Monday, May 15, 2017

on being aspie

On being an Aspie..

When I was 16, I was diagnosed with Non-Verbal Learning disorder and PTSD. I think most people know about the later, so allow me to discuss the former.  Basically, the long and the short of it is somehow along the way I stopped learning how to communicate correctly. No one really knew when this happened, just that it did. My earliest memories are being beaten up in the school yard for “not wanting to play the games the other kids did.” So I am guessing preschool? But I digress. As I have gotten older, I have had a few therapists who have said they felt I was more Asperger’s than NLD. As a result, I have come more to identify as that diagnosis than the prior one.

What is Asperger’s syndrome? Basically, it’s a high functioning form of autism. From Autism Speaks:
Asperger syndrome was generally considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum. Affected children and adults have difficulty with social interactions and exhibit a restricted range of interests and/or repetitive behaviors. Motor development may be delayed, leading to clumsiness or uncoordinated motor movements. Compared with those affected by other forms of ASD, however, those with Asperger syndrome do not have significant delays or difficulties in language or cognitive development. Some even demonstrate precocious vocabulary – often in a highly specialized field of interest.

Going to guess anyone that knows me knows that sounds kind of familiar. But oh wait there is more:

The following behaviors are often associated with Asperger syndrome. However, they are seldom all present in any one individual and vary widely in degree:
• limited or inappropriate social interactions
• "robotic" or repetitive speech
• challenges with nonverbal communication (gestures, facial expression, etc.) coupled with average to above average verbal skills
• tendency to discuss self rather than others
• inability to understand social/emotional issues or nonliteral phrases
• lack of eye contact or reciprocal conversation
• obsession with specific, often unusual, topics
• one-sided conversations
• awkward movements and/or mannerisms
Again, if you know me in real life; you know some of this stuff is me. My friends will say “Jacqui has her own way of doing things. Get out of the way; things get done. She is also very direct and doesn’t do well with too much fluff.” My co-workers who don’t know me well will tell you “Jacqui is rude. She asks too many questions. She seems like she is always questioning any decisions that are made. She talks herself into her own hole”

For much of my life after the diagnosis, my treatment was talk therapy and reading books on the topic.  I was too old for the treatments that kids today get so I had to improvise. Future OT heal thy self, I read up on how to “fake it till I made it.” I taught myself to decipher facial expressions (by watching movies on mute).  I learned to adapt and learn how long I could handle in social interactions before I would get overwhelmed by the stimulus (about 90 mins in a setting of 5 or more people). I taught myself techniques to help me when I needed to be interview situations. But more importantly, I became a decent writer because I knew people don’t always understand my directness in spoken word. So, text made it easier.  

Almost like being a mutant from the X-Men or inhuman from everything else Marvel, all I wanted to do in my daily life was pass. I just wanted to be what we in the Autism community call “Neurotypical” or NT for short. One of the things that allows me to pass is my ability to understand and perform sarcasm. Understand, I can’t always “get” it (again, aspie typical) but when I am not overstimulated; I have a better chance of understanding it.   

At times, I can keep up that fa├žade 6 months to a year. But I have learned over time that familiarity breeds a special kind of contempt for me among other people. After a while, I stop guarding myself and the Aspie me comes out.   It usually happens when I am under extreme stress. At one company I worked at, my therapist and I traced it to having too much activity around me.  Combine it with PTSD flashbacks, I basically become an overstimulated mess. At same company, my answer was frequent breaks and walks. Oh yeah, I should also mention unlike people that scream and yell when they are angry, I cry. Just the way I have always been (another Jacqui thing and also a symptom of autism). Sometimes I would go to my car and cry to let out my frustration (evidently this isn’t socially acceptable behavior).

We’ll say for the past 2 years I was able to fake it. Then, the familiarity breeds contempt idea came roaring back with a vengeance. Up until December, I thought I was well liked and respected where I worked. It turns out, per management, everyone hates me. Therapists think I overstep my boundaries, co-workers say I don’t communicate well, always asking questions and questioning systems. Basically, the Aspie has come out to roost its greatest hits. I know from other evidence this may not be entirely true. But it is still triggering and makes me question about a great deal of the progress I thought I had made in the past few years.

In a few weeks, I leave for school. I’ll begin a journey I worked really hard to make happen. Through being kicked out of my house, through bad grades, through this job. However, I feel like my confidence is busted. I am wondering given this obvious disability if I will make a good OT, if I was fooling myself to think I could ever be “normal”. This is the internal dialogue I have had my whole that I wish I could just shut down. 

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