Aspergers Syndrome has been a part of me for as long as I can remember. While I’ve experienced new things as a child and adult, and faced new challenges in life, autism has been my constant.
What I’ve found recently though is how Aspergers, or autism in general, can evolve as you grow, and also how vast the autistic spectrum really is. I always thought being low-achieving meant you struggled to walk, talk or communicate at all, while being high-achieving meant you could look after yourself and do anything you want to do with your life.
It isn’t so easy though is it? Even if you’ve learned to look people in the eye, understand when somebody is being sarcastic and develop the confidence to take the world and its challenges on, there are still surprise autistic quirks aren’t there?
I’m talking about myself here in the sense I can develop anxiety from time-to-time, and worry about trivial things like a door knocking or how I can say the right things when I talk to somebody I like.
Where I could socialise at all as a child, or even as an 18-year-old or 19-year-old, I can now. The awkwardness of being incredibly shy around people I like has gone, but now I just want to say the right things. It’s like I’m three or four years behind in the understanding love stakes!
In myself though, I’m confident. I have drive and determination, and I say I’m high-functioning. I put myself in a group with others who can take care of myself, but I realise I can conduct myself perfectly while other high-functioning people with autism can panic over the smallest things. They can get upset over the smallest mistakes, become fixated on them and not know how to find a resolution.
This happened with a family member over the Christmas break. She isn’t autistic but she is elderly, and I see signs of autism in her. She is very reliant on time and if you are a minute or two late for something, you’re not allowed to forget it! She cannot handle any bad situation in a positive way, and she is starting to become withdrawn.
There is no official autistic diagnosis but my own Aspergers traits must come from somewhere?
What I’ve started to do though is study the traits of adults who are autistic, and seemingly high-functioning.
Watching the first episode from the third series of The Undateables, a documentary series shown by Channel 4 which shows how British people with disabilities look for love through dating agencies and sometimes if they are lucky enough, find love, gave me a chance to look at an autistic person and find stark differences in how I behave.
Daniel is a 25-year-old who is looking for love. On the show, he met Hollie. She is said to have a mild learning disability but while her actual diagnosis is not disclosed, it is mentioned from the outset that Daniel has Aspergers.
A red rag was threw to me straight away, just like a bull who is being teased before he pounces!
Daniel’s reactions to finding a date and then his dating technique interested me. He was extremely animated and showed strong emotions, such as banging the kitchen table and celebrating the moment like he had scored the winning goal in the FA Cup final. This intrigued me and as the episode later showed, nerves seemed to get the better of him during his first date before he ultimately succeeded in securing a second date.
Social conventions are something that mean a lot to me, and I was surprised by Daniel’s. Was his level of excitement something you can relate to if you have a high-functioning form of autism?
Am I at a stage where I’m almost ‘cured’ of autism, in a sense? Am I growing out of my disability because I’ve lost the little differences that made me unique as a child and teenager?
As reported by the BBC in January 2013, “Dr Deborah Fein and her team at the University of Connecticut studied 34 children who had been diagnosed with autism in early childhood but went on to function as well as 34 other children in their classes at school.”
In describing her findings, they say: “On tests – cognitive and observational, as well as reports from the children’s parents and school – they were indistinguishable from their classroom peers. They now showed no sign of problems with language, face recognition, communication or social interaction.
“For comparison, the researchers also studied another 44 children of the same age, sex and non-verbal IQ level who had had a diagnosis of “high-functioning” autism – meaning they were deemed to be less severely affected by their condition.
“It became clear that the children in the optimal outcome group – the ones who no longer had recognisable signs of autism – had had milder social deficits than the high-functioning autism group in early childhood, although they did have other autism symptoms, like repetitive behaviours and communication problems, that were as severe.”
Curing autism doesn’t seem right, but I think I’ve gone down a similar route to the children who Fein worked with. I feel less and less autistic every day, and I’m glad I’m not alone in that theory.