A note on language: I wrote these posts in 2016, when I was still uneducated about problematic language and functioning labels. I’ve chosen to republish these posts exactly as I first wrote them, unedited, and therefore you will notice that I use vocabulary I no longer choose to use, including ‘Asperger’s’ and ‘ASD’. I prefer the term ‘autism’ these days, and that is the term you’ll see in more recent posts. You may also spot some person-first language; these days I’m more likely to say ‘autistic person’ than ‘person with autism’.
I have a secret.
A few people (a very few) already know. If you’re reading this post you are now one of them. (And if this comes totally out of left field, please don’t be too hard on me for not telling you. As I write these words only a handful of people in my life already know this about me. And I didn’t necessarily choose them based on closeness of relationship.)
Just so you know, this is pretty terrifying for me. I’m not very good at sharing. It took me until I was 32 to come out as gay to my parents; here’s hoping that this will be just as anti-climactic.
So, this is it: I have Asperger’s. This may come as a great surprise to you, or it may be one of those “Oh, so that’s why… [insert weird/ill-mannered/inexplicable thing I once did/said here]” moments.
Well, I haven’t got a formal diagnosis yet (although one is in the pipeline; I have my initial psych assessment a week Monday). But yes, every online test, every book and article I’ve read on the subject, and a recent test done by my GP point to a definite yes.
How long have I known?
Pretty much since I first learned exactly what Asperger’s is. I first seriously suspected that I had it when I was in my first teaching post, a high school that happened to host the Asperger’s unit for the county. I taught several of the these children over my three and a half years there, but it was only when we had INSET training on the characteristics and needs of children with Asperger’s that I had my moment of revelation. Looking at a list of characteristics, I realised that almost all of them applied to me.
Why suddenly talk about this now?
In between bouts of research over the years, I tried to bury the knowledge that I had Asperger’s, I suppose because I’d managed to build an apparently ‘normal’ life for myself despite the challenges. It seemed easier to just get on with things and accept that I was always going to find certain things in life a bit difficult in exchange for appearing to fit in. This worked okay until my third major bout of depression hit in 2014, and I was forced to confront the root cause. It is generally agreed that depression is an illness and isn’t caused by tragic or traumatic events (that’s sadness or stress, both entirely logical reactions); I think that my recurring depression is rooted in my lifelong social alienation. And I believe the cause of this is Asperger’s.
Why label yourself with a diagnosis?
A few reasons.
Firstly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling a spade a spade.
Secondly, having found an answer that explains everything, I’m looking forward to the vindication of having a professional person confirm it.
Thirdly, there’s nothing so liberating as sharing a truth about yourself and refusing to hide; the experience of being an out gay teacher taught me that.
And finally, with so much stigma still surrounding issues such as mental health and disability I think it means something to be able to talk about this. Not that Asperger’s is a mental health issue (although the recurring depression it has caused me is), or even a disability (I certainly don’t see it as one, even though it comes with impairments that make life more difficult; I have heard the term ‘neurodiverse’ used, which seems a good description to me). But it is the realm of conditions that bring a certain amount of prejudice, stigma and misunderstanding, and shared experience can combat all of these.
I don’t know yet! Hopefully, diagnosis. I’ll be writing about it (and about my experience of Asperger’s) here for my own benefit and for anyone who’s interested enough to read my posts. Beyond that, I’m not sure. The past year has been full of challenge, change and growth for me, and if I’ve learned anything it’s to expect the unexpected.