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April 2022 is Autism Awareness Month, it Made Me Realize I May Have Autism

Picture of a child playing an Autism Therapy game.
Autism Therapy Games

When I started researching my article for Autism Awareness Month, I read an article by an autistic author describing her experience that made me realize that I may have Autism or be on the Spectrum too.

This is a very different article than what I set out to write.

I never knew very much about Autism before, except for the misguided beliefs of many who think Autism is caused by vaccines. So when I set out to write this article, I started reading many first-person accounts of people with Autism.

Living With Autism

On Medical News Today, I read, Through my eyes: High functioning autism and this quote really jumped out at me:

This is the pressure of being a high functioning autistic person. I have learned to portray the version of myself that a neurologically undiversified person would accept on a day to day basis, but when I am faced with difficult situations, I become unstuck. Unable to act appropriately, at best, and mute, frozen, or flapping, at worst. It is frustrating for neurotypical folk who know me at my best to try and understand this pressure. I find it just as frustrating.

This illustrates the writer's struggle with trying to fit the role of a neurotypical person, as someone with autism. He wants the same things that other people want, like connection and friendship, but at times finds that social situations are difficult.

Another writer in Good Housekeeping writes What it's Like to Live With Autism as an Adult describes it like this:

A lot of people think of "high-functioning" autism as primarily an impairment of social skills. (By the way, "high-functioning" is a term I hate for many reasons but I'm using it here because it may help you understand.) Yes, I'm quite socially awkward. But my social impairment is minor compared to my sensory challenges.

I'm The Princess and the Pea, come to life. I'm exquisitely sensitive. I have supersonic hearing ( I wear noise-cancelling headphones all day at work, usually blasting white noise to drown out distracting sounds around me so I can focus. I have a hair-trigger startle reflex. If the restaurant menu has too many choices, I have a really hard time focusing on any of them. To button my shirt, I have to close my eyes to block out visual stimuli so I can focus on directing my movements.

When I read this description of Autism, I thought, this is me.

Last night, I was talking to my partner about how, when I get really tired at night, I start to feel physical pain. Being over-tired causes me to start feeling sharp, shooting pains throughout my body.

I have always had a low pain tolerance, and have often been teased about it. That got me thinking. Maybe this strange sensitivity to pain is a sign that I could have Autism. Things hurt me that don't hurt other people. I feel pain more acutely than other people. This can be an Autism symptom.

Autism would also explain my anxiety and depression. It could possibly also be the cause of my PTSD.

Once, my therapist asked me if I was difficult as a child.

She thought maybe that could be a reason why my mother was able to bond with my sister, but not with me. Maybe, I was a difficult child. Different from others.

Autism would explain my childhood shyness, why I take everything literally, don't understand jokes right away, my aphasia (which I was told is an anxiety symptom) and why I have trouble focusing on more than one task at a time.

After calling both my doctor's office and psychologist's office and being told that they weren't able to evaluate me, I took an online quiz.

Here is the message that I got after taking the quiz.

After reading this, I started to do more research, and found this helpful checklist for women who may have Asperger Syndrome or Autism from The Art of Autism.

This is a fairly lengthy checklist, but as I read through it, I identified with almost all of the criteria.

If I do have Autism, it is likely that I was undiagnosed because of other mental health issues such as CPTSD, and because of Masking. According to timmo, "Autistic women and girls are masking to such a degree that they risk late or missed diagnosis. Masking may help socially and professionally in the short term, but may also harm mental health and a person’s sense of self-worth in the process."

The process of masking hides the social deficits often associated with Autism, especially in women.

What is masking? Masking or camouflaging is artificially performing social behavior that is deemed to be more socially acceptable (by neurotypical standards) or hiding behavior that might be viewed as socially unacceptable (1). The motivations for masking autistic traits are largely socially motivated - including avoiding negative social consequences like bullying, as well as increasing connections with others, success at work, and success in relationships. Masking itself consists of a combination of camouflaging and compensation techniques where a person works to control impulses, act ‘neurotypical’, rehearse answers to questions or conversations, and mimic others. In short, masking involves suppressing certain parts of oneself and performing other behaviors. The short- and long-term consequences of masking include exhaustion, negative mental health effects, and a deterioration of one’s sense of self.

Am I Autistic? I don't know the answer. But I will find out. And writing this article has brought me here.

April 2022 is Autism Awareness Month

Autism is often misunderstood, so this is a great time to learn more so that you can be sensitive to those with Autism.

According to the Autism Society, "This April, the Autism Society of America is proud to continue its fourth annual #CelebrateDifferences campaign in honor of Autism Acceptance Month. Everyday, we work to create connections, empowering everyone in the Autism community to live fully. We believe that acceptance is creating a world where everyone in the Autism community is connected to the support they need, when they need it. And by everyone, we mean every unique individual: the implacable, inimitable, and irreplaceable you."

What is Autism?

Autism, formally known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that effects many children and adults worldwide. The cause is still unknown.

According to the Autism Society, "Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), hereafter referred to as Autism (which includes Asperger’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified [PDD-NOS]), is a complex, lifelong developmental condition that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. The Autism experience is different for everyone. It is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is often referred to as a “spectrum condition” that affects people differently and to varying degrees"

The criteria of Autism Spectrum Disorder are clearly laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) for psychologists. According to the CDC the criteria are as follows:

To meet diagnostic criteria for ASD according to DSM-5, a child must have persistent deficits in each of three areas of social communication and interaction (see A.1. through A.3. below) plus at least two of four types of restricted, repetitive behaviors (see B.1. through B.4. below).

  1. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):

    1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.

    2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.

    3. Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understand relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.

Specify current severity:

Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.

  1. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):

    1. Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypes, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).

    2. Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat same food every day).

    3. Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g., strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests).

    4. Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g. apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).

Specify current severity:

Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.

  1. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).

  2. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

  3. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder frequently co-occur; to make comorbid diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level.

A formal diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder is made by a Mental Health professional, although children may be referred by a school or other healthcare provider to be evaluated.

How to Show Your Support

If you want to learn more about supporting those with autism, there are many ways to do so. The two biggest ways to do so are to educate ourselves as much as possible, and to be kind.

The way we describe people matters too. According to The Conversation, when speaking to someone with autism,

“Person-first” language has become what’s called for: that is, calling someone a “person with autism” – describing what a person has, not what a person is. This has become the recommended way to speak with or about disability – in the press, journal articles, hospitals and schools.

It is difficult not to see the good intentions behind this approach. But perhaps it is not really as inclusive as it claims to be.

According to Behavioral Innovations, here is also a list of famous people with autism. By reading these descriptions, you can get more of an understanding of Autism as well.

Do you know anyone with Autism? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments!

Graphic with text that reads, "April 2022 is Autism Awareness Month.  It made me realize that I may have Autism."
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