Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Aspergers In My Daily Life: A Study

As I've said in a previous post, I've recently started writing a book about my experiences growing up and living as an Aspie. The support I've received for this project has been immense and really heartwarming but it has frequently caused me to wonder; am I autistic enough to write this? Aren't there those far more severely on the spectrum than I, and would they really be served by my work on this subject? Ultimately, I'm not self shaming with this; I know I'm definitely an Aspie and that this blog helps loads of people daily (as I hope the book will too!). The thing of it is though, if anything this project has made me more aware of my little "aspie moments" on a daily basis. In light of that, I'd like to share a few examples of how Aspergers influences me in my every day life:

Sarcasm: Oh boy. Let it first be said that I absolutely LOVE sarcasm! The wordplay, the double entendres...its the stuff of language geek porn! Needless to say, I am an extremely sarcastic person, and I fling it with wild abandon at both my customers and coworkers alike. I am not, however quite as good at getting it back. Like anyone on the spectrum, I have an extremely hard time distinguishing between genuine comments and sarcasm. Sure, I can read the obvious cues, but when a person is consistently sarcastic with a deadpan facial expression, I start to worry and wonder. We recently hired a new guy at work for example, and while I think quite highly of him as a human, he is a perfect example of what I'm talking about and as a result I didn't know how to take him at first. Now? My obliviousness has become a running joke among all of my coworkers and I.

Verbal Motor Skills: I am obviously a lover of language and writing, and yet there are so many times throughout any given day when I find myself fumbling over my words, unable to articulate what I know my brain wants my mouth to say. This contributes to my clumsiness and social awkwardness, and it feels as though my brain is literally running a billion times faster than what my mouth can keep up with. In many ways, this is why I've embraced writing; I can take my time and communicate far more eloquently than my verbal skills allow for. This is especially true when I'm nervous, such as when my boss is standing right over my shoulder...

Sensory Overload: I know I've already devoted an entire blog post to this, but I just wanted to reiterate it as part of this entry; sensory overload is definitely a thing. And it sucks. In my case, its very much brought on by crowds of people, loud noises, and when things get busy at work. Working in retail, you can imagine this happens all the time, which leads me to....

Anxiety: To be frank, I feel anxiety about almost everything. What should I do for breakfast? Is my friend upset at me? Am I texting too much? Am I NOT TEXTING ENOUGH? My list could go on indefinitely, and as one of my best friends is fond of pointing out, "Adam just has THINGS about THINGS." Since its tied to Aspergers, my anxiety manifests mainly in terms of social situations. Typically, my responses to these situations at work progress as follows: crowds/hordes of humans --->loud noises----> sensory overload -----> anxiety. I also have a bad habit of questioning myself on every decision I make, and then second-guessing it as well. This makes social situations interesting to put it mildly.

I know I'm missing many little examples, but I hope this serves as just a small taste of how Aspergers influences my daily life as an adult. Everyone's experiences are different, however, and your mileage may vary. We all have challenges after all, and no two people are alike. Just because someone you encounter may not seem to have challenges and quirks, it doesn't mean that they don't. Me personally? I know I'm weird, but I prefer to think of it as different. And proud!

Yours in diversity,

Adam Michael

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Autism and ADHD Comorbidity: A Journey of Self Discovery

A funny thing happened to me the other day and inspired the writing of this post. I've been working recently on writing a book about my experiences as an Aspie in the hopes of helping others embrace and love themselves, so as such I needed some research. Figuring there was no better place to start this project than with my own original diagnosis documents, I went to the school board office in my town to request my paperwork. Little did I know, however, that a surprise awaited me when I opened the envelope I was handed. As I looked through the documents, an explorer rediscovering parts of my own past, I came across a report detailing a second opinion my parents had sought out regarding Aspergers. Now, this may not seem strange at first since many people who are issued a new diagnosis often wish to obtain another perspective. What struck me here, however, is that the psychiatrist who saw me also identified in me, to use her own words, “an attention deficit.”

Wait...what? Indeed, dear readers, according to another psychiatrist, I also have elements of an attention deficit in my brain. This confused me at first; after all, I'm an Aspie right? I've always seen myself in such a light. The sight of a new, somewhat unofficial diagnosis prompted me to do some research. I downloaded the DSM-IV since it was in circulation at the time of my original diagnosis, along with the latest edition (DSM-V) so that I could compare. I also did much research into both Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and whether it could occur alongside ASD, and what I found definitely intrigued me. According to the DSM-IV, the two could not co-occur, but so many psychiatrists and psychologists noticed overlap between the two that the new rules say that a person with ASD can most definitely also have ADHD. Fascinated, I then read the diagnostic criteria for both ASD and ADHD in the DSM-V and was stunned to find out that, in addition to ASD, the ADHD ones also fit me to a T.

It was as official as it could get without getting professionally assessed: I have ADHD.

I can't tell you what a loop this threw me for. On the one hand, I had always identified as only an Aspie. I grant you that there are parts of my personality that are clearly eccentric yet not covered by the ASD diagnosis, but I've always dismissed those as the fact that no two Autistic individuals are alike. To learn that there is another factor at play in my mind has caused me to re-evaluate where I stood on myself. On the other hand, however, as I learned about ADHD in greater detail, I felt like I'd finally come home. While my ADHD is definitely more along the lines of the inattentive type not the hyperactive one, it still felt as though I had found the missing piece of my puzzle. Oddly enough, it felt great!

I am most definitely an Aspie; my difficulty reading social cues, picking up on the fine nuances of facial expressions and obsessive interests see to it that I will always have a home among those with ASD. Learning about comorbidity has been an enlightening experience for me though, and its propelled me to a deeper understanding of how my own brain works. I also most definitely have ADHD; I get bored easily, have difficulty doing tasks, and tend to rush through them to get them over with while only barely paying attention. While I've coped with these traits as much as I've coped with my Aspie ones over the years, they are absolutely still a part of me.

And you know what? That's completely okay by me.

I've said it before on this blog, but I'll say it again; we are not our labels. The DSM is a wonderful diagnostic tool that is helpful in qualifying the issues that a person may face in life and giving them names, but we must remember that it is merely that – a tool. It's a guidebook that can provide assistance and direction while we embark on our journeys, but it should never be used to pathologize personality types or to tell people what they can or cannot do simply based on an arbitrary set of diagnostic criteria. Yes, Adam does have Aspergers, and yes Adam does have ADHD; these are inseparable aspects of my personality as a human being and I can not simply shake them. It's important to remember, however, that I am Adam first. We are all ourselves first, and the only ones who can determine our potential contributions and self-worth are ourselves.

Never let anyone else tell you what you're capable of.

As always, yours in diversity,

Adam Michael