If I Would Have Known I had Asperger’s4 min read

I’ve been so hard on myself … and con­fused for so much of my life.  All things con­sid­ered, dis­abil­i­ties and dif­fer­ences included, I may be one of the most resilient humans ever.  

I exag­gerate, but still.  Having had the recent real­iza­tion that my neu­ro­log­ical dif­fer­ences go beyond the symp­toms of ADHD, and even those that come with Sensory Processing Disorder, I am set on a quest of reframing my life expe­ri­ences within the con­text of Autism.  

As I embrace this new rev­e­la­tion of a life­long reality, I wonder what the first 40 years of my life would have been like with the knowl­edge and under­standing that my way of expe­ri­encing and inter­preting my exis­tence was impacted greatly by my unique Neuro-cocktail (my term of endear­ment for my brand of neu­ro­di­ver­gence).  How might have this knowl­edge have influ­enced and assisted me con­cerning my self-image and overall mental health?

The fol­lowing are some “wan­dering won­der­ings” based on some rough spots in my life.

What if I had I known ear­lier in life that not only did I feel very dif­fer­ently from those around me, but that my way of feeling was a product of my neu­rology and it col­ored every­thing? 

I wonder if I had known that my brain would not reward me for fol­lowing cer­tain social eti­quette, would I still feel guilty for the “Thank You” notes that got written but never got sent to the guests that came to my wed­ding almost 20 years ago?  Would I have beaten myself up so ruth­lessly if I had under­stood that I didn’t have the orga­ni­za­tional skills to follow through on social man­dates, espe­cially if they included more than one step?  Would I have asked for help or found ways to accom­mo­date myself better?

Would I have even tried to take a job as a tele­phone cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive if I would have known that I can’t under­stand people very well when I can’t read their body lan­guage?  And that the dis­tor­tion that phones add to voices hurts my ears?  That these things together raise my anx­iety to a level that I cannot access infor­ma­tion from my brain or process effi­ciently? 

I wonder if I would have known that my exec­u­tive func­tion affected my ability to mem­o­rize music throughout my music edu­ca­tion and early career,  and when I was under mental and sensory/environmental stress it would be nearly impos­sible to recall those songs … would I have asked for the accom­mo­da­tion of having my sheet music on stage with me at my recitals and con­certs?

Would that– and the ability to skip the pro­tocol of con­fronting my pro­fessor before “going above their head” con­cerning their abu­sive treat­ment of me– have kept me from having a ner­vous break­down at age 22 and drop­ping out of col­lege when I was just credits away from at least two degrees?

I wonder if I would have under­stood that my intu­ition about people, along with what I now under­stand to be a neurologically-enhanced skill for pat­tern recog­ni­tion in human behavior, was trust­worthy?  Would I have been aware that I was vul­ner­able to abu­sive people in my inter­minable assump­tion that I must be incor­rect and that others couldn’t pos­sibly be taking advan­tage of me?  Would I have still found myself in sit­u­a­tions where I was repeat­edly emo­tion­ally and men­tally manip­u­lated and sex­u­ally abused by my peers?  

Would I have known that par­tic­i­pating in activ­i­ties that I didn’t want to par­tic­i­pate in and didn’t like, and enduring the abu­sive behav­iors of others, wasn’t a pre­req­ui­site for “friend­ship”?  Would I have somehow been informed that “No” is an accept­able answer even if it means that you could lose the one “friend” you sort of have?  Would I have been empow­ered to say “No”?  Would the des­perate desire for someone to like me even have allowed it?

I wonder if I would have known that my intense desire to ask why the people around me and I were being ver­bally abused on a daily basis, even though I knew it would result in more abuse, would I have stopped asking?  Would my brain have been indef­i­nitely set on rec­on­ciling what I had just wit­nessed with what I was told had or had not just hap­pened?  Would I have stopped trying to under­stand?  Would I have given myself per­mis­sion to call abuse what it was?  Would I have told someone? Would I have believed that it wasn’t my fault somehow?

These won­der­ings are a mixed bag of so many thoughts, but a per­son’s neu­ro­log­ical con­text mat­ters.  It is cer­tainly a thing to wonder about, or if you’re me, pick apart and ana­lyze and eval­uate and solve the puzzle that is my brain, my pain, and my rela­tion­ships.

However, I think it is a good thing that I know now. I see such hope for myself moving for­ward within the con­text of acknowl­edging my autistic brain in regard to making new rela­tion­ships and exam­ining old ones.  Being able to detect harmful pat­terns of thinking and under­standing my incli­na­tion toward acqui­escing are so impor­tant in the building of per­sonal and pro­fes­sional bound­aries. The work is hard and feels very counter-intuitive to someone who wants so deeply to give others the ben­efit of the doubt.

I was willing to absorb the wrongs of others so that I could rec­on­cile, at least within myself, the things that people do to make some moral or log­ical sense.  I have spoken to many Neurodivergent humans lately that know exactly what I am talking about. I think that having found that I am not alone in this pat­tern of behavior has already helped me to build better bound­aries and to under­stand myself more, to trust myself more, and to take all of that damage I’ve incurred out­side of this new under­standing and stand on it to advo­cate for myself, my chil­dren, and my people.

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  1. I was diag­nosed just over ayear ago and am 42 now, so we have a sim­ilar expe­ri­ence. Like you, I was very hard on myself and always pushed myself so hard to try and feel like I belonged within cer­tain con­texts and to main­tain friend­ships; basi­cally all the things that were so unnat­ural for me. Now that I know I am autistic, I have made a lot of changes and life is get­ting easier. So many what ifs…

    1. Thank you for reading my article! Yes, the boundary making is so much easier now that I under­stand myself better. When I think about my child­hood and ado­les­cence, I don’t know if my folks would have been able to under­stand or help me in any way, but the change in con­text def­i­nitely helps me to under­stand some of the destruc­tive pat­terns and rela­tion­ships that I just kept walking into over and over again! It also helps me with par­enting! Have you read Terra Vance’s article here called Parenting the Spectrum: A Love Song? It is an example of how a better con­text can help us help our­selves and others. (P.S. I may be plug­ging my music in this response) Regardless, it is a beau­tiful account of Terra’s and is con­nected to this topic. Thanks again!!

  2. Wow… I wrote out thank you notes and never mailed them fif­teen years ago! Lol
    I dropped out of col­lege with only two semes­ters left to grad­uate. I’m so happy that you’ve real­ized you’re on the spec­trum and are being more gentle on your­self!

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