Autism in adults
Lots of people have trouble maintaining relationships, and social phobia is also a common fear. I’ve met many people in my life who didn’t like crowds and were shy in social situations. If that describes you, you may have wondered if you have autism. Since I made my diagnosis public here, I’ve received many messages from people who think they are on the spectrum. It’s important to note that being socially awkward and isolated is not the same as being autistic. As a matter of fact, lots of autistic people even like to be with people, they just don’t realize that they may be acting inappropriately. It’s also important to note that according to the DSM 5, to be diagnosed with autism there needs to be a significant delay/deficit in all these areas, not only social.
ASD is the:
- “persistent impairment in reciprocal social communication and social interaction, AND
- restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities.”
- The symptoms and behaviors must be present from early childhood and negatively impact everyday functioning.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “the symptoms of people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder will fall on a continuum, with some individuals showing mild symptoms and others having much more severe symptoms.” The DSM-V removed Asperger’s disorder as its own distinct classification. Asperger’s is now part of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). People who do not meet all the criteria may be diagnosed with PPD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified), Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder, Social Phobia, or more.
If you’re wondering if you have autism, I’d like to share with you a few things about myself. Keep in mind that all autistic people are different and that having many of these characteristics doesn’t necessarily make you autistic.
What is autism for me?
Signs of ASD from my childhood:
- As a preschooler, people thought I was rude because I wouldn’t answer to them or say hi.
- I taught myself to read and write at age 3. It’s called hyperlexia.
- At school I had difficulty fitting in because I didn’t follow social norms. I dressed differently than other kids and I had different interests.
- I was bored and made fun of for being different.I didn’t know how to dress in a feminine way until my late teenage years. I just cared about being comfortable in my clothes and didn’t realize it was weird to wear track suits everyday. That’s what soccer players did! Lots of kids made fun of me for it. It got worse after I cut my hair really short in high-school. I was a tomboy. I was a dude.
- I have restricted and intense interests. As a teenager, I was obsessed with soccer. If you were looking for me, I was at the stadium: before school, between classes in the afternoon and after school until it was dark out. Even when it was freezing outside. I followed that same schedule every day for a few years. At the time, I thought I was just very dedicated to my local team and didn’t listen to people telling me it was too much. Now, I understand why it was a bit too intense of a hobby. Nowadays, I’m a little obsessed with photography and kids fashion. It’s hard for me to discuss other topics but I can.
- In my teens, I overcompensated. I tried to imitate the behavior of other kids, many of whom were not good examples. Sometimes I lack common-sense so I was easily manipulated. For instance, I climbed on a school desk to protest against a teacher because I had seen it in a movie. My « friends » had told me they’d do it too if I started it. I believed them so I stood up on my desk in the middle of the class and waited for people to do the same. Nobody followed me. It was embarrassing and I ended up suspended from school. My peers would describe me as naive. I couldn’t tell when people were trying to take advantage of me or if they were just joking.
- I got in trouble a lot because of my facial expressions, or sourire en coin, as they called it (smirking). It wasn’t always intentional but teachers often felt like I was being insolent. My psychologist noted that my facial expressions don’t match my feelings. I haven’t learned how to fix this yet and I did and do things occasionally that are considered socially inappropriate. I wasn’t trying to be sassy, I just didn’t realize it was wrong.
Signs of ASD that still apply to me:
- I have very few friendships and difficulty maintaining the ones I already have.
- I have difficulty making eye contact, and I’m uncomfortable during conversations. I do it because I’ve learned throughout the years, but it requires a lot of effort and it’s not easy nor natural.
- I have trouble processing thoughts and expressing my needs and feelings. I’m a good writer but I’m usually unable to express my feelings in person.
- I have a short attention span when I’m not interested.
- I often appear shy and avoid initiating social contact unless I have to or I’ve been drinking.
- Small talk with strangers is challenging. For instance, I become tense when the cashier at the store starts a conversation with me. I usually end up stuttering or ignoring them.
- I often have a hard time seeing the other person’s perspective during a disagreement. I see things all white or all black.
- I have a hard time interpreting facial expressions and gestures. For instance I may think people are mad when they’re not.
- I take things too literally. I’m often seen as naive. I can’t tell when people are joking.
- I had to seek an online degree because attending classes in person was too stressful for me.
Repetitive behaviors, sensory issues, and inflexibility:
- I only have a few areas of interests and can spend hours studying the same thing. I’m obsessed with photography.
- I love routine, and I become anxious when my daily routine is changed.
- I flap my hands, and rock back and forth. This is harder to spot for people not close to me because I only do it in the comfort of my home. It’s actually pretty subtle – probably not what you’re picturing.
- Like 2/3 of autistic people, I have anxiety.
- Over the years, I’ve become very good at hiding my struggles. It’s common with women on the autism spectrum. I’ve learned how to interact with my peers by watching other people. Yet, I still make mistakes and when I do they’re usually big and they end up in me losing a friendship.
- I lack common sense. I don’t understand things that most people find easy.
- Crowds are very overwhelming for me and I avoid big events for that reason.
- I can get fixated on little details that are of no importance to the rest of the world.
- I have a good memory, sometimes too good, which makes it hard to forget traumatic events.
- I’m sensitive to certain smells and textures. I have a very good ear. For instance, I can hear quiet noises that most people don’t hear which in turn can be overwhelming and distracting.
- I’m clumsy and lack coordination. I don’t know how to dance at all. Believe me, I’ve tried.
- I’ve also never had a job outside of the home. I don’t know what it’s like to have coworkers.
Those are just a few things among others that I feel comfortable sharing. Remember that autism will manifest differently in different people. Even two Level 1 (mild) autistic people won’t be the same.