Student Life

I’m happy with who I am

BY BEC FORD

In February this year, after nearly 19 years of my life, I was given a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 1.

It was a shock to me. I had thought something was missing – I felt like the diagnosis I had didn’t quite cover everything – but never once did I think I could be on the Autism Spectrum.

According to the official report I have “social communication deficits”, which means that without support, it can be noticeable that there’s something up. I may have “difficulty initiating social interactions” and “appear to have decreased interest in social interactions”. To be honest, I always just chalked that up to being an introvert and fangirl. I have “restricted, repetitive behaviours” which means that I can have “difficulty switching between activities” and “problems of organisation and planning”. Always thought that was just being stubborn, a procrastinator and interested in looking into the nitty gritty of things.

After receiving this diagnosis, I struggled. A lot. How could I have gone my whole life of nearly 19 years and not have realised this? To make it worse, after asking around, a substantial portion of my family had suspected it too. And had never said anything. For several months I just ignored it. All it was, was words on paper, right? I was given so much advice and support. “This diagnosis doesn’t change anything. You’re still the same person.” Really? How could I be? Everything had changed! “It’s just a word to explain some of your reactions to things. But it helps people around you to understand.” Yeah. Sure it does. It also changes who I am. It changes who I thought I was.

Honestly, I wanted none of it. I just wanted to pretend that nothing had happened. I was in some serious denial. It was only several months later when I became quite good friends with someone who I’d pretty much only met that day – which was pretty darn suspicious. I saw some of myself in them. A couple weeks later I finally got up the courage to ask what their brand of broken was, and found out they’d had a diagnosis of Asperger’s for 10 years.

So what is Asperger’s, and how does it differ from an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Level 1? For nearly 20 years Asperger’s was a formal diagnosis given to identify and treat patients who fit the criteria outlined in the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used to diagnose mental disorders and psychiatric problems. In 2013 the release of the latest edition of the DSM, the DSM-5, Asperger’s, was moved under the umbrella of ASD.

Technically speaking, Asperger’s now no longer exists. The diagnosis is still legitimate and accepted for those with the condition, but if they were to be re-tested they would be classified as ASD level 1. Had I been diagnosed 10+ years ago, like my friend (when I probably should have been), I most likely would have been given a diagnosis of Asperger’s. For those still confused, all it really meant is that Level 1 or “high functioning” Autism and Asperger’s were found to have very similar criteria, so were kind of just merged together and put under the term ASD Level 1. *

I’ve specified “Level 1” many times, and so you may be wondering what I mean. Autism Spectrum Disorder is just that. A spectrum.

This visual should help. At one end is Level 1 or “high functioning”. This is what I have. On the other end is level 3 or “severe”, which is more of the typical stereotyped Autism. Part of the reason I freaked out so much is because I wasn’t aware of this spectrum. My mind immediately went to severe Autism and I was like “what the heck? That ain’t me!”

So for me, after having this diagnosis for seven months, making a friend like me, and doing some research, I’ve become comfortable with who I am. In fact quite a few famous or well known people are said or speculated to have high functioning Autism or ASD including Susan Boyle, Anthony Hopkins, Adam Young (Owl City), Hans Christian Anderson, Tim Burton, Lewis Carroll, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Thomas Jefferson, Steve Jobs, Sir Isaac Newton, Nicola Tesla, and Michelangelo.

*For more on ASD vs Asperger’s, check out this article.

Featured image: CC/Pixabay

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