Living on the Autism Spectrum: Diagnosis
Diagnosis: The Autism Spectrum
Living on the Autism Spectrum and finally getting a diagnosis in my 30’s was a great relief! I was not crazy after all, and now, I had a new set of goals for dealing with the diagnosis! Happy days! The sense of relief over this definitive explanation felt like a big weight gone off my shoulders. I had a new lease on life and a reason to get up each morning. Let the sun shine in!
Diagnosis: Some Background
I was always the slow one to catch on: in conversations, in activities, and more. I was slow at understanding others. I seemed to have no filter, no empathy and never knew what I should be saying or doing in social situations – no, any situation. Not really understanding that I was different, I just knew that I did not get the kind of feedback I expected. And when I began dating I really screwed things up! I missed every clue there was so you can imagine how complicated that made things – nothing ever turned out the way I expected it to. And, to make matters worse, my high school guidance counselor diagnosed me as having a mechanical mind, not smart enough to be the architect of my dreams, but an actual car mechanic! But let me jump ahead to the diagnosis.
I was studying (for the second time, having failed before) to earn a Realtor’s license requiring twenty plus hours of classroom attendance, tests and a final exam, before I could take the state exam. This was so important I attended and recorded every class, completed all assignments, read the textbook cover to cover. Upon exam day, I did not pass. My instructor suggested I go have lunch, do a quick study and come back to re-take the exam. I did; my score was worse. Once again, he suggested I study some more and come back in two days and retake the exam. I did; my score was worse still. A steady decline; three strikes. I was at my wit’s end, college educated — with an education degree! What was that all about?
Desperate to have an answer I scheduled an appointment to meet with a local vocational rehabilitation counselor, not really knowing what to expect, but open to anything. He listened to my experience, understood completely, and then administered a number of tests – tests like none I had ever taken before. These tests were fun, as opposed to scary. I felt confident, not anxious. The tests had logical questions and I knew the logical answers that my logical mind could figure out using math, engineering and architectural solutions. I passed with flying colors! What did that mean? I had no idea the tests were to give particular results. Yes, you guessed it:thrown in to explain my classroom failures. Finally, an explanation! I was not crazy, lazy, untalented, or incompetent.
I did not learn to read until the second grade, having pretended to do so in the first. I could not master the art of skipping. I had a horrible time memorizing anything. This, unfortunately, was when memorizing and reciting “The Gettysburg Address,” all one hundred counties and county seats, and more, in the front of the classroom ! The horrors! And foreign language? Forget about it! Somehow I managed to get through two years of Spanish before taking German in college. But both were a real struggle for me, neither of which I remember.
My living within the Autism Spectrum has been classic textbook descriptions: poor self-esteem, eating disorders, depression and anxiety attacks going back to age four. I engaged in emotionally abusive relationships. My characteristics intensified in puberty leading to more depression, and thoughts of suicide.
The statistics are alarming:
Ten percent of the population suffers from one or all of Autism Spectrum learning disorders. Ironically, 40% are extremely wealthy and 35% of those are entrepreneurs. After 150 years of research, no cause or definition has been found, but it is to be life-long. It is also not that abnormal for people like myself to be diagnosed with all three disorders with most being inherited and passed along through many generations. Consistent, paid work has been a disaster my whole professional life, but that is another Blog. Needless to say, I’ve had more careers and jobs than anyone can possibly believe, and not for the reasons you’re thinking. Would you believe I have had over 200 jobs since the age of 15?
There is, however, some good things to share with you about living with being on the Autism Spectrum. Thirty-five percent of us are entrepreneurs. Fifty percent of us are engineers. We are picture-thinkers, called “visual learning,” able to see images in three dimensions, even when reading descriptions or looking at pictures. We are able to find new and better ways to do things, again, called being able to see “the bigger picture.” No two people with one or all of these learning differences are the same, making both diagnosis and treatment complicated. Many of us are also vehemently against medication as we feel that any chemicals take away our gift of vision, creativity, and possibly the drama and life issues that are at the basis of some of our best creations. Many of most famous authors have to have one or more learning issue: writing comes naturally with our gift of telling stories. Agatha Christie was one of our most famous mystery writers with learning issues. This makes so much sense because I would draw, do bulletin boards — anything for extra credit during high school.
With no art taught within our rural school system, I was lucky to have had private art instruction from age seven. This one thing probably saved my life in more ways than one, but being a creative person fits with learning differences. We do not fit into the normal world of paid work. Yes, we are very creative and imaginative, often with visions no one else comprehends. Think: Winston Churchill had to have had all important information put on charts so he could better understand them. He was also a writer and painter.. That is why we make good writers — we see things differently, often in patterns.
The Not So Good
Sadly, fifty percent of us with ADD-ADHD-Dyslexia are to be on drugs beyond those prescribed for the conditions. Seventy percent are juvenile delinquents. We have a hard time doing mundane things as shared by successful entrepreneur and founder of JetBlue, David Neeleman. He talks of using his learning differences to find better, more streamlined methods of accomplishing things, but also said he had a difficult time doing mundane things like washing dishes. When we get excited we get hyper-focused, unable to keep track of time, eating, personal hygiene. Think Robin Williams in the “Flubber” movie re-make. Robin, himself a sufferer of learning differences often said “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” Sadly, he also represents the saddest downside to living with learning differences: depression. I cover my own struggles with depression in a later Blog.
Please comment and share with us if any of this story rings true for you. I’m trying to keep this Blog in the first person, because honestly, I think there has been too much written by professionals, parents and partners who try to understand and make assumptions that are not always helpful, at least, not in my case. Living with ADD-ADHD-Dyslexia learning differences is impossible to navigate without a definite diagnosis. Now, more than ever there are specialists, books, learning tools and coping methods that are so beneficial the differences no longer are a burden, but what can make us unique, powerful and successful! Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, and more all learned to adapt and prosper, many while never knowing their differences even existed!
You might also like to hear about some celebrities who have talked frankly about their issues with both ADD and Dyslexia. I especially like the YouTube video about Albert Einstein: “The Extraordinary Genius of Albert Einstein,” a famously a slow learner who became fascinated with physics at age four but called stupid and unteachable!
“Make voyages! — Attempt them! — there’s nothing else . . .”
Recommended Reading: Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee
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