I wasn’t planning on being Autistic.
Determined to do better by my neurodivergent students, I spent this summer in autodidact mode, consuming everything about the topic I could get my hands on. Four books, five articles, and countless YouTube videos later, I’ve come to realize that I’m both Autistic and ADHD, a neurotype known as AuDHD.
I didn’t need to consume all of that content to know that I was Autistic, though. That realization came only five pages into Devon Price’s book “Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity.”
I immediately recognized myself in each of his six Autistic descriptors: I’m hyperreactive to stimuli, I’m highly focused on small details to the detriment of “big picture” understanding, my brain is analytical and methodical instead of intuitive and efficient, and processing things takes me more time and energy than neurotypical folks.
This summer has been my ‘Autism Moon,’ a term from the community that describes the period of intense self-reflection and self-education that typically follows a new diagnosis. The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve had to re-evaluate my life through an Autistic lens.
My old hurts, my quirks, my intensities, everything suddenly makes sense. How I walk on the balls of my feet when no one is looking. My tendency to focus on the wrong thing when I’m having a conversation with my partner. How, at a young age, I would flush the toilet with my foot so my hands were free to plug my ears against the shattering roar. The special interests that grab hold of me without conscious consent (Two years ago a kpop obsession blindsided me. If you let me, I’ll talk at you about it in excruciating detail without realizing you’re not actually that interested in it because I can’t really decipher social cues). The way physical contact sets my central nervous system on fire. The free floating panic and shame that accompanies me anytime I leave the house or go to work. The way I cling to routines to keep me safe from the chaos of the world. How I derive pleasure from repeating words and phrases right after people say them (this is called echolalia). I could go on.
But that’s not all.
I’m also an ADHDer. My ADHD journey began in high school after I stole some of my older sister’s Dexedrine to impress a girl. Twenty-five years later, I still rely on prescription stimulants to prop up my anemic levels of executive functioning (motivation, organization, planning, impulse control, etc.) It turns out there is a great deal of overlap in the Autism and ADHD Venn Diagram. So much so that they’re often called ‘sister conditions.’
The stereotype is that Autism is order and ADHD is chaos. The collision of the two creates a brain perpetually at war with itself. Or, that’s how it feels to me, at least. I’ll shout out a comment at a staff meeting (ADHD), feel shameful about it, decide all of the ways the comment was incorrect, then overcorrect and swear to never talk again (Autism).
The perpetual tug and war is cognitively and emotionally exhausting.
If my past now makes more sense, what about my future? One of the most challenging aspects of my self-diagnosis has been trying to figure out how to embrace something I’ve spent my adult life trying to eradicate. and excise. It turns out that the decades in and out of psychotherapy, CBT, EMDR, and ketamine infusions didn’t work because this is just how I am. There’s nothing to excavate and bring to the light. I just can’t escape myself. This is who and how I am.
All of this sets up an anfractuous relationship to myself that’s been hard to grapple with. It’s one thing to read up on disability justice and explicate the myriad intersections between identity, ableism, and capitalism. It’s another thing to make it through the day without hating myself for struggling so much with everything.
I was going to put off writing about this until I understood more (Autism), but then I decided to just do it anyway (ADHD). I will surely feel intense shame as soon as I hit the ‘Publish’ button, but that’s just how it goes.