Do I have autism?
1) Dear Alice,
Do I really have Asperger's Syndrome? The other day, one of my friends suggested that I was showing some autistic signs, which made me quite worried. I thought something may have been wrong with me. Since then I've taken several AQ tests on the internet and most of them say I may be an "Aspie." I'm too frightened to tell my peers because they'll most like treat me differently, and I'm to embarrassed to tell my close family. What should I do to be certain whether or not I have Asperger's Syndrome?
2) Dear Alice,
I just turned 18, and I'm a girl. I've been diagnosed with Asperger's "traits" by my psychiatrist in the past (I was also diagnosed with ADHD Inattentive Type), but since I've started working at a school for kids with Spectrum disorders, I've started to realize how similar some of my behaviors and reactions to them. For instance, I don't recognize facial expressions, unless they're extreme, I love sensory things — like rolling one of those squishy toys with the rubber tentacles between my hands — and I love applying pressure to myself — like applying pressure to my temples or sinuses when I get a headache or massaging my own hands or feet. I also have actions that calm me, like playing with bumps in my hair caused by my ponytail and biting my nails. I have certain actions that make me want to scream, like when my brother (who was diagnosed with Asperger’s) pops his knuckles or taps his fingernails on the tabletop. I'm not overly sensitive to sound, but I hate bright lights and strong smells. I also hate new social settings. Meeting new people freaks me out, and I have a VERY hard time making conversation, even with people I'm very familiar with. I daydream a lot, tend to get songs and rhythms stuck my head for days, and when I'm interested in something, I'm obsessed. I've been obsessed with King Arthur and the knights of the round table for years, and I'd love to tell everyone about them, but I keep my mouth shut because I know that most people don't like that kind of thing. Is it possible that I have Asperger's, or am I simply just showing some traits?
It’s great that you both are both paying attention to yourself and the world around you and potentially connecting some dots. Asperger’s syndrome, now known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by the latest DSM-V, can be formally diagnosed by a medical provider or informally self-diagnosed. ASD is characterized by impairments in social interaction and communication, usually paired with restrictive or repetitive behaviors and interests, atypical sensory processing, and a need for consistency. People with ASD tend to display behavior that others consider to be “eccentric” by expressing interest in one singular subject, sometimes making natural conversations difficult. Researchers are still working to identify the encompassing characteristics of ASD and the best method of care for each individual with ASD. Whether you receive a formal diagnosis or not, understanding your social abilities as well as limitations could help you to lead a more fulfilling life.
Autism spectrum disorder may be diagnosed by a health care professional following a series of tests including questions regarding your behavioral history and evaluations of cognitive, linguistic, and communicative abilities. If you choose to seek a diagnosis, it could be helpful to bring to your appointment any previous test records, notes of symptomatic behaviors, and a family member or friend who may be able to provide an additional perspective. The benefit to obtaining a formal diagnosis from a provider with a medical degree (MD) or doctorate in Psychology (PhD or PsyD) is that they may provide eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and accommodations of employment. Alternatively, however, many people choose to conduct their own research through reading books and websites. For some, this type of exploration may be sufficient to provide answers and confirmation about their behaviors, making an official diagnosis unnecessary. No matter your path to diagnosis, just knowing more about it may help to provide an explanation, rather than an excuse, for why you may have experienced difficulties in life and help you to understand what next steps may be useful for you.
If you identify as autistic, there are ways to help you to minimize the challenges you may encounter by capitalizing on your strengths. Autistic people often find it useful to seek treatment in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy, social skills training, and medication for co-existing conditions if necessary. There is no single best treatment for everyone with ASD, but with the help of a qualified health care provider you could learn how to improve your communication skills and to better manage repetitive and obsessive behaviors characteristic of ASD. Furthermore, understanding your experience with autism spectrum disorder may help you to make decisions about your future. For example, having a diagnosis may help to navigate the college experience by choosing the a supportive living environment, class size, and social activities suitable for you. It could also be useful for making friends with similar interests, obtaining work accommodations, and improving your physical environment.
Though you may be fearful of broaching this topic with close family and friends, understanding your strengths and areas for growth as they pertain to ASD may actually help you to improve upon these existing relationships. Camouflaging, or the act of trying to mask ASD characteristics and compensate with other behaviors, could lead to exhaustion and poor self-esteem. Ultimately, it’s you may find more joy in embracing your unique characteristics, whether or not they're diagnosable as ASD, in order to harness the best version of yourself!
Originally published Apr 29, 2010
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