In 1969, the year I was born; Autism Awareness was nonexistent. Only the most severely afflicted would be accurately diagnosed and therapy was in the earliest stages of development. Most people just did not understand the range of autistic behavior nor did anyone realize how common these types of neurological disorders were. I was fortunate, Asperger’s Syndrome commonly lends itself to high IQ test scores, and I was placed in a “gifted”-child program in my public school. The combination of challenging material and an environment where aptitude was rewarded by teachers and admired by classmates contributed immeasurably to the normalcy of my own childhood.
In 1990, the year my daughter was born; Autism Awareness was not common by any means, but most professional behaviorists and a growing number of educators were able to identify specific clues to autistic behavior and diagnosis became more common if not more accurate. It is not unusual for a particular neurological disorder, especially the trendy new one on the scene, to become a sort of catch-all disorder. If we can’t figure out what is your child’s problem with our school is, we’ll just call it autism and tell you the only option is special education classification. Hope your kid likes riding the short bus.
My daughter’s name is Elizabeth, I suppose that you can surmise her last name from mine. I spent my entire childhood being told by adults about a famous actor that I had never heard of who shared my name. Then I obliviously did the same thing to my baby. Bad daddy, no kisses for you. But that injustice seems trivial as I read studies that claim that the father is the most-likely culprit in the genetic preconditions that lead to the Autistic Spectrum, and it’s hard for me not to feel guilty. My own innocence in finding myself in this spectrum seems contrived and self-justifying. I’m supposed to be bright, how could I not know?
My daughter’s eventual diagnosis of Moderate to Severe Asperger’s Syndrome was a labyrinthine road, full of quacks and competent alike. Tourette’s Syndrome was bandied about, as well as ADD, and a host of other conditions easily treatable with just a few pills! At least the quacks were unanimous in their recommended treatment solutions. Thanks to a few committed professionals, my ex and I became aware of just what it was that caused the physical tics and extreme melt-downs that accompanied any change in our child’s daily routine.
During the process of meeting with behavioral specialists and school counselors, I began to realize that I shared many of the traits that my daughter was exhibiting, and I found that I could relate to nearly every one of her own personal “quirks”. It was not until well after my daughter’s diagnosis that I decided to take an online test from the University of Colorado that was a web-based version of the standard test used by the University’s psychology department to diagnose people who suffer from the various forms of autism. I did it as a lark, just on impulse while I was researching treatments and suggestions to help me deal with my daughter’s condition. The results of this test were a bit of a surprise at the time, but it all makes sense now. I was categorized as “very likely” to be an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome, 97% likely according to the online test.
While there are no treatment options that I can find for adults with Asperger’s, it is no small measure of comfort to finally realize that I am not quite so strange or odd. I’m not even all that unusual, it turns out most folks with Asperger’s Syndrome behave a whole lot like myself. We all have the same obsession to detail, we all cling to our daily routines as a way to insulate ourselves from the strangeness of the neuro-typical world, and we all are susceptible to emotional melt-downs when our personal apple-carts are upset. I don’t know why it is such a comfort to realize that I am not the only person around who can fixate on a topic to such an extent that I lose the ability to even think of anything else, but it is a definite comfort. Perhaps it is just human nature to feel more secure knowing that you are not alone, maybe it only seems strange to me because I am not usually someone who feels a whole lot of “typical” human emotions.
Mankind still has a long way to go before Autism Awareness is so common that every child is diagnosed in time for effective treatment, I know that I will probably not be the last person to have to deal with this disorder alone, mostly by trial and error. But I am encouraged by the success of my daughter, by the results I can see firsthand when her parents take her condition into consideration when planning outings or events, she is so much more capable now that she was 10 years ago. I am encouraged by seeing t-shirts and bumper stickers that promote Autism Awareness, though they are still far from ubiquitous and the impact that they have is likely very slight. But I firmly believe that by focusing on education for those who teach and care for our children, and committing to supporting those who suffer from this disorder that Asperger’s Syndrome can become less of a liability and more of a benefit to those that are afflicted with it. Who knows, maybe it could become a boon for all of humanity. After all, if Newton was an “Aspie”, then we “Aspies” might all be capable of helping mankind evolve into something more.