I wanted to write on change since seeing some things online that disturbed me about the Autism population and how many view change when it comes to their diagnosis and how the tools out there to help one succeed are perceived.
Change in ones life is hard to deal with for everyone. However change to someone on the spectrum can feel like the world as they know it is coming to an end. Change can come in small forms, like a driving route to a movie theater (yes I did have a meltdown because we took a different route to the theater), or as big as moving away to college.
I have issues when it comes to change, the biggest one was after I was diagnosed and went through several therapies to help change me as a person living in the current society of today. Back then, I was against all of this saying "Why should I change these things about me?". From there I quit the tools that were in place for me to succeed and decided to go out and deal with society as the person I was at that time. While unconsciously craving to be a more sociable person. This lead to a lot of stress and anger that could have been avoided. I was constantly arguing with my parents and teachers. I started self medicating with tobacco at sixteen for the stress and ended up with what might be a live long addiction. I was completely clueless on how to act in social situations. I was doing things that I thought would make me cool, but in the end almost got me expelled my senior year of high school. I did not see it at the time, but I was starting to change without even knowing I was.
I somehow was able to get into college and a decent one at that. Roll tide, by the way. Ended up with a few friends by mere chance at the beginning. Started doing the college things like tailgating and partying. However what I did not know, is that while I was this somewhat social young adult, that I began abusing alcohol and using it as a crutch to be social. It was a one of the most constant things for me for a few years, even though it cost me grades, friends, trust with family, and some trouble with the police. I am not too sure of when the turning point was when I realized that I had become someone I did not want to be, even though I was a lot more social.
I have learned since, that change is inevitable in life, good or bad, and crucial for personal growth into the person I want to become. I know now that I wan to be more social, so therefore I need to actively work to change myself into that instead of saying "I am good the way I am" and relying on crutches to be what I desire.
Everyone changes. Everyone faces hurdles in life that need to be overcome in life to succeed. Everyone needs help with these hurdles.
I am getting better dealing with changes in everyday life, because I am constantly working on changing myself into the person I want to become. I may never get there, but no one will be able to say that I did not try throughout my life to do so.
Last words for this post are: Never just think you are unable to do something or be someone just because of a diagnosis. Because of hard work and determination I successfully joined a fraternity, got into grad school and about finished with my masters, and have a job that I currently enjoy going to everyday. All things that most people would not of thought of when I was younger.
When it comes to people(mainly kids) on the Autism Spectrum, many people wonder if it is even worth getting tested whether or not someone is on the spectrum. I say this because as a society we tend to be a part of one of two groups when it comes to testing. People either think that a self diagnosis/loved ones diagnosis is enough and that they/ the person can overcome or grow out of it in time or that having a loved one/themselves labeled that that person can no longer be a functional contributing individual in society. Both of these views are severely wrong. First off is that most disorders can not be completely overcome and are never just grown out of. The amount of work I have personally put myself through still could have got me no where if I was not diagnosed and received numerous amounts of help early on. The second is that a person with a disorder can not some how live a meaningful life that helps contribute to society. It is rumored that some of the best minds our world has seen, were a part of the spectrum. Even if they were not, there are numerous amount of people that are living productive lives in todays world that have made it known that they are on the spectrum. I personally believe I am living a meaningful and productive life while on the spectrum. I can confidently say this because I am personally helping kids that have been diagnosed on a daily basis with things I never got the opportunity to have growing up. It is by no means making me millions but the progress seen is what is worth it. Lets get back to the issue of getting a diagnosis.
Getting a diagnosis can open numerous amounts of opportunities and resources that most people do not know they are there. The biggest is that the diagnosis can help pay for many services that otherwise could devastate a bank account. Things like physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, behavioral therapy, and just general psychological therapy. Some of these are needed(if not all) in many cases once a person has been diagnosed. I went through them all in my lifetime, and because of it I was able to enjoy playing three sports a year in high school and realize my passion for exercise science in college. I was also able to use these experiences in my current job so that the kids I work with are having a voice where some are not able to speak up for themselves or not able to do so properly. Another would being able to realize who you are and why you act certain ways, when society says you should be acting otherwise. I have been on a somewhat self realization journey the last few years trying to fully understand who I am and why I act certain ways in particular instances. I may not have all the answers, but I can tell you I would have little to none if I never got diagnosed.
So if you are wondering whether or not you think you or someone you love is on the spectrum, PLEASE get tested. It will help you/the person tremendously in the long run.
This week, I thought I would share the aspects of how Autism affects me, This is in no ways easy for me to write down all of these, since its like writing down every flaw I see within me.
I was first diagnosed at a young age with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified). I was diagnosed with this due to my lack of speech development, lack of gross motor skills, and lack of fine motor skills. To put it in better detail. My speech was very slow and so monotone( literally no inflection at all). This made it hard for people to think I had little or no emotion at all. The gross motor skills were lacking so much, that the only reason why I walked was because my mom told me that if I wanted to have ice cream I would have to walk. I was a pretty jolly fat kid back then. Even though I could walk, I was always falling down. I still have many of the scars to this day that prove this. My fine motor skills were so bad, and still can be problematic at times, that I could not turn a door knob with just my fingers. I somehow figured out how to turn the knob by using the friction of my wrist on the knob to help me turn it. Another problem was dribbling a basketball. It could be said that the reason why I can not remember much of when I was little was due to the fact that after every time I tried to dribble a ball, it would instead hit me square in the head. I should have gotten the message and stopped all together but I was persistent and practiced and ended up with probably my fair share of concussions for it. The last major fine motor problem for me was gripping a pencil. I, to this day, can not write with a pencil the "proper" way. My unique grip has even gotten a doctor(PhD) that has worked with autistic kids his entire career perplexed about it. These three areas were my biggest concern before I finally got diagnosed with Aspersgers, a milder form of Autism, at the age of 11 or 12. So not only did I have all of the coordination issues, but now I found out I had social issues.
The issues that I came to find out on my own where that: I was extremely literal, as in I was asked to read a eye test letter board one time and I said I could not because the letters did not make a word so therefore it was impossible to read ( I was also probably concussed, since it was shortly after splitting my head open due to a bike crash); I was extremely blunt, as in it did not matter what the situation was I was (am) going to call it like I see it (no examples that could be appropriate come to mind); I had a hard time looking people in the eye, this I believe to be due to some weird sensation I still get at times in certain situations); Not being able to catch up on social cues, like my friends to this day tell me afterwords that I completely missed someone flirting with me; and lastly social anxiety, this has never gotten to a point where I would need a prescription for Xanax but lets just say it does increase that weird sensation I get and some of my repetitive behaviors.
Repetitive behaviors were really not a big deal for me, since until I was in high school I really only did this twirl thing that I thought was just a nervous/sleepy tick thing. However now I know they are more of stimulant behaviors. This means my obsession with sports was apart of it, since it relaxes me watching a full day of sports and constantly thinking of the implications each play and game might have. It also means the subtle things I do like when I am bored or anxious, like make strange noises, touching every finger with my thumb back and forth, and even tapping my feet when I am seated fall into this category. Fortunately, I realize when some of these behaviors become problematic so I tend to cycle through them. Next thing is my sensory issues, which until a few months ago never knew I had because they are so mild.
The issues I have with sensory include my sense of hearing, as in no sound ever fades to the background. This means my nerves in my ear are just always on and never turn off sounds. Most people might be like "Oh, thats me", but has the sound of crickets or the sound of a running fridge kept you up at night? The next sensory that I have very mild problems with is touch, as in if I absolutely do not have to wear a button up shirt, I will not. This can also be seen as one of those "well nobody likes to wear that stuff" thing, but for me its strangling, almost losing breath uncomfortable. The next issue would be sight. The only thing that gets to me is if there is tons of things going on visually, like say going to a football game in Alabama and being on the quad and a thousand of people are walking by and it is like my eyes have to catch a glimpse of it all even though a suppose to being having a conversation with someone and looking them in the eyes while doing so. My biggest sensory issue would be within my nose, as in I can not walk near a candle store or perfume store or even some heavily fragranced without having a teary eyed sneezing fit. That is pretty much all of my sensory issues, since I have not really had a any problems taste wise.
The last sort of things that I am affect with that could be contributed by my diagnosis are insomnia, gut issues and depression. Now I know almost everyone experiences every once and a while. But picture this. I go to bed every night examining every little social interaction during the day and think of what were people trying to tell me, since I am not very good at understanding subtle social cues. Then once I realize that I missed something I think of ways to rectify it. This can take a while some nights. The next thing is that my mind drifts off into thinking of random scenarios or my ideals about very specific topics. Once this happens I can not go to bed until I thought of every possible angle. Of course if the a inconsistent noise after all of this, I tend to start thinking all over again till I just pass out. Having digestive issues is one of those topics not a lot of people like to talk about. However this is an issue for the population on the spectrum and it does in fact affect me. I will not go into too much detail but going between constipation and the "runs" on the regular is not fun at all. The last issue is something most, if not all, people face once in their life time and it greatly impacts those on the spectrum.
Being told at a young age (really any age) that you are not very well in social situations can take quite a toll on a person. I personally went through some huge waves of depression growing up, not unlike a lot of people. However knowing why your depressed conjoined with the fact that knowing being social is one way to get out of it, really brings a person on the spectrum further and further down. It lasted for weeks and months at a time because every time I tried to get out of it, I sunk back as soon I realized my predicament in life. It was on and off like this for some years until I got almost done with college (which included a lot of questionable judgement calls during) and stopped focusing so much on how much of a burden my life was and looked at how far I had come from when I was young. I am in a happier place now knowing that I can put my experiences and knowledge, of what I have gone through and what I had to do to get where I am, to help other people just like me and their families reach a better future for all those on the spectrum.
Many people on the spectrum are affected differently and experience vast differences than these that I have experienced dealing with in my short life. I hope this opened your eyes a little bit more of what it may be life for some one on the spectrum. Till next week.
Autism Spectrum Disorders can be summed up pretty easy as a developmental disorder that alters the communicative abilities (and their progression) of a biological organism.
"What did you just say?"- You the reader. LOL
So let me break it down for you.
Development is the process in which a organism grows/matures.
Disorder is a disruption of the norm/order.
So we now have a disruption in how an organism grows/matures.
Communication is quite a few definitions, which Ill focus on just three:
a.) a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior
b.) a technique for expressing ideas effectively
c.) a connection between bodily parts
So if Autism is Developmental Disorder that affects communication, it can be said that Autism is the disruption of how an organism effectively exchanges information between itself and other organisms and the efficiency of expressing the ideas that organism has either between itself or with other organisms.
"That still doesn't make sense?"- You again
So what I am trying to get at is a lot of the common knowledge of what Autism is, is that Autism is just how a person interacts with people. However it is so much more than that!
Its how the brain reads temperature on the skin. How the brain perceives if something in the gut is dangerous to the body. How the brain perceives electrical impulses within itself as dangerous that causes a short circuit of sorts that is what we refer to as epilepsy.
To keep this short I will just leave those couple examples, since if I did a list again for this it would be way too long of a read. Its better to just ask a person how their Autism affects them individually anyway.
Let me know your thoughts...
Mark Fleming- Person on the Autism Spectrum