The study of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has brought to light there are many things I can relate to, and some that do not strike my internal bell. Although I do not have a diagnosis of ASD, I am also definitely Neurodivergent (ND) rather than Neurotypical (NT). [see end of post for definitions of these two words]. For years it has been obvious that I just don’t process things the same way as most people. I do have an Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) diagnosis and have been learning that the two (ASD & ADD or ADHD) are closely interrelated, possibly with the same roots. Someone described it as what appears to be two icebergs above the water, but they’re joined under the water into one. Perhaps then it’s not surprising I have been very intrigued by studying autism and finding the similarities and differences in myself.
One thing I’ve learned is that there is a worldwide autistic community that often writes eloquently as they describe autistic life from the inside. For example, on Twitter look up the hashtags
#ActuallyAutistic , #AskingAutistics , and #autistic .
These are just a few of the hashtags that can help you learn more. Many of these people are highly intelligent, incredibly brilliant, and capable. Some of them were considered low functioning and nonverbal when younger, but eventually grew out of that and became able to function in the world around them. Several diagnosed autistic people have become advocates and activists for better understanding of ASD. That functioning does take a lot of effort however. These people are giving us a new insight on autism that should be an inspiration for parents of autistic children as well as for newly diagnosed adults.
On WordPress you can find Yinin’s Thoughts:
Aspergreatness- Liberty of Thinking:
And “Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism” which actually has several contributing authors.
Reading some of the blogs above, I was fascinated by a discussion on autistic actors in TV series and movies. Specifically mentioned by Yinin was “Gray’s Anatomy”.
I really wish they would start using actually autistic people in TV series and in movies. Or at least seriously consult with the artistic community. For example, in Gray’s Anatomy; Dr. Dixon, an autistic surgeon, makes an appearance in season 5. As i read in a blogpost by “Yinin’s Thoughts” :
“So I was already starting lose the rose-coloured nostalgia glasses when Dr Dixon showed up. She’s every bad autistic stereotype rolled into one, and characters like this are a huge part of why it took so long for me to even self-diagnose, let alone consider an official diagnosis.” ~Yinin 🙏
Yinin’s blogpost led me to
Lynne Soraya on Psychology Today:
1. “People with Asperger’s are individuals. The profile of skills and deficits vary with each person’s personality and makeup. Some may effect the person only slightly, others very strongly – and the same diagnostic criteria may manifest is a completely different way in two different individuals.
2. “Adults are different than kids. While Asperger’s is classed as a pervasive development disorder, meaning it doesn’t go away, that doesn’t mean it remains exactly the same throughout the lifespan. We learn and adapt. An adult, the age of Dr. Dixon, in this type of occupation, would have had to develop coping mechanisms to deal with her symptoms. She would have learned, at least to some degree, to put a veneer of “normalcy” over her more off-putting traits in order to get along in the world.
3. “Gender makes a big difference in how Asperger’s manifests. As Newsweek magazine notes, “…some specialists predict that as we diagnose more girls, our profile of the disorder as a whole will change. Anecdotally, they report that girls with Asperger’s seem to have less motor impairment, a broader range of obsessive interests, and a stronger desire to connect with others, despite their social impairment.” Further, girls with Asperger’s “…are more adept at copying the behaviors, mannerisms and dress codes of those around them, than Aspie boys tend to be.” Dr. Dixon does not reflect any of this.
4. “People with Asperger’s are as capable to have a brilliant career as anyone else. The Asperger’s “islets of talent” can actually give certain gifts that may make that person better at the job than a person without Asperger’s (think engineers, scientists, computer programmers, musicians, artists). Wouldn’t doctors know this? Isn’t this why they’d be courting her in the first place?
One thing that has confused me in diagnosing, is the theory that most people who are autistic, on the spectrum somewhere, are very resistant to (or uncomfortable with) touch and contact. However Dr. Dixon from Gray’s Anatomy above wants her coworkers to hug her to calm her down. And yet it was a hug from the parents of her patient that freaked her out. Somehow this doesn’t match up in my mind. I myself am a hugger extraordinaire. In fact I’ve had to teach myself that it’s not always appropriate to just hug people; that some people are not comfortable with that especially in a spontaneous way. It is just something I grew up with, I would hug and kiss everyone in the house before going to bed at night.
Many people have the idea that autistic people do not feel emotions or understand them. From everything I understand this is absolutely not true in most cases. Many ND people are actually hyper empathic, and are so overwhelmed by the emotions they don’t know how to sort them all out; which is why they might appear to freeze up on the outside.
I myself am hyper empathic, but I suspect sometimes I’m picking up things so far below the surface that the person is not even aware of that emotion or thinks they’re hiding it. With someone very close to me, and their words and attitude are opposite from the emotion I’m sensing, it creates within me a conflict that might lead to fight, flight, or freeze. The situation and their words are not making sense to me at that point.
It usually ends up with me melting down into cathartic sort of ball on the floor, in convulsions.
This cathartic reaction, ( is that even the right word?) This convulsive fetal position reaction, renders me inable to speak for a while. When someone speaks to me, maybe trying to get me to come out of it, I hear it but it doesn’t register. At this point I would usually be sobbing in an uncontrollable panic.
This generally takes a day or two to recover from, in terms of energy. It could be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour before I can speak coherently. Since I started taking an antidepressant about three years ago, I’ve only had a handful of these episodes. I’m able to take a hard look at myself, my reactions and emotions, without falling into the abyss. On the other hand, I often feel somewhat numb at times when I’m used to being extremely emotionally sensitive. I seldom even cry anymore when uncontrollable sobbing used to be a common reaction. It was all worst during menopause, so much worse. That is when I started having a long slow break down. At the same time I was living with my sister and being a caregiver for her as well as trying to run a photography business. Needless to say my sister was the most important at that point, and so I gave up my business and went to a doctor for the first time about my mental emotional problems. Since then I have been blessed to regularly see a counselor, actually a series of counselors. One thing that has come out of all of this is the thought that these life skills for coping should be taught in elementary school as a standard, for all children whether Neurodivergent (ND)
Or Neurotypical (NT)
All of this long post barely scratches the tip of the iceberg (whether the ASD iceberg or the ADHD tip). If you have family, friends, or acquaintances that are autistic (including Asperger’s syndrome), I encourage you to check out some of these links and learn more to help yourself better understand. If you wonder if maybe you are autistic, reading some of these blog posts and asking questions on Twitter are excellent ways to learn more.
Thank you to those who take time to actually read, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this. If I am inaccurate in something I said, feel free to let me know.
3 thoughts on “More than Meets the Eye: the tip of the Autism Iceburg.”
Nice article. My 10 year old daughter is High Functioning Autistic. Being NT it is a challenge to enter her world sometimes. So stories like this give me a better insight. I have often thought that with her, there is a deep emotional connection to people and things that she has trouble expressing. While she’ll laugh and smile at kids making jokes and playing, she rarely contributes to these antics. I can see the frustration in her face. So it was nice to hear that my assumption has some merit.
The biggest challenge I have faced lately is getting others to understand that she thinks differently than they do. Like relatives demanding she say ‘Please & Thank You’. And no matter how many times I tell them, they just don’t understand. *Sighs* Mores the pity.
Great Article, thanks for writing it.
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Thank you very much for your response! It’s an issue close to my heart for many reasons. I love the fact that you see that emotional response in her and you are trying to understand better and get others to also. If you’re on Twitter, try the #AutisticParent and you will find many things. There are also quite a few autistic parents who are autistic themselves. They would be good to talk to to learn more
Thanks for the tip! I will check it out.
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