Thursday, January 6, 2011

Why I sought a diagnosis

There are three words that have echoed in my head, almost daily at times, ever since I can remember - "is that normal?" A question that I continually ask myself. I lay in bed at night running through the social encounters of my day, analysing and over-analysing what I said, what the other people said, wondering if I missed anything, wondering if I pulled it off, wondering about how I acted and spoke, if I appeared "normal".

See I've always know that I'm not 'normal'. My step-father often delighted in pointing this out to me, but even before meeting him I knew that there was something missing within me. Everyone else seems to have an inner instinct that guides their social interactions. They seamlessly glide through everyday life, intuitively knowing what to say and how to act. But I never have. Ok, realistically I'm sure it's not as easy as that for everyone, but what I'm getting at is I've always felt it was quite a bit harder for me that it is for most. It's like there's a connection in my brain that's a bit faulty.

I didn't have friends as a kid, but that really didn't bother me. What bothered me were the adults (teachers and family) who insisted that I should play with the other kids at recess and lunch, and that I should go to birthday parties etc like other kids did. I was always quite happy sitting by myself, it was only when an albeit well meaning adult tried to encourage me to interact with other kids that I had a problem. But I soon came to learn that that was what was considered 'normal', so by the time I reached primary school I learnt to find a group of kids who tolerated me without making too much fun of me, and I'd sit somewhere near to where they were playing so that the teachers were less likely to pick that I was on my own.

When I was 11 my mother explained to me that my (then) 3yr old cousin had been diagnosed with autism. The next time I saw my aunt she explained to me what autism is and described characteristics of it, and I can remember saying to her - "that sounds like me except worse!"

I'll talk a bit more about my school life and teenage years another time, as there's so much to say, so much that now makes sense to me.

As an adult I have continued to 'play the part', and most of the time I function successfully in daily life. But I've always got that question in the back of my mind, questioning everything I do and say - "is that normal?".

I started a Bachelor of Primary Education in 2007, and during that year we had a lecture on Asperger's. Although I'd know about autism for many years and retained the impression that I have many autistic traits, until then I didn't realise that it was possible for a person to go undiagnosed, and to appear to function 'normally' for all intensive purposes. That opened my eyes, and made me really wonder about myself. So much of it rang true for me. I read everything I could get my hands on on the topic, and the more I read the more my life made sense. But then I thought to myself, ok, so maybe it fits me. So what? I get by, I don't need a diagnosis. Plus I really really hate councilors (a whole other story there). So I just got on with life.

Towards the end of 2010 I finished my course. I had to complete a 10 week internship teaching at a local school. It was during that time that I realised I wasn't coping. Between that, the stress of finishing an honours thesis, and various other major ordeals in my personal life I just didn't know how to cope. I can walk into a classroom in front of a bunch of kids and teach, be completely comfortable and have a great time. But unfortunately the teaching profession also expects one to participate in social 'niceties' such as staffroom interactions. The emotional and physical exhaustion that that caused me was absolutely unbearable. I asked myself again, "is this normal?" and I realised that no it isn't. The career I have worked so hard for is being jepardised by whatever it is that is wrong with me. I realised that I couldn't let that happen. I had to do something. Again the question of Asperger's came to mind, so I took this question to my GP. It was the first step to understanding myself and the way my brain works, and to working with my brain for once rather than against it. It was the best decision I ever made.


  1. Sounds like we have a bit in common. I'm an adult woman and I started the process of getting a diagnosis this week. 2010 was a particularly difficult year. My increased anxiety put a strain on my personal and work life. An Asperger diagnosis would explain so much. I've mentioned it to a few people (husband, mom, etc) when I was still considering it as a possibility and the common response was, oh, you don't have that. It shocks me how little they really know me, that they never knew how difficult a lot of situations are for me. I guess my comments and quirks were dismissed or not fully understood.

  2. hi we also have a bit in common, I to have a Bachelors degree in primary education, but have found it hard to get employment as i dont quite fit the mold for the staffroom, and I definitely thought different than other teachers..??

    I had a terrible time socially in school, and later in marriage, I know my brain works so differently to the few people I chat too, particularly in understanding relationship issues.

    I also an "almost aspie" 12 year old son who displays many of the traits and then some, but did not quite reach a diagnosis according to Autism SA . but I may have him reassessed sometime... as when i talked to the psychologist assesor I went into clinical mode and described my son and his traits etc with as little emotion as I could and downplayed many things to keep the mask i was coping on. plus I could not read what she wanted from me. (my poor social reading cues)
    and i dont have anyone around t chat to about aspie things i read a few blogs from O/S where things seems a bit different re the help etc u can get. so iam going to follow your blog for a while and see ;-)

  3. Thanks so much for your comments Kimberly and Jacqui :)

    Kimberly - I had exactly that response when I told my mum many months ago that I was considering the possibility that I may have Asperger's. She has a nephew with autism and her partner's son has autism also, plus her best friend's teenage daughter has Asperger's, so she knows a bit about it. However when I explained how so many aspie symptoms fit me she found it really hard to believe. In one of Tony Attwood's books he mentions that females tend to be better at disguising the symptoms, in many cases to the extent that even those closest to them don't realise it, thus making it hard to convince others that you have the syndrome. Strikes me as very true.

    Jacqui - The school staffroom environment is really hard for me too as I just don't understand it and in a way maybe I don't care enough... to me teaching is about what you do in the classroom with the kids, not having a bitch session in the staffroom at lunch time ;) For people who are taught to be accepting of differences in kids, the teachers I have worked with don't seem to be able/willing to apply this amongst staff. I also find that the WAY I want to teach differs a bit from main stream (because my brain works differently I guess??), which caused me some problems. Plus my generally poor social skills mean I don't come off at all well in interviews, which doesn't help. Have you worked casually in schools? I'm looking at doing casual relief teaching (not sure what you call it in SA) next year and not sure how I'll cope with it.


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