When Life Takes a Sharp Left

A couple weeks ago, I shared something very personal on my newsletter. I often share personal anecdotes and such with my readers, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as open about a personal issue as I was in this newsletter. I found out (albeit unofficially for the moment) that I’m on the autism spectrum. It’s always a shock when someone discovers this as an adult, and I haven’t felt any different about it.

I wanted to share an excerpt. You are welcome to read the full text of that email here.

I’ve known for a very long time that I don’t react to certain things like noise, bright lights, strong smells, social situations, and many other things like other people do. I was picked on as a kid for being “different”, slow to get school work done, distracted, and introverted to an extreme degree. I was prone to meltdowns whenever I felt overwhelmed and couldn’t find the language to explain to anyone why, even into my teenage years.

All my life, I believed others who wrote my issues off as my being overly sensitive, depressed, anxious. Until one day my wife, who spent over a decade as a children’s librarian, asked if I’d ever been assessed for being on the autism spectrum. She’d spent a lot of time working closely with autistic children and their parents, and she saw a lot of parallels between my issues and the issues autistic children experience. Still, I brushed the idea off, even after several friends also suggested I get assessed.

I can’t say what made me so resistant to the idea. Maybe it was the fact I’ve had to adjust my image of who I am so many times throughout my life, and the idea I could be on the spectrum was just one more possible readjustment that I wasn’t ready to deal with. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t until I was on the Carnegie Library’s website looking for a new book to read that I finally started to give in to the idea of getting assessed. Why? The website popped up a banner talking about the Big Library Read, which just happened to be Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic. I literally started laughing out loud when I saw that, at the same time as I couldn’t help feel like the universe was trying to slap me in the face with a sign that I NEEDED to get assessed.

Let me tell you, Michael McCreary’s book is a really great read. I recommend it to everyone on this list, whether you’re interested in learning more about what it means to be autistic from someone on the spectrum (he was diagnosed with Asperberger’s when he was five) or just a good, fun read. The book, it turns out, also changed my life.

I couldn’t help seeing one parallel after another between McCreary’s experiences and mine. So, after I finished reading the book, I went onto Autism Canada’s website and took their Adult Autism Spectrum Disorder screening test. Let’s just say, I scored extremely high, and I recently took a second questionnaire from a different source and got the same result.

It’s always important to get an official assessment if you can. (They’re often expensive if you don’t have healthcare, as well as finding someone who assesses adults can be a challenge, especially here in the US, as I found out.) A friend of mine pointed me to a neuropsychologist she thinks can help me, so as soon as I can get an appointment, I will definitely get the official assessment done.

I’d say, though, that based on the non-official screenings I’ve taken, both from reputable sources, it’s safe to say, yes, I’m on the spectrum. I won’t say I was jumping for joy when I got the results of these questionnaires, but I’m coming around to the idea that I at least have a starting point for understanding why I am how I am, and there’s a strange kind of relief in that.

There are about as many misconceptions about autism as there are about gay people like me, though, so it’s not easy knowing I have to wade through a whole new set of stigmas. I feel like it’s a battle worth fighting. Not just for me, but on behalf of other people.

If you think you’re on the spectrum, you know someone on the spectrum, or you just want to understand autism a little better, I do recommend going to Autism Canada’s site. They have some great resources. I haven’t found as many good, US-based resources. The Autism Self Advocacy Network is also a great resource. It’s run by people actually on the spectrum.

I went on to say that I welcome anyone reaching out to me about their own struggles. Please add any questions or comments to this post as you’d like. I plan to post more about my journey in my newsletters and here on my blog, as well as on my social media accounts. I hope you’ll follow along.