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.
Mark Fleming- Person on the Autism Spectrum