Why An Autism Diagnosis Is Like Finding Out You’re Adopted
My husband and I had a certain conversation recently, one we’ve had before and will likely have again. It’s the one that starts with “Why do you chose to label yourself?”
…and ends with me feeling like an exhibitionist hypochondriac. He claims since I found out I have Aspergers it’s all I talk about, read about and think about (considering three of the four posts I’ve published since I resumed writing after the summer are on the subject he may have a point.) But, joking aside, I can see how it might seem that way to him.
With K I’m the closest I can be to being myself, aside from when I’m by myself. Around him I can let things out unrehearsed, uncensored. It follows then, that he witnesses my lead-footed blunderings from one notion to the next, watches me try on thoughts to see how they feel in my head. I know his concern comes from a desire to protect me from judgement and discrimination. The way he sees it there’s more to me than autism so why would I want to colour people’s perception before they have a chance to know me?
I know there’s more to me than autism too, and for the most part I’ve never had a problem with myself from within, only in comparison to other people. It’s common knowledge now that comparing yourself to others only leads to dissatisfaction but I grew up in a time when people worried about what the neighbours thought, saw status as a measure of success, and tried to brush mental illness, or anything that didn’t fit the picture, under the rug. Thinking about it, not a lot has changed has it?
I knew I was different but for a long time I couldn’t find the words to frame my issues clearly to myself. As for representing them to others, they were flaws I did my utmost to conceal. They left me with a life-long feeling of inferiority and I had a difficult time accepting myself for years because it seemed that who I was must somehow be wrong. It wasn’t until motherhood and the diagnosis of my youngest child, that research on her behalf led me to question my own neurology. I suspected, and later confirmed, I was autistic too.
Nothing had changed, but somehow everything was changed, as though someone had inverted the whole world and it’s all the same except everything you usually expect to find on the ground is now on the ceiling. I imagine it’s like finding out you’re adopted – it’s not that you’re odd and don’t fit in, you’re just part of a different family. I was thirty-seven years old when I learned I wasn’t alone, that I had siblings out there I just didn’t know about.
Reading accounts from others on the spectrum was like reading my own secret biography. I was hooked. How could they write so eloquently about what went on inside my head? I continue to devour them with a stunned fascination and, like some dogged palaeontologist, unearth a fresh insight each time. The words trigger flashbacks to my past, now with a new slant: phases of intense study of a particular subject – horses, James Dean, astronomy, True Crime – become a timeline of narrow, specialised interests. My difficulties with communication and overwhelming emotion are recast as part of something larger instead of my own stupid inability to master them. My love of solitary pursuits – books, nature, animals, – is no longer symptomatic of a lack of social graces, but the result of differences deeper than any external incongruity.
To finally discover nothing is missing, nothing is damaged, my wiring simply leads me to connect the dots differently… unless you’ve lived with a lifetime of self-doubt, you can’t understand the relief, the fresh outlook, the second chance a diagnosis of autism – however late – can bring. While it doesn’t remove any of the difficulties, it illuminates them and makes them comprehensible. It expands horizons and enriches my understanding. Finally I can see my life in context.
So for those of you who, like my husband, are tiring of my incessant babblings about all things autistic, I suppose this is my latest specialised interest. But more than that, it’s the lost history of who I am, and I won’t be done until I’ve reviewed the historical record I hold in my head and excised all the past inaccuracies.
Wikipedia calls it historical revisionism. I call it healing.
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