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

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