Autism Awareness Month, Day 15: Autism and Other Diagnoses


My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you’re ugly too. ~Rodney Dangerfield

Transference. Healing feelings. You can’t warehouse these things, you know? H.M. Murdock, The A-Team (2010)

This guy Murdock is nuts!

Psychology is a lot like stunt driving for me. I’d like to think I know a lot, and could probably pass myself as an expert on the subject, but when you get down to it, I’m really a rank amateur who knows a great many fancy terms. I took Psychology 101, Abnormal Psychology (Murdock’s old favorite) and even Sports Psychology. Being diagnosed with AS has been an adventure into the psychological world beyond what I ever expected. If you’d like to read a bit more about this, I did an earlier post entitled “Being a Medical Experiment Is Fun!” If nothing else, my diagnosis has enabled me to close one chapter on my life and begin another. Let me explain a bit…

When I was a child, AS was all but unknown in the medical community and autism was epitomized by children who never spoke or rocked silently back and forth. It wasn’t a term used to describe a little girl who spoke in a precocious, near-adult way, was able to do well in school, and loved horses and stuffed animals like many of the others her own age. Nevertheless, as I got older, my parents became aware that something was slightly off, like a light bulb flickering slowly off and on. It was obvious in the way I interacted with my fellow students…or in many cases, refused to interact with them at all. Enter the various school psychologists and counselors.

“She seems normal to me,” I recall one tall, stringy woman telling my parents in a hushed voice, “but have you considered medication?”

That was the beginning of my lifelong love-hate relationship with the psychiatric community. I never did get put on Ritalin or something similar and I thank heaven for that. As childhood segued into adolescence, the picture became murkier. I started getting distracted easily, which the school couselor attributed to ADD. I expressed dark thoughts, so depression was the guess. And so on and so forth. I had so many of the “alphabet soup” labels flung at me, in fact, that it’s a miracle I don’t have imprints of tiny letters all over my skin.

One of these guys is not like the others

It was 1994 before Asperger Syndrome was even included in the DSM diagnostic manual for the first time. By then I was speeding through high school on a college prep track, still largely depressed but otherwise unconvinced that anything was medically awry. Ditto for my parents and counselors, who attributed most of my dark days to typical teenage angst or the ever-popular “female hormones” excuse. None of this explained why I couldn’t recognize people’s faces, had a terrible working memory, or liked to take solace in very dark rooms. I guessed I was merely eccentric, which, had I lived in the United Kingdom, would have served as a diagnosis all its own.

That was almost fifteen years ago. Now, as an adult who has a lot more answers, I can look back and see where everyone went wrong. There was an unknown variable, and we were trying to solve the mysterious equation with the variables we knew. If any astronomy buffs like me remember the disovery of the planet(oid) Pluto in 1930, it’s the same basic idea. How can we know a body is in space unless we can either see it or physically account for its presence?

I may be one of the “lucky” ones, if you’d like to call it that. When I received my diagnosis, I did not have any of the comorbids often found in autistic people. I do have often severe social anxiety, but that is common among Aspies. I do know that many of my fellow Aspies must also contend with obsessive-compulsive traits (OCD), attention deficit and/or hyperactivity, severe depression, eating disorders, or even more garden-variety medical conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure. None of these are ever easy to handle, but for an Aspie, they can be positively incapacitating. This may help to explain why so many Aspies are either unemployed or underemployed, and why many must rely on relatives or Social Security just to get by. The sad truth is that a majority of employers are unable or unwilling to see past the “disabilities” and realize the “abilities.” Ditto for health insurers.

I’m not sure why Aspies and others on the spectrum are so vulnerable to other diagnoses. Many studies even suggest that there is a connection between autistic genes and gastrointestinal (GI) problems. Some swear by a gluten-free or casein-free diet (I myself am one of those with a cast-iron stomach, though I increasingly need Tums for reflux.) Are our systems more fragile than those of NTs? I’m willing to bet they are.

As it turns out, both doctor and patient were narcoleptic

 
I’ve compiled a partial list of common co-diagnoses with autism or Aspergers. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and for further reading on the subject, I recommend going to any number of autism sites out there:
 
* Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
* Attention deficit disorder (ADD, also with hyperactivity as ADHD)
* Fragile X syndrome
* Tourette’s syndrome
* Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
* Schizophrenia
* Suicidal tendencies
* Major depression
* Rett’s disorder
* Irritable bowel symdrome (IBS)
* Gluten or casein intolerance or other food intolerances
* Dyslexia
 
For the record, if you have a young AS or Aspie child, I’m of the school that believes that diagnosis should be a slow, careful and measured process. It should not be a quick or simple leap to conclusions. Just because you, or your physician or counselor, believes in a particular diagnosis, does not make it so. Take time…and also remember that two heads are better than one. Also, try not to throw labels around…sometimes they can do more harm than good. Your doctor, counselor, autism specialist, or tutor will all be of insistence. It’s their job to help.
 
And also remember…a label does *not* make or break a person. It’s just a label, after all!
 
Thanks for all who continue to support this month-long project! I appreciate my readers. Tomorrow: Some popular fictional characters with autism and how we can relate to them.
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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on April 16, 2011.

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