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Why Get an Adult Asperger’s Diagnosis?

Welcome to all of my visitor’s from Melissa Dahl’s post on Today.com about Susan Boyle’s adult Asperger’s diagnosis…and mine! Please leave a comment if you share a similar story or have otherwise been touched by what you’ve read.

It’s official: I am on the autism spectrum. Today, my psychiatrist added Asperger Syndrome (colloquially known as Asperger’s Syndrome) to my chart and on my insurance form. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, but the realization that TJ is getting older and may have questions soon finally spurred me into action. When we finally have that talk with him about his own Asperger’s diagnosis, I want to be able to tell him that it’s okay. Mommy has it, too.

Yes, I have Asperger's.

What are Asperger’s Symptoms?

As sort of an afterthought on my way out of my previous appointment with my doctor, I asked him if we could look at getting me the official diagnosis. In seeking that Asperger’s diagnosis, he pulled out his handy dandy copy of the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) to go through the diagnostic criteria for Asperger Disorder. Here they are:

(I) Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:

    (A) marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction (B) failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level (C) a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interest or achievements with other people, (e.g.. by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people) (D) lack of social or emotional reciprocity

(II) Restricted repetitive & stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:

    (A) encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus (B) apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals (C) stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g. hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements) (D) persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

(III) The disturbance causes clinically significant impairments in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
(IV) There is no clinically significant general delay in language (E.G. single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years)

My symptoms? Let’s go through them in order.

I have issues making eye contact, though it’s not as pronounced as it can be in others with a more severe form of Asperger Syndrome. I have trouble reading people as far as intent and sincerity; I don’t read body language well. I’ll come back to the peer relationships part… I have a feeling it’s something the doc and I talk about a lot. I don’t start conversations with real life friends and acquaintances at parties and such; I’m only a sharer online. And social reciprocity escapes me quite often; I’m terrible at inviting people to dinner and other things after they’ve extended invitations to me. Granted, my house is not conducive to having company, but I expect I will still overlook the opportunity to do stuff with people when we finally get a bigger house.

Then there’s the second part. People with Asperger’s tend to have obsessions. Mine are generally computer-based, and my current obsession is World of Warcraft; it has been for over a year. I think about it even when I’m not logged in. Inflexible adherence to routine? I have tremendous discomfort when I can’t sit in my seat when we have Sunday dinner at my parents’ house. (It doesn’t happen often; I can only remember one recent occasion when my grandma was sitting alone on the opposite side of the table and my mom told her I would move to keep her company. I moved because I love my grandma, but it just felt wrong sitting with my back to the window.) I also must be to Tom’s left whenever we are seated or walking together. I do have a finger flapping issue. It’s not as noticeable as someone who flaps their arms as a stim, but once it starts, I can’t stop it until it’s over, even if my fingers start to physically hurt or cramp from it. (My toes do the same thing.) The last bit there is not applicable to me.

And it’s not one of the criteria, but I am hopelessly clumsy, with an awkwardness of movement typical of people with Asperger’s, some of whom like to self-describe as Aspies. Wikipedia uses the phrase “unusually pedantic,” which does apply to me, as well.

Understand Relationships with Asperger’s

I’m going to go back to that part about failing to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level. In all of my personal research into Asperger’s Syndrome since TJ’s diagnosis, I never realized how much this part applied to me until today, when my psychiatrist made a point of it. Most of my in-game friends from World of Warcraft are in their 20s – many in their early 20s – which is  completely difference stage in life than where I am. If it weren’t for all of my mom blogger friends met through social media, most of the people I’ve ever felt closest to in my life have been younger than me – or at least less mature if our physical ages were similar. As a high school senior, most of the people I hung out with were juniors, and my boyfriend was a sophomore. I never officially dated anyone older than myself, and the guys my age I saw casually in college were certainly not emotionally mature. (Their unwillingness to stop seeing – or even telling me about – their girlfriends was a sure sign of that.) Even Tom, my wonderful husband, is younger than me, if only by a matter of months. The social difference is much bigger, though, because I was a grade ahead of him. It matters little now that we’re in our 30s, but I suppose there were distinct differences when we first started dating as teenagers in college.

It’s something I can be aware of now, and I can use this framework to look back at parts of my life with better understanding for why I’ve done some of the things I’ve done.

There is No Pill for Asperger’s Disorder

While the world of psychiatry is rife with pharmacological cures, there is no medication to treat Asperger’s. So what was the point in getting a diagnosis at this point in my life, when there’s nothing I can actually do about it? For me, it’s important to stop feeling like I’m  faking my connection with other people on the spectrum. Before, I would only confess displaying “features” of Asperger’s, unsure if I truly qualified as part of the community. Now I know I belong. Belonging is a strange thing when you’ve tried so hard all your life to fit in somewhere, and so often have failed. (Thank God for the Internet for removing some of the barriers I’d faced growing up.)

It also provides a specific framework for looking at the choices I’ve made and have yet to make. How much of my life has been shaped by neurological wiring I knew nothing about? Knowing what sort of predispositions I have because of this thing called Asperger’s, maybe I can make better choices in the future. I can try to work on the things that are more difficult for me, although I know I’ll never be a graceful dancer, and I’ll never really be comfortable with small talk. But maybe I can practice better eye contact with people. Baby steps.

Good Things About Having Asperger Syndrome

Another reason I wanted to get diagnosed was so I could show TJ that having Asperger’s doesn’t mean you’re doomed. I don’t like to brag, but I’m very intelligent. In elementary school, the school psychologist told my parents I’d scored in the genius range on the IQ test. That’s something that often comes along with Asperger Disorder. After all, it’s speculated that some pretty bright folks had Asperger’s: Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Bobby Fischer, Carl Jung, Friedrich Nietzsche, George Bernard Shaw, George Washington, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Ford, Isaac Newton, Beethoven, Mark Twain, Michelangelo, Thomas Edison, Thomas Jefferson, Vincent Van Gogh, Mozart… That’s pretty good company.

For me, Asperger’s manifests positively in my attention to grammar and spelling. I’ve built a successful career from my skill as a writer and editor. Unusually pedantic? Yes, but that means I get things right for my clients. If that means I’m sometimes called a Grammar Nazi, so be it. Aspie obsessions can lead to amazing things, as evidenced by that list of famous people above. It’s about finding a way to make it work for you. (Admittedly, I wish my obsession with playing WoW paid off as well as my obsession with the English language!)

There’s a great article about the Benefits of Asperger’s Syndrome, and it makes some very good points. I like the part about the Aspie difficulties with social conventions lead many of us to be incapable of things like racism and sexism. We see people as people based on their own merits in our own minds.

And there’s me, of course. I had a terrible time getting picked on – verbally bullied – back when I was in school, but I made it through, and with at least one close friend who’s stuck with me for more than half my life. And a handful of friends I still see a few times a  year for holiday parties and such.

I’m a mom with special needs, with a special needs child. I’m a small business owner on the autism spectrum. I’m a happily married woman with Asperger Syndrome. It’s hard for me to talk to people I don’t know. It’s terrifying to speak in front of groups of people. sometimes I just don’t “get” what other people are talking about. But I’m muddling through, and even succeeding at a few things, the same as anyone – Aspie or neurotypical. You can be on the spectrum without most people ever knowing you’re anything other than “a little odd.”

Why did I get diagnosed with Asperger’s as an adult? Because it felt like the right thing to do.

Christina Gleason (833 Posts)

That’s me: Christina Gleason. I’m a professional copywriter, editor, and blogger. My company is called Phenomenal Content. (Hire me!) I’m a relatively high-functioning Aspie who also lives with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. I am not ashamed to admit that I am in the care of a psychiatrist, who assures me that people in therapy are often better adjusted than “normal” people who are not, because at least we know what our issues are and are working on them. I’m a geek for grammar, fantasy, and select types of gaming, including World of Warcraft and Plants vs Zombies 2. I hate vegetables. I have an intense phone phobia, so I’ll happily conduct business over email or IM instead. I have started writing no fewer than five novels, and I hope to finish one of them...eventually.

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{ 12 comments… add one }

  • Rhea Drysdale May 9, 2012, 12:07 am

    You’re also an insanely talented writer, wonderful mother and wife, good friend, and courageous woman. In the face of this diagnosis, don’t forget those! :)

  • Evilbatwitch May 9, 2012, 7:22 pm

    Holy crap we’re like… Twins. I am totally freaked out, now. But, Rhea’s right. You’re awesome, and don’t you forget it.
    Someday, I should tell you about my symptoms, but then again, you could just look at your own story and apply it to me.

  • Helen May 13, 2012, 3:32 pm

    You are one brave lady. I amazed at how well you write. You have amazing courage and I salute you Christina.

  • Lisa Rae @ smacksy August 9, 2012, 5:47 pm

    Brave. Thanks for teaching us about this.

    • Christina August 9, 2012, 7:37 pm

      Thank you. It’s freeing, therapeutic in a way, to come out and “talk” about it like this.

  • Vicki Massy Palmer December 9, 2013, 10:26 pm

    There are so many conditions people have and don’t find out about until they’re adults. When we moved to Florida in 1990, I had my son tested again for signs of any type of brain malfunction such as ADD, etc. When we were going over symptoms, I kept telling the psychologist that I had the same problems as my son — disorganization, mild dyslexia, trouble focusing, short attention span. It would come and go depending on whether I was rested, eating well and handling my stress level. The doc told me I had picked the worst possible profession — a copy editor for a metropolitan newspaper. He said I had learned to cope somehow and had trained myself to function. I worked for The Columbus Dispatch for 12 years on the main news desk and finally understood why I couldn’t explain some of the unexplainable mistakes I had made that were in print before I could correct them. Here’s the irony — the managing editor was obviously but secretly dyslexic. He wrote a column once a week and often hand-picked me to edit it. OMG — I look back on that and wonder about so many things. I didn’t let him down ever, but I worried myself sick over making sure I caught all of HIS problems. I never got a chance to share this with him.

  • Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA December 10, 2013, 11:20 am

    Hi Christina,
    Thanks for a great article on a topic near and dear to me: both I and my 28-year-old son are Aspies! We have wonderful times staying up all night sharing a mutual fascination with “going to Space,” as he puts it. We spend hours imagining the tiniest details about what it would be like if this happened, or if that happened. I actually like to call high-functioning autism “The Little Prince Syndrome,” after St. Exupery’s lovely character. It really does seem to me that we come from another planet. My childhood experience of high-functioning autism is published on the blog Black Box Warnings, titled “I Am Alien.” I won’t copy the link into your comments box because mine automatically sends comments with links to spam, but if you feel like reading it, there it is. Enjoy your son and his journey. Our journey through growing up Aspie was very hard, but once we made it through the really tough parts, and especially once he made an obsession of learning to communicate, life has been great. He’s now All But Dissertation in Cell Biology, doing things that have never been done before. It’s a challenging life, but it can be magical!
    All the best to you,
    Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA
    PS–I’m also bipolar, with various other DSM diagnoses thrown in for good measure. If you’d like to visit my blog, Bipolar For Life, I’d love to see you there :-)

  • Kirsty Terry December 10, 2013, 12:28 pm

    Hats off to you for being so brave and speaking out about this subject which affects the lives of so many people and their families. Regarding your comment ” there is no medication to treat Asperger’s. So what was the point in getting a diagnosis at this point in my life, when there’s nothing I can actually do about it?” Did you know that some of the symptoms of ASD’s are reversible? I have a website with some information on that it might be worth you having a look at. http://www.equilibrium-health.com/autism-off-the-spectrum/. I would be grateful to hear any comments you have.
    Kindest Regards

  • Jeri December 31, 2013, 2:29 pm

    Christina,

    Thank you!!! You have just soothed my heart!! I am a mom of a 23 year son and I’ve known there is “something” special about him and have felt that it is Aspergers but was afraid to discuss it with him, he is “highly” functional as they would say and I didn’t want to say something that might make him go backwards, does that make sense? My son loves animation, video games, holds down a full-time job and does very well on his own “but” socially its tough. He loves people, he loves conversation but yes, bullied in his earlier days and very cautious so as to not get hurt. I want to talk to him and tell him about Aspergers, about you and so many others that are a part of who he is and that its all wonderful and exciting!! Please contact me and tell me its a good idea to talk to him, reassure me, mom to mom!!

    • Christina Gleason January 3, 2014, 5:08 pm

      It’s not a bad idea to talk to him, but be sure to address it to him carefully. People often feel defensive when confronted with the idea that they could be on the autism spectrum. For me, though, it was helpful to have something to put my finger on to describe how I’ve felt all my life.

  • Dean January 19, 2014, 11:48 pm

    Hello Christina -

    Thank you for sharing. It took some digging to find your website, but I am glad I did. I have one question that I cannot find anywhere: How can I get an official medical diagnosis for A.S. and what costs are involved?

    I do not have insurance, my wife and everyone close to me is in agreement that I am most likely an Aspie, as I have seen it referred to, and I want to find out and hopefully get some help for myself and those around me.

    I am in the Seattle area and while I have found therapists, the two I have spoken with tell me they can meet with me and tell me if I am, but cannot give a medical diagnosis.

    Thanks for your help with this and continued success with your career and journey!

    • Christina Gleason January 20, 2014, 9:16 pm

      You’d need someone with an M.D. to diagnose you, I think, although “Asperger’s” no longer exists as an official diagnosis. The DSM-V only lists it as Autism Spectrum Disorder now. The next time you have to visit a medical doctor, you could ask if they can go through the diagnostic criteria with you and assign an official diagnosis.

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