In the last decade Autism has become an increasingly popular topic and concern for many parents. The rate of diagnosed autistic children has grown alarmingly and become of great concern to new parents. It often does not manifest itself for several years and can be devastating for parents who started out with a seemingly perfectly normal child. Not a lot is yet known about the causes of autism. But not all autistic children require lifetime care. Some actually grow up to be functional and even successful adults. I am one of those who was able to somewhat adjust to society and live an independent and fulfilling life.
First of all I have never been clinically diagnosed with autism. I was unofficially diagnosed a few years ago by a family member who had majored in psychology and had taught autistic children in school. When I was young autism did not formally exist. But as you will see there are numerous signs that make a convincing case for me having high functioning autistic spectrum disorder. As I have learned autism is a very complex mental and socializing disorder. The reason the word spectrum is used is because of the large range and diversity of symptoms that exist for autistic individuals ranging from those who are almost totally nonfunctional and must be taken care of full time to those similar to me with very mild symptoms difficult for people who do not know me intimately well, like my family, to tell. Asperger’s syndrome is a part of the autism spectrum disorders which is also usually high functioning which I might very well have.
One common symptom all autistic individuals share is the inability to make connections with other people through subtitle things such as body language and verbal or signaling cues as to ones intentions. I would go so far as to say that I have deduced from observations that people can communicate subconsciously with other people especially in large groups focused on the same thing such as worshiping in church and at sporting events. I have never been able to feed off the enthusiasm of a crowd’s energy thus I do not enjoy such things as spectator sports. The same can be said for religious gatherings. I am not able to feel the spirit of God at religious worship or elsewhere. It is hard to get excited over anything unless I am personally invested in that activity. Then the excitement is totally due to my interest, not the interest or excitement of others around me.
Like other autistic individuals I cannot sense the feelings of others unless it is blatantly obvious. This I have always known but didn’t identify as autism. This affected all my close relationships with others. Prior to the last decade or so I didn’t even know what autism was. My relationship with my wife has often been strained because of my apparent insensitivity to her feeling. In fact most of the time I had no clue why she was so upset. Fortunately she is a very good person and quite forgiving so in spite of me we managed to weather most of the storms with little permanent damage. Now that we are aware than I am autistic my wife is far more understanding about my lack of sensitivity. But it used to often drive her crazy.
People with autism often have learning disabilities and other peculiarities and I am no exception. I have always had a short term memory problem and consequently limited long term memory especially with names, faces and numbers but also events. Because of this compounded with autism I grew up a very shy, introverted, and withdrawn person. I frequently couldn’t remember meeting or wasn’t sure I had met a person so I would not approach people but rather let them approach me even if I thought I knew them. I was always a very poor student due to memory problems going all the way through college, but I did have some creativity abilities and a lot of persistence which helped me excel in professional life as an engineer. In addition I was dyslexic and have not read a book from cover to cover since graduating from college more decades ago than I am willing to admit. I can’t spell hardly at all, thank goodness to spellcheckers these days.
My taste for food was also a bit unusual. I’m a picky eater. I preferred soft food with non-grainy textures. But I like most crunchy nuts. I have almost zero tolerance for hot spicy foods that remain hot some time after eating. I have no tolerance for most beans and peas which seem to have a gritty texture and bad taste. I love meat, especially if it is soft and tender but dislike most vegetables.
As for my taste in dress, it simply does not exist. I cannot tell what is appropriate to buy or wear. I’m like a color blind person trying to color match clothing. For me cloths are totally functional. They are used to cover up you naked body. What color or patterns of clothing match with others is a mystery to me. The best I can do is to dress in similar colors. I even frequently do yard work in my regular dress cloths to my wife’s consternation though I know intellectually I should change into my working cloths. But for me it doesn’t matter. I seldom buy my own close but instead let my wife shop for me.
As for right-left handedness for some things I am either completely left handed or completely right handed but for others I am ambidextrous. For example I can only write with my left hand, throw a ball only with my right hand, but can eat with chop sticks or fork and spoon with either hand. I’m a right hand batter and right hand pitcher, but ambidextrous with such things as tennis and ping pong. With tools I can use both hands with most making it very handy for fixing cars and other things. For things I am ambidextrous with I usually have a preference for using my left hand.
So my brain has been somehow miss-wired. I’m not sure whether I am unique or whether there are others with similar unusual characteristics. I might make an interesting study of the brain for someone studying brain science. I am a mixed bag but on the whole I feel much more blessed than cursed. I do often perceive the world differently than many people and can be creative because of that difference in perception. But growing up was very tough because there was so much I had to struggle to learn in a normal world. Later in life I learned to compensate for my inequities by figuring out different ways of doing things but the problems still largely persists. I am an extremely rational person because it is the only way I can make sense of the world. I am also less bias than most because I can’t learn to be more biased, strange as it may seem, because I cannot sense what others are thinking or feeling and cannot remember things that don’t seem to make sense. But I can be quite stubbornly blunt. We autistic people can be bluntly frank individuals. There is little sensitivity towards others or filtering when we talk. It can be quite raw. I have learned to temper my expressions to others so as not to turn people off but for some people I know well I can still be quite bluntly honest.
In spite of all my learning difficulties I managed to eventually graduate from college. It took me a few years longer than normal. I got quite a good high tech job and was quite successful because of my creativity. But in almost 40 years I only changed jobs three times within the same division of the same company. I married and had children who are now grown up and well adjusted. I am living proof that not everyone with autism will be a burden to their family or society the rest of their lives. I’ve lived an interesting and challenged life. My greatest attribute has been persistence. I don’t give up very easily. So if your child is diagnosed with autism there is still hope that maybe he or she can live a near normal and independent life. Some may actually become very successful adults in their own right. I’m living proof of that possibility.
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