Angels among us

Three stained-glass angels hang in my kitchen window, one for each of my children. None of my offspring is perfect, but they are each perfectly imperfect in their own way.

My oldest daughter is a lot like her father, personality-wise. She’s extremely affectionate and wears her heart on her sleeve. You know what’s on her mind because she will tell you before you even have to wonder. I’ve always loved that about her and wish that I were like that myself. She tries so hard to make the lives of everyone around her easier. I often wonder what I did to deserve her. I’m not sure she realizes she’s a teenage girl because she doesn’t act like one at all. (Except for her love of K-pop, that is.)

My youngest daughter is an extroverted social butterfly. She needs people. Her greatest fear at this point in her life is being left behind at home. She begs to tag along when I go to meetings or work. I once kept track of how many questions she asked me over the course of approximately five hours – the grand total was 130. If it weren’t for the strong physical resemblance, I might wonder who her real mother is.

On the other hand, my middle child clearly takes after me. From an early age, he showed characteristics that his father and I knew came from my gene pool. He’s highly introverted, enjoys being by himself doing his own thing, loves to stay home, and doesn’t usually display much affection to loved ones. When he was diagnosed with autism at age 11, I did a lot of research about his condition and discovered that a lot of the characteristics of autism also applied to me.

One of the first things I did after my suspicions were aroused was to take this online quiz. Eighty percent of people who score 32 or higher are subsequently diagnosed with autism. I scored 42, then took it again, changed a few answers I wasn’t completely confident about and scored 41. Full disclosure – I wasn’t trying to diagnose myself, but I did need to satisfy my curiosity about whether or not this was a possibility.

I also found this checklist about signs of autism in females that helped me recognize many characteristics that I never would have considered on my own.

Given what I suspected, I asked for a referral from the psychologist who diagnosed my son. He gave me the name of another doctor who specializes in autism in adults. I met with her three or four times, answered a lot of questions, told her things that I had never told another living soul, and completed some questionnaires. We discussed in detail the reasons why I thought I was autistic, and also delved into possible reasons why I might not be. In the end she came to the conclusion that, based on the information presented, the diagnosis fit me as well. It took forty years, but I finally had an answer about who I am.

If it hadn’t been for my son, I might have never known. Isn’t it ironic that our children teach us so much about ourselves? We’re supposed to be the ones teaching them, but end up in the role of student more often than we ever would have imagined.

Whether he realized it or not, my son helped me figure out a lot about myself and improved my life immeasurably. If that doesn’t fit the criteria for angelhood, I don’t know what does.

My journey

As much as I hate talking about myself, most of what I write here will be about me. Not because I enjoy doing so, but because I hope my experience will help others to better understand themselves or someone they know or encounter.

I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in December 2017, shortly after my fortieth birthday. What was it like for me to learn something so essential, fundamental, and life-changing about myself at this point in my life? Terrifying? Depressing? Shameful? Let me tell you what I felt.

Relieved. That might surprise you, but it’s true. After being frustratingly confused about myself for forty years, I finally gained understanding about why I am the way that I am. And the reason is not because of some personal failure or character flaw on my part. The reason is because my brain is wired differently. I have spent most of my life trying to be someone that I’m not because it seemed the world had no use for the real me. I’m not outgoing, extroverted, or a people-person. As much as I’ve tried to become all of those things, I can’t force myself to be someone that I’m not. After almost every social gathering that I attend, I go home wondering and lamenting why I can’t just be like everyone else. Now I know that it’s not a choice – I am not wired to be the life of the party. And now I know that it goes beyond just being highly introverted.

Honestly, I would have been extremely disappointed if the doctor had told me I wasn’t autistic. Surprised again? Autism has a social stigma. Some parents choose not to vaccinate their children because they believe it will save them from becoming autistic. Life is hard enough, but the autistic life is even harder. However, if I hadn’t been diagnosed with autism, I would have had to start all over again at square one in my search for answers.

Angry. I did feel a measure of anger. Not because of my autism, but because I wished I had known decades ago. Having known of my autism when I was younger would have made my struggle so much easier and would have kept me from searching for answers where none were to be found. I believe it would have saved me from periods of low self-esteem and depression associated with feeling like a failure as a person because I couldn’t conform to society’s ideal. Not much was known about autism when I was growing up and I can’t go back and change any of that, of course, but perhaps my story will help someone facing their own struggle today.

Hopeful. I know, I’m full of surprises. How could I possibly be hopeful to discover that I’m autistic? I’ve made it this far and, despite everything, my life is pretty wonderful. I have an understanding husband, three amazing children that are the light of my life, and, after a lot of searching, a career that I love. When you look at the statistics (more on those later), studies have shown that these things are difficult for many autistic people to attain. I am a successful adult and hope that others can gain some comfort knowing that being autistic is not necessarily a negative thing. There are a lot of positive qualities that autistic people possess.

And I am hopeful that I can help others to better understand autism. That’s why I started this blog. I hope you will join me on my journey.