About a month ago, it came to light that I might fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. Before then, I hadn’t the slightest clue. In fact, because I don’t flap my hands, rock back and forth, cover my ears, go mute, or squeal, I never even asked the question. It never crossed my mind, much like “am I a radio?” isn’t a question people ask themselves.
When the realization hit me, it hit in waves.
First there was the two-week period in which I scoured every research article in the NeuroImage archive, being sure to evaluate my interest in the titles before automatically and gleefully saving them to my laptop’s hard drive, a time during which various catch-phrases stuck out at me, such as “task-switching”, “limbic activation”, “sensory gating”, and “cerebellar coordination” in relation to autism spectrum conditions.
Then there was the flashback to a family reunion when I shared an unusual connection with a distant cousin whom I had just met that seemed a little “off”, but characteristics that might distract or annoy others didn’t seem to faze me.
Next came the realization that all of the above seemed to converge within me, at least in some form.
And finally came the burning desire to investigate, and to know.
I started where many start; I googled “Asperger’s quiz”. Google didn’t disappoint. I took several quizzes, scoring strongly in the “autism likely” realm each and every time.
My next step was to Google “female adult Asperger’s blog” to explore the various writings from women on the spectrum.
My jaw hit the floor. Here was a whole wave of women whose posts so eerily mirrored what had I felt, thought, and experienced over the course of my entire life.
Of course, although Google didn’t disappoint, the “traditional” authorities did. Visiting “official” informational resources was like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard. I was amazed–and devastated–at how, in 2016, with our diagnostic imaging and laboratory capabilities, and our ever-expanding flood of scientific knowledge and discovery, the “authorities” could be so wrong. So out of touch. So backward. So ignorant. So inaccurate. The research on autism and its diagnostic criteria are mostly designed around the obvious characteristics observed in boys.
Where were the girls/women? Where was their voice? Where was their influence?
I’ll tell you.
We’re here. We’ve always been here. We’re not going away. Asperger’s and the rest of the autism spectrum is not an “epidemic” in the traditional sense. There aren’t more Aspies/autistic types than there were before.
What is epidemic is an awakening, a wave of understanding and realization. Awareness is on the rise; education and acceptance are following more slowly, but they’re coming. The most powerful autism awareness I’m witnessing is that of ourselves.
It’s no one’s fault, usually. Maybe we came of age long before Asperger’s was recognized and we missed that boat in childhood. (Or, maybe we came of age after Asperger’s was removed, in the United States, from the latest version of the DSM, the DSM-V).
Or maybe it was someone’s fault. Maybe we were overlooked. Ignored. Written off. Misunderstood. (Mis)diagnosed with something else (usually depression, bipolar, ADHD, OCD, PTSD, generalized anxiety disorders, etc). Maybe our social awkwardness defaulted to being shy and quiet, something adults prize in little girls. Maybe we were lost in our fantasy worlds and imaginary friends, while everyone else was none the wiser.
But we’ve always been the way we are. We’ve always been (sometimes painfully) aware that we were different from others. We didn’t understand why, and try as we might, we couldn’t change it.
We often found it hard to talk. We found it hard to be understood. We found it hard to understand–ourselves and others. We may have found it impossible to blend in. To be accepted. We might have figured we were crazy. We figured we were wrong. We might’ve assumed we were defective in some way. We assumed that we were weak or sensitive. We might have blamed ourselves, our parents, our families, our past, our present. Being an autistic type isn’t anybody’s fault; it’s something that just is. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
The truth is, we’re not wrong. We’re not defective. We’re not stupid. We’re not slow. We’re not retarded. We’re not immature. We’re not crazy. We’re not emotionless. We’re not narcissistic.
“OK” doesn’t mean we have it easy. “OK” doesn’t mean nothing’s wrong or that we’re not suffering in some way.
“OK” means we don’t–and shouldn’t–have to change who we are at the core to satisfy rules we had no say in making. “OK” means that we should feel free to be who we are, and to be true to ourselves. “OK” means that we’re real people with feelings, thoughts, desires, dreams, interests, and strengths. “OK” means that we should be entitled to the same freedom, respect, and voice as any other human being.
There are talents, challenges, and gifts that come with being an Aspie-type. The same goes for the rest of the spectrum. We need to identify these talents and gifts and embrace the uniqueness.
Up until today, I was relatively silent. I was alone with my newfound realization. I didn’t have the urge to “go tell it on the mountain”, but I do have the urge to release. I realize we (Aspie females) are not all silent; many of us have crafted beautiful blogs with intelligent and thoughtful posts. These blogs and their posts felt like a wave of hugs that calmly blanketed me, comforting me and helping me realize that I wasn’t alone. Today, I want to begin contributing to that supply of comforting information and insight, as limited as it may be right now. Not only do I have that urge to release, but I also have the urge to share, give back, and contribute.
Because I have the feeling that there is a silent wave coming, a wave of females awakening to their neuro-uniqueness and realizing who they are. The effect my experience had on me was akin to watching a flower bloom.
We’re here. We’ve always been here. And there are more.
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(Image credit: “Raven” by Matthew Armstrong)