Well, fuck. I started thinking again. I hate it when I do that. Much of my read of Sherlock as not autistic is based on the fact that that I recognize a lot of that behavior from me, back when I was furious at everything and thought people sucked, and I'm not autistic. But you know, I could be kinda wrong there.

I find myself in the surreal position of reading more and more stuff about autism and saying, "nope... nope... nope..." to all the big official diagnostic features, and "yep... uh-huh... and that... shit, I do that daily," to all of the smaller, unofficial, anecdotal things people talk about in passing. Particularly in the way I go about learning things -- I'm extremely good at the one where I go to bed one day knowing absolutely nothing about a given topic, and then pop back up maybe a week later with half a dissertation already done. I decided to demonstrate walking, talking, and reading all about eighteen months old; I think the walking and talking were late and the reading was ridiculously early, but I'd have to look it up. My parents have no idea how long I'd been doing any of them, because I never had the 'screwing things up repeatedly on the way to learning' stage. One day I wasn't talking, and the next day I was delivering paragraphs in perfect grammar.

A lot of it was a lot more true of me as a child than it is now. My mother occasionally recounts, somewhat baffled, how I refused to keep my blankets on as a baby, and refused to sleep ever until she cut all the feet off of my footie pajamas. (I still can't stand being too hot. You have no idea how deeply I loathed living in Arizona.) She's also told me, as if this is a hilarious thing, that I used to throw screaming fits every time she rearranged the contents of the dresser drawers in my room. Why she felt the need to continually reorganize the clothes of a three-year-old who clearly did not like it the first time is an open question. They did used to call me "little professor", which I gather is the traditional nickname for Asperger's children who won't stop quoting the encyclopedia, but my mother also freely admits to calling me "little Hitler" over the sock-drawer tantrums, which shows you the kind of appropriateness and maturity we're dealing with here.

(For the newcomers, I'm no longer really on speaking terms with my family. I moved from Arizona to Massachusetts about a year ago without bothering to tell them. Of the people who have either heard extensively about them or met them in person, exactly zero thought this was a bad idea.)

I want to say I grew out of a lot of it, but I think that's not really right. What actually happened was that I took a nice sturdy metaphorical tire iron and whacked myself with it until all the incredibly bizarre and wrong things my family ever taught me about people broke off, and I got over a lot of random, unfocused terror that carting around all that junk had generated. Nowadays I use parts of the brain-weird to compensate for other parts of the brain-weird, and I tell people to fuck off a lot. I mostly don't have to. I think the vast majority of the brain-weird is fun. If I wander around acting like nothing's wrong with me, other people follow suit.

It also helps that I'm thirty now, and I get to be in charge of my own damn sock drawer. There's a fairly eclectic list of things that I Just Don't Do, and I get away with it because it's my life and I can walk away from people who try to make me do them. I try to keep the roster small; avoiding things is also a giant pain in the ass. But I've learned through trial and error that there is very little in life worth driving yourself genuinely crazy over, and all of things that might be worth it are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, not insufferably boring things that other people expect you to sit there and work on until the sun goes supernova.

I also want to say that no one's ever thought to give me any kind of ASD test until I dug one up and took it on the internet the other night, but after thinking a moment, I don't actually know if that's true. No one has ever said anything to me about it, but they wouldn't have when I was a kid, and my mother is NOT GOOD in all capital letters when it comes to dealing with people trying to tell her something is "wrong" with her or the extensions of her ego that are her children. The last time anyone would have had a chance to officially evaluate anything of the sort was around 1986-ish, and at that point, I'm not sure they would have even proposed an autism spectrum diagnosis for a kid who was obviously not intellectually or learning disabled and could interact with adults, if not the other children, oddly but effectively when you finally managed to drag her nose out of the book, no matter what laundry list of other things said kid presented with. I'm not sure the psychiatric profession as a whole can find its own ass with both hands, written directions, and a working GPS unit, so I don't even know whether it would have been a diagnosis or a misdiagnosis, and I don't much trust them to see the difference.

(Unrelated to this, I actually went about trying to scare up my school records a few months ago, desperately curious as to what the all psychologists actually said when I talked to them twenty-five years ago, but I wasn't able to get anything. You know how they call it a PERMANENT RECORD and tell you it'll follow you around FOREVER? Yeah, they're lying. Apparently when I was in grade school, all of our info was kept on vellum scrolls under heavy guard in a cave beneath a volcano or something, and when they bought the fancy computer system, they laid off all the monks in the secret scriptorum and now nobody has the faintest clue how to get at any of it anymore. I was rather baffled by that. I mean, I understand why Dad had to get someone to dig through stacks of cuneiform tablets to find his Selective Service Number the last time he needed to get his security clearance re-upped, but I only graduated high school in 1999. It's not like I had to ride a wild dinosaur to school or anything. By my time, all the cool kids were into agriculture and had domesticated mammals.)

I'm not enough of a neurotic, hypochondriacal twit to read this stuff and go OH MY GOD I HAVE AWKWARD INTERNETS DISEASE, but it really is kind of eerie how much of this stuff I recognize. I'm aware that I'm not the only person ever to have any given individual piece of my brain-weird, but I've always defaulted to the assumption that nobody else I run into is ever going to have the full collection of interestingly crossed wires. I figured I had a really profound case of whatever it is; the idea that it might actually be the very feathered edges of a thing that has been known to fuck up other peoples' ability to get along in the wide faceless world but good is either kind of scary or kind of comforting, I can't decide which.

It's also making me really weirdly self-conscious. I'm not suddenly doubting my ability to function in the off-kilter way I've always done, but having an alternate interpretation for some of my brain-weird is getting distracting. Like I'll be standing in the middle of the kitchen with my hands tucked palms-out inside my back pockets, bouncing up and down on my toes because monitoring the way my body weight shifts when I do that is enough to occupy the parts of my brain that aren't trying to figure out what I want for lunch and you know, I never thought about how much I do the little repetitive things before and oh goddammit now I have to go re-think my whole life again don't I. Shit.

Well, no. Not really. The inside of my head looks exactly the same as it always has, describing it might just take somewhat less typing now that I have something to draw comparisons to. It's not like all my coping mechanisms are going to melt overnight. I'm neither melodramatic enough nor self-important enough to cast myself upon the flames and be reborn as one of those cretins who self-diagnoses Asperger's and uses it as an excuse to be a complete cock to everyone for the rest of time. I really do lack the social issues; as far as I'm aware, all of my attempts to make friends were age-appropriate, I was just stuck in a vast sea of people who didn't like me at all, with shitty role models. But I do seem to have a tiny-minor case of pretty much all the rest of it. I recognize elements of myself in things like the descriptions of meltdowns, some of the stimming (seriously? other people don't sit there and construct paths through the lines in wood paneling? hell, I always just called that "keeping myself entertained", although admittedly I did miss entire conversations like that as a kid, until I forced myself to pay attention), and getting incredibly goddamn annoyed when things disrupt my nice tidy schedule. I just have all this stuff down at 1 or 2, whereas the people who have disabling diagnoses have it turned up to 11.

Does it make me a bad person that my honest reaction is "Cool, surprise-Parseltongue"? There really is nothing I enjoy more than the sudden burst of realization that I understand something, but in this case the something is attached to people, and I am wary of annoying them. Would any of the official card-carrying autistic people like to come back and tell me whether I am insane, please? I don't want to try to use this to relate to people out there in meatspace and find out I'm completely off-base by upsetting them.


  1. What you describe is actually really close to what I came up with the other day when reading about this. I've wondered in passing whether I have something like Asperger, but when I read the lists I tend to lack the main diagnostic criteria, yet almost ALL the more minor/anecdotal stuff I do. I can read cues just fine, it's just not automatic to me like it is for most people so if I don't actively pay attention I miss it. I can relate to other people emotionally perfectly well (in fact I am so incredibly attuned to that that it severely disturbs me when people around me get upset, I can internalize their sadness so well it's almost as if it happens to me directly).
    I used to spend eons of time reading about random subjects as a kid. I had a severe fascination with dinosaurs and the human body when I was 7 and would read medical encyclopedia for fun. I definitely fixate on things, and frequently zone out because I am so busy thinking that I tune out the entire world. Like, I will ignore loud voices talking TO me, my filters are that strong. And the schedule definitely disturbs me. I get incredibly anxious when I am late for things, or if plans change. I usually get around this by scheduling way more time for everything than is needed so I can deal with most everyday situations even if the shit hits the fan.

    One biggie I run into is that I don't have that automatic "facts imply value judgments" thing most people do. That gets me SO many times, because I love pointing out what I see. I don't mean anything negative about it... But everyday things just fascinate me and it's my way of contributing to the discussion. I'll say: "Hey, girlfriend, you really ate a lot today!" And my girlfriend would be really upset because she'd think I was judging her for being a glutton, which I most definitely wasn't. If I was, I'd say that instead. But I refuse to backhandedly communicate like that with people, it's childish and degrading in my opinion to always say something MORE than you mean. /rant

    Also (sorry for the long comments) I wonder to what extent it throws people off that I find ways to cope with almost all of this. I am quite smart (though I think not as off-the-charts as you) and learn really well, and I've found clever ways around a lot of these things to make other people not really notice them. It's like you said above. You have all the symptoms but function pretty well, so it totally breaks the simplistic box system they set up. Which reminds me, I fucking hate labels (and another non-NT I do is connecting things, I am really, really good at finding ways to connect seemingly unrelated topics and I conjure these connections at will from my mind. It's the only way I can remember anything, but once I connect it to other knowledge it's there forever. And I always feel like I have to follow all the traces of knowledge in my head on paper. Which, like you described in that human body language post, gets insanely complicated fast because our heads are filled with 17 dimensional information).

  2. You might find some of Temple Grandin's work useful. Her strictly-autism books focus on full blown Kanner's Autism, which is probably not applicable and I found really dry. But Animals in Translation let me identify and articulate sensory issues that had never made sense before.

    1. I've been reading some, and also some outside views of her, like Oliver Sacks' "An Anthropologist On Mars". I get the feeling Dr. Grandin has a whacking great case of ALL THE AUTISM, and if she had any more of it -- or any less intelligence -- she'd confine herself strictly to talking to the cows. I am very sure I don't have a case of Kannerian or classic autism, and not having any social deficits puts Asperger's out of the running, but I can't get anyone to give me a good answer on whether one can be on the autism spectrum without having an actual spectrum diagnosis.

      The sensory and cognitive issues sound familiar regardless, but a lot of those aren't limited to autistic people. A wide assortment of them are also found in ADHD, Tourette's, etc.

      I do agree with Grandin about empathizing with animals, though. I'm very good with them and vehemently opposed to doing anything that makes them give signs of distress. I even once nearly crawled out of my own skin when my mother and sister decided that the new Furby's 'don't do that!' noise was interesting, and triggered it repeatedly by swinging the thing upside down. I know full well the Furby is not alive and isn't actually feeling unhappy about things, but I made them stop anyway.

    2. Have you looked at Persistent Developmental Delay- Not Otherwise Specified? It basically the "We don't know what he has but we're sure he deserves an IEP" of ASDs.

    3. None of my symptoms are 'delays', though. I was in an environment as a child where I learned the proper response to a lot of social cues wrong, but I figured out when people disliked me at a perfectly developmentally-appropriate time. I skipped the 'screwing it up repeatedly while learning' stage on a lot of things, but the final result seems to have been approximately on time.

      I just have a lot of cross-wiring that other people don't, and my responses to things like sensory stress are similar to the autistic ones, rather than the allistic ones. I have a very hard limit for time spent socializing, f'r ex, and when life sucks hard I have what sounds to me like an inwardly-directed meltdown thing where I just shut off, instead of sobbing wretchedly and throwing plates at people and pondering slitting my wrists. The only thing an IEP based on this would have been good for would have been making them give me the whole book right off the bat, which they did on account of IQ anyway.

      I don't think I have any kind of real clinical diagnosis for this -- as opposed to the depression/anxiety, where I'm textbook in a lot of places -- but at least looking at it from this perspective makes it clear that I was right in thinking a lot of it's structurally/functionally related, and that anyone who wants me to change it is cordially invited to fuck off and not talk to me again.

    4. But Animals in Translation let me identify and articulate sensory issues that had never made sense before.

      Oooo, that's good to know. I've been meaning to pick that up just from a "massive interest in animal psychology and related things" stand point, but that pushes it way higher on my list of things to buy because oh my god if there are things in there that might even a little help me articulate some sensory issues of mine so that other people would understand them, it would be worth its weight in gold.

      May I ask what sort of sensory issues? Or is that too personal?

  3. 1. PDD-NOS is Pervasive Developmental Disorder, not Persistent Developmental Delay. Development doesn't have to be delayed, it just have to be different.

    2. If you want to, I'll gladly talk to you. I could even stop being anonymous.

    3. Autistic traits, without necessarily -being- autistic is a thing. Traits are real. *nod*

    4. Blogs written by other autistics that might be of interest: Just Stimming, Illusion of Competence, Radical Neurodivergence Speaking and The Thinking Persons Guide to Autism. I figure some reading might either further your recognision, or disabuse it, yes/yes?

    1. All the reading I've done so far seems to point at me not being officially anywhere on the spectrum without the social or language difficulties -- clinically I seem to have what is technically known as "a lot of interesting brain things", which is what I've been saying for years now. Nice to discover that they're all as connected as I thought they were, and also that I've been right the whole goddamn time I've had to argue with everyone that they're structural and unchangeable, no matter how much they annoy people that are not me.

      I do have one of the more reliable anecdotal indicators, which is two parents who are both very smart and extremely weird. They actually met while they were both working at the same tech firm in Cambridge.

      You don't necessarily need to stop being anonymous, but if you felt like saying anything non-public, you can get me at miss.arabella.flynn@gmail.com.


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