A Saturnalia Miracle

This is one of my favourite Christmas TV moments. According to the writers of The Big Bang Theory Sheldon doesn’t officially have autism, but he does show traits that are strongly associated with it. I myself find hugging people very awkward, so when I want to hug someone it is usually a very special occasion.

I first saw this before I was diagnosed with Asperger’s and I remember having a lot of understanding and sympathy for Sheldon. One of my friends on my teacher training course actually said they thought I was quite like him. That wasn’t the first warning sign to go unheeded!

Enjoy the holiday period and please spare a small thought for those with Autism and/or Asperger’s. The festive period can cause a lot of distress with a large increase in socializing and the disruption of daily routine. I know it’s hard to think about whilst – quite rightly – trying to enjoy yourself too.

I pray that you, and all those you love and care for have a happy and peaceful Christmas.

See you in the new Year!

– Shrugs, Not Hugs

Better Late Than Never

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Singer Susan Boyle has been diagnosed at age fifty-two with Asperger’s Syndrome. In the UK press the second question after “What is Asperger’s Syndrome?” was “How and why did she go diagnosed for so long and is this common?”.

Yes, it is very common.

I find myself lucky that I got my Diagnosis earlier than her at twenty-three and as more adults seek a diagnosis the more common it will become. In this link from the UK newspaper The Guardian from 2005 by Paul Wady (the narrator from the video I posted yesterday), who tells us his story after being diagnosed with autism at the age of fourty-one: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2005/oct/01/health.lifeandhealth

Without a diagnosis many people like myself will have an unrealistic and distressing view of life. I put myself through the unutterable torment of trying to train as a teacher of 11-18 year olds because I didn’t know that, despite knowing my subject very well, I didn’t have the required social skills to manage a class of kids and get them to learn at the same time.

Many people go undiagnosed with Autism firstly because it is a unseen or invisible condition. Asperger’s Syndrome can be hard to notice because it only appears in certain contexts. Expert on the topic Tony Attwood says that it is impossible to diagnose someone with Asperger’s when they are on their own because then they act “normal”. So because many people with Asperger’s find the company of others hard to understand and therefore tiring it is instinctive to isolate themselves from others. This is their comfort zone because it requires no effort to socialize. So if they spend lots of time alone it is hard to get a diagnosis. It was never my idea to get a diagnosis, it was my mother’s, so if I was totally alone I probably wouldn’t be writing these words you’re (hopefully) reading.

The second reason why Asperger’s Syndrome gets left unchecked is that it is usually a standard-to-high functioning form of Autism. There can be a feeling that even if suspicions creep in they are shrugged off as the person can feel like they’re doing fine as they are and don’t need an assessment. I was like this. Even though I was being counselled for social phobia, low self-esteem, depression and crippling loneliness I was adamant that nothing was wrong that I couldn’t fix myself. Maybe it was my old fashioned British Dunkirk spirit. I was also afraid of getting a diagnosis because it seemed like officially confirming that I was a defective person, a broken toy.

“You think I’m mental do you?” was my first rhetorical response to my mother’s urgings to get assessed for Asperger’s. I won’t lie: before I learned about Autistic spectrum disorders I just thought that having Asperger’s or the like meant that you were some kind of weird nutbag. It made me think of images of padding every corner in the house and trips to the local zoo on a special bus with my fellow loons. After I was diagnosed I spent a large amount of time feeling very ashamed because it felt that I was an official nutter.

I must say that now I feel very different about the whole thing. Now that I’ve realized how untrue my thoughts were I jokingly call myself crazy all the time. I try to remember the advice given by the chap who diagnosed me: “Asperger’s doesn’t have a cure because it is not a mental illness”. It is a deviation from what is common, not normal. I have a blood group that only 2% of my country’s population has, but if that doesn’t make me feel like a freak, why should a diagnosis of Asperger’s? My eyesight has got a red-green colour deficiency, which is real hindrance in buying clothes sometimes, but I don’t spend time fretting over it and it should be the same with Asperger’s – you just find a way around it.Image

Having a diagnosis stops you from beating yourself up about getting things wrong that others seem to do so easily. Yesterday at a car park I saw that a woman had left her car lights on. Because it was such a spontaneous social interaction I couldn’t think of what to do quickly enough and, surely enough, she dashed off onto a bus before I could shout or catch up to her. I initially felt really bad that I had got it wrong and spent the next forty-five minutes beating myself up mentally.

But eventually, knowing now that I have Asperger’s, I was able to stop and think to myself, “Yeah, you got it wrong. But it’s understandable because you don’t do that kind of thing very well. At least you’ve learned what to do next time if it happens again.” So having a diagnosis – even a late one – proved vital to me as it stopped me going down a route that had previously led to depression from feeling bad about myself. That is why diagnosis is important, the earlier the better, but if not just make sure that you (or your child/friend/relative) get(s) assessed and worry about the rest later.