In my research on neurodivergence, I’ve focused quite a bit on its presentation in girls/cis-women/XX/AFAB, because that’s what I was and am, even I haven’t experienced textbook gender roles. The term “The Lost Girls” keeps popping up, referring to girls born before experts started studying or identifying them as being on the spectrum. Even though I never felt lost as I was growing up, but rather self-defeating or just on my own path, this phrase makes sense to me now. I was a bit lost, supported by my closest circle of family and friends but failed by a system that didn’t know how to see me. Doctors misdiagnosed me–I mean, I spent a week in a psychiatric ward as a teenager and saw countless specialists, and they all missed the mark–teachers were at a loss, and everyone else just thought I was intelligent but overly sensitive. In spite of that, I’m here and doing pretty okay.
This piece by author and advocate Lisa Morgan was very helpful to me, as far as encouraging me to stick to the plan to receive a formal ASD/ASC assessment. I agree that people of my generation, pretty much the last ones to have been totally missed when it comes to neurodivergence diagnosis/discovery and therapy, can be of help to younger generations. Many of us plowed through life, sink-or-swim style, and found shortcuts or cheats to deal with the world, and were weird enough to prime the rest of society for those who followed.
It was natural, when I was first learning about what traits I carried fell under the autism umbrella, to produce a long list of negatives, challenges, in an effort to accept the ways I fell behind and am still not so adept. But I do want to acknowledge abilities that I hold now because of the things I went through without help, regular life challenges that some kids on the spectrum may get help with now through therapy, or some may be shielded from by protective family. Using research, seeing patterns in myself and others, and having no choice but to kick myself out of my comfort zone on occasion have gotten me this far, and I’m still tackling new challenges every day.
Some of it seems silly, like I’m really good at doing boring things. I can stand in a line or sit in a waiting room like a champ. While even neurotypicals grow impatient or uncomfortable, huff and puff and complain, or sometimes give up or demand to “speak to the manager,” I am able to temporarily block out background noise and focus on the few trains of thought that I’ve got going on, while flexing my toes or drawing a pattern on the roof of my mouth with my tongue piercing. I’ve learned to be in uncomfortable situations like parties or classes I had no use for…so yeah, I’m pretty good at hanging out at the DMV.
Related, I can go to new places, like a new doctor or government office, without being overly anxious. There’s always some anxiety, since there’s probably a parking situation to deal with and finding the right elevator and approaching the right desk or standing in the right line–was I supposed to grab a number? Thankfully, the internet often has this type of information available, and you can always call ahead to see what else you need to know before you get there. And when faced with a line–or sometimes multiple lines–I can ask the person in front of me to verify I’m in the right place. As a child I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing this, admitting to a stranger that I needed help. I would have maybe guessed and if I started to doubt myself, well, on a bad day I’d likely panic, break out in a sweat, then give up and go home.
Shopping is wholly unpleasant to me, but I’m very good at it, especially grocery shopping. I know exactly what I need and where to find it, with my guard up to block the bad lighting and crying children. And when I was younger and broke as broke could be, I scanned those aisles and filled my basket so that from my $20 bill for the week I walked out with change. (It was the late ’90s and I was vegetarian, so yes, I could feed myself for $20 a week.) If I’m clothes shopping (out of need–there’s no such thing as recreational shopping for me), I know my emotional limits; if I have tried on two pairs of pants and am not happy with either, I do not get pants that day. There is no reason to try a third pair, because I will hate them and myself for not being the right size. They could be the best pants ever and fit great, but I won’t see it. I’ll focus on a one-inch section that I don’t think looks the way it should and be really angry at it and then that’s the day ruined. But the point is, I know this pattern and I can avoid it. That’s a win in my book.
New routines can be difficult to introduce, but once they make it into the fold, I can be on autopilot for much of the day. A daily or weekly task, like a class or volunteer shift, can be tucked in along with all that executive function stuff–and stuck to. Living with another person definitely made me more elastic in my habits. It’s hard to not place a value on either side of this variable–I like living with him, and he’s made me less strict with myself. That’s good. I know I’d be much more efficient if he weren’t around, and my life would be less messy, but then he wouldn’t be around. That’s not so good. The compromise is one I’m pleased with; I have the ability to accomplish what I need to, but I’m also able to accept (to some extent) when my plans get derailed.
Then there’s a bunch of stuff that’s due to some hardcore masking, and I’m not sure yet to what extent I want to celebrate that. I think I don’t know enough about it to know how I feel about it. Obviously, it helped me fit in and act like a typical human person, but there’s a lot of anxiety tied up in it, and to some extent it was me not advocating for myself. So I’ll continue to unpack that.
And again, I’m still tackling issues. I’m sure I’ll die before I master this life thing, but don’t most people? I think I’m going to start a wish list of challenges I’d like to best, like making eye contact. Or parallel parking while someone’s waiting to pass me, instead of giving up and finding an easier spot on a quieter street. Or <insert dramatic music here> introduce myself to someone new at a party. Anything’s possible, right?