Have You Ever Heard of Adult Autism? Me Neither, Until…

When I was a high school computer lab technician and Business teacher, my lab was situated directly across from the Special Education classrooms. These classes were reserved for those students who could not be successfully integrated into the regular classroom. There was one particular student I distinctly remember, although I got to know quite a few of them. I will use the alias of Brent, to protect the child and the family.

Brent was a healthy-sized twenty-one year old student, who was at the age where he had to be transitioned into society, and taught the necessary skills he needed to survive on his own. But Brent was not functionally able to be transitioned. You see he lives on one end of ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder – which means he is not able to integrate into society on his own. Brent had no language skills, and he spent most of his time in the hall outside of my classroom.

That was because he was sensitive to sound. He couldn’t stand being in the classroom because the noise was too much for him and it would cause him to become agitated, which resulted in repetitive behaviors, like rocking by himself in a corner. He had no means of communication. I’m not even sure he was cognitively aware of what communication is and what purpose it serves, socially.

In a prior position, at another high school, I was introduced to Aspergers Syndrome, which was once considered a diagnosis separate from Autism. But due to changes in how Autism was diagnosed in 1996, Aspergers was moved under ASD. Autism is a disorder of the brain’s neural system. The medical community believes this can be caused environmentally or genetically. So someone with ASD is considered to be neuro atypical. Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein are said to have had Aspergers Syndrome, a form of ASD.

I began to wonder what characteristics someone with Aspergers has, so I did some research and this is what I found. It  considered a high-functioning form of ASD. And because ASD is a spectrum disorder, there is no specific pattern of behavior that defines whether any particular individual has ASD. There is a US Senator, who proudly tells his constituents that he has ASD, without reservation. He says that’s because if he didn’t have the “disorder”, he wouldn’t be the man he is today.

Some of the characteristics associated with ASD include an inability to read nonverbal cues, such as the wincing of the eyes in disapproval, or folding of the arms to signify resistance. An inability to maintain eye contact, stoicism, and the incapacity to understand why others feel the way they do, which often causes misdiagnosis of the disorder.

But because not everyone exhibits these traits, there are others that can be considered. Like,  possessing a rich vocabulary at a young age, then losing it later.  The ability to pay close attention to detail, and spatial challenges that cause clumsiness. And, as I mentioned with Brent, a sensitivity to sound. You can almost pick that person out in a crowd because they are usually isolate, and appear socially awkward. At the dinner table, they are the last ones to get the joke.

Suddenly, this sounded familiar. I always knew my brain worked differently than others. So I found a test online, one that is used to medically diagnose the disorder, and took it. Out of 50 points, I scored 43, meaning I have a high probability of having ASD.

Suddenly everything in my life made sense. At the age of six, I was the smartest student in my first grade class, but it took me longer than the rest to learn the difference between left and right. To this day I struggle when people give me directions using points on the directional compass, like north and south. Like others who have abilities and lose them, I once had a photographic memory that went away around the age of twelve. And as my brain wave patterns change with age, I am acquiring new numeric abilities I never experienced before. Another characteristic of the disorder.

I have no desire, at this time, to get a medical diagnosis because I have lived this long with ASD, if that is indeed what I have. Just like others I have met, who were not diagnosed until adulthood, over time I have learned to adapt to my challenges, never knowing they were challenges. There is a new form of therapy, stem cell therapy, that some say has proven successful in treating the disorder, but that is something I would never consider. I’m happy with who I am, and I don’t want to risk changing those positive traits that make me me.

 

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