderstood. Prematurely (and wrongly) labeled. Maybe even written off altogether. Maybe our social awkwardness defaulted to being shy and quiet, something adults prize in little girls. Maybe we were lost in our fantasy worlds with imaginary friends, while everyone else was none the wiser.
But we’ve always been the way we are. We’ve always been (sometimes painfully) aware that we were different from others. We didn’t understand why, and try as we might, we couldn’t change it.
We often found it hard to talk. We found it hard to be understood. We found it hard to understand–ourselves and others. We may have found it impossible to blend in. To be accepted.
We might have figured we were crazy. We may have assumed (or been told) that we were flawed. We might’ve assumed we were defective in some way. We assumed that we were weak or sensitive. We might have blamed ourselves, our parents, our families, our past, our present. Being an autistic type isn’t anybody’s fault, nor is it even a flaw; it’s something that just is. But that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.
The truth is, we’re not wrong. We’re not defective. We’re not immature. We’re not crazy. We’re not emotionless. We’re not robotic.
“Okay” doesn’t mean we have it easy. “Okay” doesn’t mean nothing’s wrong or that we’re not suffering in some way. It doesn’t mean life is rainbow sprinkles and fairy dust.
“Okay” simply means we don’t–and shouldn’t–have to change who we are at the core to satisfy rules we had no say in making. “Okay” means that we should feel free to be who we are, and to be true to ourselves. “Okay” means that we’re real people with feelings, thoughts, desires, dreams, interests, and strengths. “Okay” means that we should be entitled to the same freedom, respect, voice, and validation as any other human being.
There are talents, challenges, and gifts that come with being on the autism spectrum. We need to identify these talents and gifts and embrace the uniqueness.
Up until now, I was relatively silent. I had sat alone with my newfound realization. I didn’t have the urge to “go tell it on the mountain”, but I do have the urge to release.
I wanted to begin contributing to that supply of comforting information and insight. Not only do I have that urge to release, but I also have the urge to share, contribute, and give back to the world at large.
Because I have the feeling that there is a silent wave underway, a wave of females awakening to their neuro-uniqueness and realizing who they are. The effect my experience had on me was akin to watching a flower bloom.
We’re here. We’ve always been here. We do belong. And there are more.