What’s an Author to do With a Late Life Asperger’s Diagnosis?
How My Asperger’s test went down
The intimidating stack of check-in paperwork stood higher than the average paperback novel. Well, that might be the writer in me inserting hyperbole. Maybe the admit paperwork and two multiple choice tests just felt that way at the time. That, or my current book is much shorter than it should be. Either way it was a heavy walk to the waiting area and not just because of the tree’s worth of paper on the chipped presswood clipboard.
Finishing the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) test was easy. it is online here, so I had taken it several times the weeks leading up to the official pencil on paper exam. From what I have read this is common for middle-aged adults such as myself who become compelled to find the definitive answer “what’s wrong with me.” Jumping ahead a bit, my official AQ result is 39 which matched my innumerable at-home scores that ranged between 38-41. A score of 26-31 is borderline Asperger’s. So it turns out there is nothing wrong with me but there is a profound difference between me and average people.
As a former teacher I had expected a different quiz with similar questions worded in different ways, but no. The test from the psychiatrist was the exact same one from the website. Go ahead and see for yourself. You know you’re curious. If you didn’t take it yet take it now.
The second questionnaire turned out to be an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder test (ADHD). I did not expect this one but it turns out ADHD and Autism often go hand in hand. As a child I had this diagnosis and that was a decade before it became a participation ribbon for all boys with any type of troublesome emotional issues. Age must have cured my ADHD. According to my documentation I definitely do not have it now. The ADHD diagnosis requires a 68 and my score was only 64. Close, but no Adderall.
Why is this guy writing about Autism if he’s got the Asperger’s?
That is such a good question I am going to pretend you asked it. I did not know until some compulsive research that in America Asperger’s is no longer an official diagnosis in and of itself. Asperger’s was bundled into Autism and removed from the DSM in 2013 (Slate magazine covers some of the details here). The DSM is the comprehensive list of psychiatric illness as decided by learned committee. If it isn’t in the DSM it isn’t a mental illness, and if it is in the book then it is a mental illness. Nothing like behavior based mental health rulings based on the social norms of a committee, but that’s a topic for another blog entry. (I do not care what the paperwork says, that’s too big of an aside on DSM for a person without attention deficits.)
This removal of Asperger’s from the DSM became a bit of a controversy but only for those who took the change too seriously. It could’ve been a much larger controversy but many in the psychiatric community ignored the DSM change in the ways that mattered. If the same testing would’ve placed a person in the Asperger’s box before 2013 then they were often still told they had Asperger’s.
The joke is that Asperger’s fully merging with autism is only a problem if the labels are taken overly serious. As with all labels, renaming Romeo to Rose doesn’t change his extreme emotional swings and suicidal tendencies. That is why I suggest following the profound philosophical motto of the great mad scientist Rick: Just do not think about it (NSFW, this should not be played around kids, or at work, or around most average people). So long as we understand changing a word does not actually change the concept a word represents we should be fine.
By the way, the new ICD-10 list of medical conditions that came out in 2015 included Asperger’s as a diagnosis even though the DSM has removed it as a diagnosis. Imagine if everyone refused to accept that Pluto is no longer a planet to such an extent that even NASA kept treating the glorified ice-ball as a peer to Jupiter. That is basically what happened with the Asperger’s diagnosis. (I am going to need to figure out how to create ADHD Moments in future blogs. If you have advice on this please share it in the comments below.)
The Shrink Sit-Down
After handing in the paperwork there was the session with the psychiatrist. In a little over two hours we did the “what’s the first thing you think of when I say this word” test, reviewed my first failed marriage, and examined why I was in my early 30s before making my first friends. At the end of the talk he said he needed to review my AQ multiple choice test but otherwise I was at least in the Asperger’s range.
Relief flooded me. Epiphany lifted a weight from my mind and tossed it into the moon’s orbit. Having Asperger’s meant there was nothing wrong with me. Different yes, but not wrong.
For every bonus feat of the mind, to make a Dungeons & Dragons metaphor, there is a drawback. I can hold complete worlds in my mind populated with diverse individuals, but I am unable to see the joy others find in watching a man in armor run with a brown ball shaped like an egg. I can analyze real-life crisis situation and spot multiple causes as well as accurately predict the most likely outcomes from choices made, but mundane small-talk with strangers is impossible to tolerate. For decades I have actively tried to wrap my mind around racial prejudice because the concept is so far removed from rationality that I just do not get it, but no matter the demographic of a job or party I am always the outsider who can’t herd properly with the flock. (Actually both halves of that last part are benefits as far as I am concerned since flockers in herds often follow the stupidest of the group off the tallest cliff.)
Being different is not being wrong. It is only being different.
Getting the Final Results
I received my results today (as of this writing of course). There’s something different about hearing the diagnosis and seeing it on paper in official doctor jargon. I passed my Autism test with a solid Asperger’s diagnosis of F84.0.
It only took 39 years and 11 months to find out what makes me so different from average people is Autism-Light. Oddly enough I am ahead of the curve. Most adults do not hunt out an official diagnosis until they hit 40, the old farts. When people talk about autism and Asperger’s they often think in terms of kids due to how awareness is marketed. Those kids grow up. Asperger’s has been around as long as people even though the label is new. Please remember, there are more autistic Aspie adults than kids.
Ending with a Flashback
Asking for the initial referral from my general practitioner was the hardest part of the process. When it was time to bring up new business during my annual checkup I choked. Doubt overcame me. Could I be over-analyzing my issues? Perhaps my true goal was to find an excuse for being unable to connect with others as easily as I thought I should. Did the constant barrage of autism awareness commercials help me form a convenient delusion that I might have something that I do not? And then there were the biographies I had found recently on YouTube about famous Aspie writers. Hans Christian Anderson stories gain a much deeper meaning with the understanding that both he and most his characters were profoundly Aspie.
The Little Mermaid for example lost her voice when she needed it most and as a result met a horrific fate that those of us on the autism spectrum can relate to (read the story here but be warned, this is not the Disney version). Meanwhile back in the doctor’s office, my wife asked for the referral while I sat there silent as a cursed merfolk.
ADHD aside: an Aspie is a person with Asperger’s as well as a description of actions displaying obvious Asperger’s characteristics. it is best if neurotypicals, the official term for what I have always thought of as “the average people,” dont use the word Aspie around someone with Asperger’s if you do not know them well.
Doubts naturally lingered out of the clinic, across the parking lot, and through the rest of the day. That night the four of us took a family outing to a craft store. While my wife was off finding what she needed I attempted to wrangle my toddler and his five year old brother. Then this overly friendly man working at the store tried to strike up a conversation. He seemed vaguely familiar but we stop by the store around once a week so that’s to be expected. Fortunately he wandered away after a few awkward moments of small talk. Awkward chats are a standard for me so I thought no more about it.
Later I saw him across the store talking to my wife. After a long talk with the guy she rejoined the family and reminded me who he was. Turns out I have known the guy for years. He’s even one of my few Facebook friends.
My wife had explained to him how if I bump into people in places where I am not used to seeing them I usually do not recognize them. Same goes if they’re wearing radically different style clothes or recently dyed their hair a new color.
“Oh, he has Asperger’s like my kid,” the guy told her. “I didn’t know that.”
What an amazing happenstance it would seem if I still believed in random coincidences. The doubt that lingered in the doctor’s office died in a hobby shop that night.
About the Blog
I promise the other entries will be half this length or less. Usually less. It will entertain. It will focus on how to be an author with Asperger’s. That means if you’re a writer who wants to learn my methods on research, prewriting, writing, revising, and editing you’ll benefit from reading it. If you want to learn how to better manage living among neurotypicals as an Aspie, you’ll also benefit. If you’re an average person, do not feel bad as it is not something you can help, that knows an Aspie or an eccentric writers then you might find insight into how we think. If you’ve met one person with autism then you’ve met one person with autism, however there are still commonalities and connections that should help average people better relate to the Aspie or writer in their lives. New posts every first and third Wednesday!
© 2016 Glenn Hawkins. All Rights Reserved.