Given that I’ve managed to reach my late thirties without, as far as I recall, anybody even asking me if I was autistic, I could be forgiven for assuming that if I was on the spectrum I was at the very edge of it. Indeed, if you’re a friend of mine then you may have been somewhat surprised by the first few posts on here and think much the same.
The truth is that, as far as I can ascertain thus far, I’m actually pretty well into the spectrum. I don’t know precisely where, but my test results have me firmly entrenched in the autistic park and it’s just a case of nailing down exactly what my position is and what the best way forward is.
So, what do I do/think/display that is symptomatic of autism? Here’s a long, but by no means comprehensive, list:
- I’m terrible at eye contact
- I’m terrible at body language
- I’m terrible at meeting new people. At a networking event you’ll find me in the corner playing with my phone
- I don’t like parties. Although I’m not adverse to gigs or nightclubs.
- I hate being in a big group. 2-5 is OK for a social outing, but above that and I’m on edge and tend to disconnect
- I can’t concentrate for very long. Especially on things that I’m not 100% interested in (NB this is most things!) or I think are pointless
- I really struggle to listen to other people’s chat if it’s not a topic that really interests me
- I don’t have a ‘gameface’ for work or specific situations. I’m very constant in terms of personality and behaviour
- When I’m on holiday, I count down the days left. On the first day of a holiday I’m anxious that there are only 7 days left! This also applies to time off work.
- I take things far too literally
- I take things far too personally (possibly because of the above) even when they’re not meant to be
- Small noises really annoy me
- When I’m into something (e.g. a sport or a TV series) I get really obsessed with it and will develop an encyclopaedic knowledge of it. Ask me the result of any major football tournament fixture this millennium and I’m 99% certain I’ll get it right. In most cases I’ll be able to name the goal scorers and where I watched the game
- I find it hard to talk about my feelings
- I can’t cope with ‘serious’ or important situations. My brain turns to jelly, I get flustered, spout nonsense and have to leave the room or change the subject
- I get bored really easily
- I plan things to the nth degree – train trips, drives, pub crawls, working days etc etc. When these plans get altered I feel anxious and on edge
- I hate cancelling or being cancelled on. If I commit to doing something I want to see it through. This includes miniscule things like watching a certain football match on tv or going for a quick pint
- I hate telephone conversations
- When I read or listen to a book I can never visualise what the characters look like
- I have no self-confidence when it comes to my career or meeting new people
- I use sarcasm A LOT. It’s not always appropriate
- Sometimes I’m late latching on when I’m the butt of a joke
- I rehearse conversations in my head before they happen. Quite often they don’t materialise in the way I envisage
- I bite my fingers and nails religiously. I can’t think of a period in my life when I didn’t. It really hurts!
- I’ve never tried eating egg or mushroom or tomato
Apart from that I’m pretty much fine though!
Pause for drinks
As a kid, I was really good at cricket. Like really good. My previously mentioned fascination with watching the sport extended to playing. I’d spend literally hours throwing a ball against a wall and either catching it or hitting it with a bat. I’d get my dad to spend hours throwing balls at me in the garden so I could improve my batting technique. I was good and in my head I was going to be a cricketer when I grew up.
I was pretty much the best player at my school when I was 12 and very soon I was asked to go for a trial for Kent Under 13s. This was the first big step on the path to fame and fortune.
On the morning of the trial I lay in bed crying and forcible insisted to my parents that I couldn’t go. To my shame, they had to ring the manager of the team and explain.
The following year I got asked back and managed to force myself to turn up. I was rubbish. I was anxious all day and couldn’t perform. The Kent manager took pity on me and actually picked me for a couple of matches that year. I was rubbish.
I’ll delve deeper into my sporting ‘career’ in a later post.
Back in the room
That was a rather long list, and be no means was it comprehensive. But hey, I didn’t want you getting too bored. The list contains no direct mention of depression, but as a consequence of many points on that list, I do suffer from depression.
There are also items on that list that you might identify with. A short attention span isn’t a particularly rare thing. Nor are some of the more introvert items. But put them all together and you’ve got a lot of stress and anxiety. It’s a bit of a cliché that “mental illness isn’t always visible” but it’s 100% true.
If you know me than you may be surprised at some of the things on the list. I’m really good at masking. Masking is used by a lot of autistic people to help them fit in in life. As with plenty of issues I’ve touched on so far, I will be talking in more depth about this in later posts.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are plenty of characteristics of autism in adults that I don’t have. Everyone with autism is different, which is part of the reason why it can often go unnoticed. No two sufferers are the same, although there is usually common ground. One of the most well-known autistic traits is being able to concentrate on a repetitive task for hours on end. I’m the complete opposite of this. My attention span is generally dire. I’m not saying I’ve got ADHD, but I certainly display traits.
That’s not to say I’m always unhappy. I’ve had some amazing life experiences – my wedding, the birth of my daughter, seeing my football team win a league title and play three times at Wembley, seeing my NFL team play live, visiting some of the most beautiful countries in the world with my wife etc. Seeing my daughter growing up and being objectively the cleverest, most beautiful and kindest 4-year-old ever is amazing, and I can’t wait for her to get older and even more amazing.
But there’s always an underlying issue there. I’m never far from having a lapse or a breakdown. As my list shows, it doesn’t take much to put me on edge and have my mental health deteriorate.
And whilst finding out about autism is helpful in that it offers an explanation for my issues, it does present a number of other issues. And finding out when you’re an adult can be particularly problematic….
That was a pseudo dramatic way of saying that my next post will be about the challenges presented by finding out you have autism as an adult as opposed to when you’re a child.