Autism and Life as a Senior

I must first preface this article by saying that I have never been formally diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.  However I was unofficially diagnosed by one of my children 3 years ago who taught autistic children and received a graduate degree in psychology at Columbia University.  I have also read a bit about it.  I’m not sure if I have Asperger’s.  At least I now can kind of put a label on my somewhat peculiar behaviors.

I knew all my life that something was not normal about me.  I was somewhat slow witted and a little dense and subject to teasing.  I constantly daydreamed at school instead of listening to my teachers.  It was my way of escaping into a much more pleasant world where I was a super person and the center of attention.  I continued daydreaming into college, though I daydreamed of other thing, because I had difficulty understanding instructors and do so even now if I can’t understand a speaker.  It isn’t unusual for autistic people to also have learning disabilities and I have what I considered a handful.  I have an extremely poor short term memory for just about everything including names, numbers, and visual scenes.  I am also dyslexic having not read a book since college.

I had to repeat first grade.  I went back one grade again in high school and graduated at the bottom of my class when I was almost 20.  The rest of my life as a student through college followed much the same pattern.  It is amazing that I actually got a masters degree in electrical engineering after 10 years of college at the age of 30.  To say the least I did not have much self confidence or self esteem but was quite persistent.  I made few friends and was quite shy and withdrawn and avoided noisy crowds where I could not understand conversations as well as large group settings.

It was quite a different story when I started working.  I found that I was quite clever and able to come up with some rather good ideas.  I was willing to work very hard and long hours and could really analytically focus on a problem and reason things out.  I liked it best working by myself.  I worked in a single good high tech company all of my almost 40 year career.  I also stayed in the same division though I had four different jobs at different times.  I distinguished myself with a number of accomplishments and inventions.

Because I am so high functioning it is not obvious to people that I have autism spectrum disorder.  Autism spans a large spectrum of behaviors, the most common being the inability to sense the feelings of others from body language and otherwise as well as our senses being easily overstimulated meaning that we have difficulty filtering out sensory inputs causing sensory overload; being overwhelmed and not understanding things we hear, see, feel, smell or taste.  This can be disturbing to people with more severe autism.  I have peculiarities with all my senses.  That accounts for my poor comprehension of conversations and fear of loud sudden sounds as well as very poor ability to identify objects and faces among other things and being very picky about food and food textures.  When I was working none of my co-workers were aware that I had a problem.  I was able to compensate for my deficits even though at the time I didn’t know what was wrong with me.

Now I am retired and almost 70 year young.  Since my unofficial diagnosis 3 years ago my relationship with my wife has improved immensely since she now understand that my insensitivities of her feelings are organic and not deliberate.  This has made a huge difference in our relationship since now I am at home most of the time and must interact with her far more than before.  Now that I am aware of my condition I have been able to see why my adult children say that I am argumentative, defensive and insensitive and only see things from my own advantage point which is another characteristic of autism.  I now consciously try to invite them into my otherwise monolithic conversations.  This has greatly improved our communications.

Autism plays less of a critical role in my life now.  I don’t have to be so guarded about being different since I don’t have as much interaction with others as I did at work.  Being aware of my condition I am now able to adjust the way I interact with people making it more naturally.  But when I talk with people I must consciously modify my behavior to be more inclusive.  I’m still very shy so I force myself to meet new people just to challenge myself.  I have joined several organization to be more active and practice my skills with meeting people.  I am still very uncomfortable in such settings but know it is good for me.

Writing this blog was an idea someone suggested to my to give me a means to express myself.  I started almost a year ago and write on a large range of subjects that I have feelings about.  This is my 112th posting so I have been fairly active.  I enjoy the challenge of finding subjects to write about.  I spend a lot of time thinking but had no previous way of expressing myself since I seldom spoke to anyone about these thoughts.  This blog has allowed me to express those hemmed up thoughts and has been quite self fulfilling even though my readership is quite modest.  I spend a lot of time thinking about what I should write then putting those thoughts into words.  Since I do not read much my writing skills are poor.  I typically edit my articles more than 30 times before publishing to get the English right or at least sounding right but seem to always find more errors.  Having dyslexia and very poor spelling is always problematic.  Thank goodness for spell checker though it doesn’t catch things such as write vs. right or to vs too or two.  But I enjoy writing even though it is a lot of work.  I know I have a tendency towards being too wordy because I feel I’m never making myself clear enough so I overdue clarify with definitions and examples which I often later end up editing out.  I try to limit my postings to 1000 words but like in this case sometimes failed to succeed.  I try to average about two posts a week.

I sometimes wonder if I should get a formal diagnosis of my condition.  I’m not sure what there is to gain other than the certainty of a diagnosis.  What if I am diagnosed with some other psychological disorder?  I’m not sure I could deal with having some other mental disorder.  Anyway it is very difficult to find anyone who diagnoses and treats adult autism.

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3 Responses to Autism and Life as a Senior

  1. Ann Kilter says:

    My mother, at 79, has never been diagnosed, but I believe she has some characteristics. However, I have some characteristics of autism (and struggled through them), and two of my three children have an official diagnosis. The diagnosis benefited them a great deal in their schooling and ability to form relationships. My son is a computer programmer, and my daughter has a degree in accounting, though has been unable to find full time work due to her autism. Her inability to drive also limits her choices in applying for work.

    I don’t have a formal diagnosis. However, raising my children with a formal diagnosis gave me some insight on my own history. Just knowing has helped me.

    • fgeefay says:

      Dear Ann,

      Thank you for telling us your story. Autism did not come to the public eye until the 1990’s. So all we adults who were born before the mid 1980’s are likely to have gone undiagnosed like your mother, you, and I. I was a baby boomer born in the mid 1940’s when autism was hardly known.

      We’ve all had to struggle with our social and other handicaps throughout life. But we made it and succeeded in marrying and raising families. This is especially difficult for women such as you and your mother where bringing up children and interacting with schools and other parents requires social skills that autistic individuals are poorly equipped with. Raising autistic children makes parenting that much more difficult. As you know having autism does make it easier to raise autistic children. It probably makes it more difficult and frustrating.

      I applaud you and your mother for succeeding to raise children to adulthood though I imagine you had some help. Since my wife and kids were not autistic we had an easier time. I heavily relied upon my wife to raise our children in the early years because I could not relate to young children very will. But our marriage had many rocky moments because my wife felt I lacked sensitivity to her feeling which was true but was not deliberate on my part though at the time neither of use understood the reasons or cause.

  2. Pingback: Running out of Time | ouR Social Conscience

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