Would you want to know if you were “on the spectrum”?
Some people don’t have the choice of knowing or not. Some are diagnosed at a young age because their Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) interferes with their quality of life. Or maybe their parents were educated on the topic of ASDs and sought an evaluation. Some people might never be properly diagnosed but live their entire lives as functioning members of society. In a recent presentation by Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) I heard about a man who was 42 when he was diagnosed. My first reaction to that was,
“What’s the point of being diagnosed at that age?”
He’s lived 42 years with these issues, problems, and symptoms and is clearly high-functioning enough to survive in a “neurotypical” world. I wonder what made him seek help in the first place. I also wonder if, when he found out, was his sense-of-self or identity destroyed or was it completed? Was autism the missing piece to his self-image?
While I don’t know that gentleman’s situation, I do know the “point”. With an ASD diagnosis, he can seek help for any problems he may have been having now that these issues have a name. It’s hard to fight what we can’t identify.
At the SARRC workshop I attended, there was a list of identifying factors, or “red flags” mentioned. While I don’t have the slides from that exact presentation, I did manage to find this list of symptoms on WebMD which appear similar.
The severity of symptoms varies greatly, but all people with autism have some core symptoms in the areas of:
- Social interactions and relationships. Symptoms may include:
- Significant problems developing nonverbal communication skills, such as eye-to-eye gazing, facial expressions, and body posture.
- Failure to establish friendships with children the same age.
- Lack of interest in sharing enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people.
- Lack of empathy. People with autism may have difficulty understanding another person’s feelings, such as pain or sorrow.
- Verbal and nonverbal communication. Symptoms may include:
- Delay in, or lack of, learning to talk. As many as 40% of people with autism never speak.
- Problems taking steps to start a conversation. Also, people with autism have difficulties continuing a conversation after it has begun.
- Stereotyped and repetitive use of language. People with autism often repeat over and over a phrase they have heard previously (echolalia).
- Difficulty understanding their listener’s perspective. For example, a person with autism may not understand that someone is using humor. They may interpret the communication word for word and fail to catch the implied meaning.
- Limited interests in activities or play. Symptoms may include:
- An unusual focus on pieces. Younger children with autism often focus on parts of toys, such as the wheels on a car, rather than playing with the entire toy.
- Preoccupation with certain topics. For example, older children and adults may be fascinated by video games, trading cards, or license plates.
- A need for sameness and routines. For example, a child with autism may always need to eat bread before salad and insist on driving the same route every day to school.
- Stereotyped behaviors. These may include body rocking and hand flapping.
So how many of these symptoms are required in order to be classified as “on the spectrum”? It’s the question I wanted to ask, but I didn’t want to “out” myself as a potential person-with-autism in a room of fellow teaching-artists. Personally, I’m batting about .750 with that list. I’ve learned how to adjust or cope with some of these “symptoms” over time through general living and theatre education. Theatre? Yes, “acting” like a neurotypical person has helped me develop neurotypical habits.
“Neurotypical is as neurotypical does.”
So am I neurotypical at this point?
What’s the difference between a person with ASD and just an odd or shy child?
At this point in your life, would you want to know?
Do I want to know?