My observations of a professor-friend about twelve years ago led me quite accidentally to the conclusion that he had Asperger’s Syndrome. After further research on how Asperger’s is expressed in women, I became largely convinced (especially on bad days) that I was similarly afflicted. (This was a few years before the removal of Asperger’s Syndrome from the DSM-5.)
But it wasn’t until 2014 that I sought the help of a psychologist. I was living on the street at the time–by choice. I had long felt like a social misfit. For years, it seemed I was only playing the part of “a full and productive member of society,” largely watching what successful people did and trying to mimic them, with varying degrees of success. After several self-assessments combined with the results of a previously administered IQ test, the psychologist determined I was not only on the Autism Spectrum but had NVLD. I had never heard of the latter. She explained that there were certainly a lot of cross-over symptoms. But her main reason for including the NVLD diagnosis was the wide discrepancy between my verbal score on my IQ. test and my abstract-visual-perceptual scores.
I was in my early fifties when I received these diagnoses. Part of me wishes my parents and school teachers had been aware of precisely what I was struggling with (although I was, for the most part, a good student throughout grade school). Another part of me thinks perhaps it was a blessing that they didn’t know. At one point, my own child was diagnosed with a mild developmental disability. I wanted to support him as much as possible, but I also didn’t want him to feel like he was “broken.” Kids are pretty astute. They know when they are being set apart because of some type of perceived deficit. At the age of five, when asked what he wished for the most, he replied matter-of-factly, “A new brain.” It broke my heart.
Even as an adult, I try not to let ASD or NVLD define me or limit my sense of self-worth. I also try not to fall back on these dual diagnoses as excuses for why I can’t be successful. It’s a constant awareness of walking a tightrope, where one is able to acknowledge one’s challenges and limitations (which, after all, everyone has) while not allowing such challenges and limitations to keep oneself from venturing into the unknown. What makes the tightrope most frightening is the relative lack of a safety net. So, fashioning a social support network is paramount, something that cannot be underestimated in importance or treated as merely optional. The impulse to exile myself from society is one that still must be overcome. Sometimes more often than I care to admit. But I’m learning.
I currently live in the Midwest city where I was born and raised, but I’ve lived in various parts of the U.S. and abroad. I’ve been married and divorced twice and have four adult sons, two of which have chosen to maintain a relationship with me. I have struggled socially all my life, despite trying to be “a nice person.” I have also struggled to stay with the same employer for more than a few years. I become interested in a field and then lose interest and move onto something else. I recently underwent a brain mapping, which confirmed my ASD diagnosis along with a “mild learning disability” and mild traumatic brain injury.