How I Came to be Diagnosed with Autism at 55 Years of Age

I’ve been a teacher throughout most of my adult life. I’m dual certified with 17 years of experience as an elementary teacher and 15 years (and counting) as a high school Culinary Arts chef instructor. I have an Associate’s degree in Culinary Arts, a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education, and a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction. I turned 61 last October.

Although my parents knew that I was different as a child, I grew up in a very conservative family. My father was a doctor in the U.S. military service, and during the 60’s the thought of taking one’s child to see a psychiatrist just wasn’t done. As a result of this attitude, my parents decided early on that they would be especially firm with me.

Whenever I violently shook my head or flapped my hands (which I now understand to be forms of stimming), my parents would tell me to stop. If I didn’t stop, my father would either pull off his belt or my mom would fetch her yardstick. They would then beat me until I stopped.

Back then they referred to this as “tough parenting.” Today this would be called “child abuse.”

As a toddler, I am told that I had a problem with walking. Whenever I walked, I did so “pigeon toed” with my toes turned inwards. My father’s solution was to put leg braces on me that forced my feet into a “normal” position. Although this corrected my pigeon-toed stance, it had the unfortunate effect of delaying my physical development. I didn’t learn how to run until I was 9, and as you might imagine, I was always the last person chosen to be on any team whenever I was in PE.

Since I had reclusive tendencies, my parents forced me to participate in play dates as a toddler. When I was older, they made me join the cub scouts and later the boy scouts. They made me take horseback riding lessons. My father also taught me to swim first by throwing me in the deep end of a pool and pulling me above the water when I started to drown.

“HOLD YOUR BREATH!” he ordered before releasing my head.

When I opened my mouth to scream and swallowed a mouthful of water, my father grabbed me by my hair and again pulled me above the surface of the pool.


I held my breath and managed to survive the first lesson. My parents subsequently enrolled me in swimming lessons through the Red Cross. After I learned how to swim, they also signed me up for junior lifeguard training.

my 4th grade yearbook picture

During one particularly stressful summer after I completed 4th grade, my mother made me sign up for a gymnastics/dance class. All of the other students were girls in pink leotards. I’m fortunate that the instructor allowed me to wear shorts and a t-shirt. I was doubly fortunate that, in time, I was able to get my father to side with me so that I could drop this class. The instructor was disappointed because we had been scheduled to perform a scene from Swan Lake. To this day, the sight of anyone in leotards or tutus makes me shudder.

Although I did not enjoy being forced to socialize, these experiences taught me how to interact with others, how to listen, how to follow the rules, and how to take turns. I essentially learned how to mask. To this day, I’ve retained the ability to “pass” as a neurotypical, even though the process of doing so continues to be incredibly stressful.

My Culinary Arts classroom

I didn’t suspect that I was autistic until I was 54. By this time, I had ended my elementary teaching career, had pursued a degree in Culinary Arts, had worked in the food service industry, and had been teaching Culinary Arts for several years.

During my 7th year as a Culinary Arts instructor, I was told that I would be receiving a new student. Since he was in special education, I was given a copy of his IEP (individual education plan). According to the student’s IEP, he was autistic. I had no idea what autism was and googled it.

One site offered a list of symptoms.

  • Difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling
  • Trouble interpreting facial expressions, body language, or social cues
  • Difficulty regulating emotion
  • Trouble keeping up a conversation
  • Inflection that does not reflect feelings
  • Difficulty maintaining the natural give-and-take of a conversation; prone to monologues on a favorite subject
  • Tendency to engage in repetitive or routine behaviors
  • Only participates in a restricted range of activities
  • Strict consistency to daily routines; outbursts when changes occur
  • Exhibiting strong, special interests

My eyebrows rose. I found myself identifying with every single bulleted point.

In reading on, I found a link for a self-identification test. I took the test, and the site suggested that there was a strong likelihood that I was autistic. The site encouraged me to seek a clinical diagnosis.

It took a year for me to find anyone who would evaluate me. There were several problems. My insurance company wouldn’t cover the cost of a diagnosis because they said that this was a preexisting condition. I had by this point been a teacher for 24 years. The insurance company suggested that I didn’t have a compelling need for a diagnosis. If I wanted to pursue this, I would have to pay for a clinical evaluation out of pocket.

The other problem was that I couldn’t find anyone who would work with me. Most clinical diagnosticians who specialize in autism prefer to work with children. Since adults have presumably learned to compensate for their differences, it can be more challenging for a psychologist to identify autism in adults.

I was 55 before I found a clinical psychologist. My evaluation cost $1,100 and took nearly 8 hours to complete.

“I’m a bit behind in my paperwork,” apologized the diagnostician after the series of tests and interviews had been completed. “I will have your written evaluation completed within two months.”

When I begged the psychologist to at least tell me whether or not I was on the spectrum, she nodded. “Oh yes, you’re definitely on the high performing* spectrum.”

*Editor’s note: please note that the words, “high performing,” are not the language of the author. Functioning labels are offensive to most autistic people and inaccurate descriptions of autistic existence.

As you might imagine, I had a long series of ah-hah moments after learning that I was autistic. My life flashed before my eyes, and I could see how autism had influenced a wide number of social and career decisions.

I immediately undertook plans to reduce the amount of stress in my life. I transferred within my school district from a large suburban school with over 3,000 students to a small rural school with just 300 students. My class sizes dropped from a high of 54 to just 21 in my largest class and only 7 in my smallest.

I used the transfer to end my only friendship. Since I have reclusive tendencies, I gave myself permission to not make any new friends and to stop dating. Since developing and maintaining friendships has always been stressful for me, not having to socialize outside of work has been a huge relief.

As an added benefit, the depression that I had sometimes felt over my inability to “fit in” went pfftt. Now that I knew why I was the way I was, there was no logical reason for me to feel depressed. I have now been depression-free for six years.

I told my new principal that I was autistic and filed a copy of my diagnosis with my district’s office of compliance and accommodations. Since autism is a recognized disability, my principal implemented workplace accommodations that include the following:

  • I am excused from attending pep rallies and assemblies
  • I am not expected to chaperone proms or to attend home games
  • I am allowed to virtually attend large meetings instead of being made to attend these meetings in-person. (Although everyone now does this due to our on-going pandemic, being able to do this before the pandemic began was a HUGE relief.)
My favorite room in my home is the den.

My life is now quite simple. I have home, and I have work. Although I am friendly with several colleagues, I prefer to keep to myself when I’m on my own time.

This is not to say that I am completely alone. At home I have four cats, and even though I don’t like being touched (let alone hugged) by people, I don’t mind having my cats curl on my lap, lie on my chest, or throw their paws over one shoulder in feline “hugs.”

These are my cats.

Despite my ability to mask, I will never be “normal.” I will never belong to a loving family. I will never know a woman’s love. While there are people on the spectrum who aspire to a life of normalcy, to have friends, and to have a significant other, I am not one of these people. I am at peace when I’m at home and now that I know that I’m on the spectrum, I’m perfectly okay with who I am.

I have a good life. I am respected within my field of study. I believe that I’m making a positive difference in the lives of my students. Life could be so much worse.

Images of food products that I’ve taught my students to make. Pictured left is a composed cucumber salad. Pictured right is roast chicken with a rice pilaf and glazed baby carrots.

The time that I used to spend with friends or dating is now devoted to my hobbies. I’m working on a fantasy novel that features an autistic protagonist. I enjoy puttering around my kitchen and testing or creating new recipes for use in my classes. I also enjoy making candles that look and smell like real food.

Pictured here are some Genoa cherry cake candles that were inspired by the Great British Baking Show

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33 Responses

  1. My son’s school still has a behavioral bent to it so this would be ideal for them to read it… thanks so much for all your writings!

  2. First, your candles are beautiful! I’m about your same age, and also began suspecting I was autistic at about the same age as you and I’m the same manner as you. I was scheduled to get an evaluation (which I was going to pay for) when shutdown happened in 2020. I was going to ask for those same accommodations that you got! I bet those accommodations help so much. I love what you say about redirecting your energy to interests, rather than friendships. I’ve had periods of time where I try to make and maintain in-person friendships (because everyone tells us that’s what we have to do to be happy and healthy), and I end up lonely, stressed, and unhappy. My interests fill me with such good feelings and I enjoy my online friends very much! It’s validating to me to hear how you thrive by creating your own way! Thank you for sharing this!

    1. I used to date and to socialize with friends because that’s what I thought adults were supposed to do. The really sad thing about doing this is that I could be on a date or hanging out with friends and I’d still feel completely alone. I would mark the minutes until this social ordeal would end and I could finally go home. I was incredibly relieved when I got my diagnosis because now that I knew why I was the way I was, I no longer felt the need to conform to my family’s expectations i.e. date, marry, and raise a family. Given how I was 55 at the time of my diagnosis, this didn’t seem likely to happen. Now that I’m 61, it’s even less likely particularly since I no longer socialize and have long since given up on dating.

      I have neurotypical colleagues who sometimes tsk-tsk over my chosen lifestyle. They tell me that I’ll never be happy and that I will never feel fulfilled but since they are criticizing my life choices based upon their NT outlook, I don’t think their viewpoints are inherently valid for me. Although I’m perfectly capable of socializing with my colleagues while at work, whenever I’m not at work I prefer to be left alone so that I may pursue my solitary interests.

      Being a recluse isn’t for everyone. As I noted in my post, there are some people on the spectrum who aspire to having busy social lives, a significant other, and even a family. I am not one of these people but I certainly don’t begrudge anyone who doesn’t want to be alone.

      I was glad to read that you have found your own way in the world. I think life is much better when we stop resisting who we are.

      If you were to pursue a diagnosis, then you too could apply for workplace accommodations. My accommodations have been incredibly helpful. Although teaching can be stressful, my building admin’s accommodations have helped to lower my overall levels of stress thereby minimizing the possibility that I’ll have a meltdown.

      1. Thanks for replying! I retired from the job where I needed accommodations. My other job is teaching online at a community college, and since all of my interactions happen online, I’m able to draw on my strengths and not require modifications. Like you, I always feel loneliest when trying to socialize or maintain friendships! The pandemic is giving me a chance to invent a lifestyle that really works for me, and I think I’ll be able to keep what works even when we move out of the pandemic. Thanks for sharing about your life! Your students are lucky.

      2. Anthony Hopkins revealed in an interview that he’s a recluse and has no friends or social engagement (outside of any that his wive might have in the house). The comments were all very positive, so there’s that. People can be fickle.

  3. those candles are amazing – I’m sure a partner would love to be with you and as we get older people are a lot more flexible on how that happens as long as you are up front and honest about what you are willing and unwilling to do, and to just be honest in general which it seems like you do quite well…. :). just saying, from a woman’s point of view you seem like you would be a wonderful partner –

    1. While I wouldn’t mind having a business partner, a life partner would be more problematic. I’m very private and I’m quite set in my routines. While I don’t mind cuddling with my cats, I don’t care for being touched by people. I’m also something of a germaphobe. Did you know that the average kiss transfers 80 million germs? Ick!

  4. 37 almost 38, when I was diagnosed ( on the insistence of my best friend). I don’t live in the USA currently, but my hospital region only got a diagnosis center for adults with autism 4 years ago. I really think it has helped me accept the choices I make to reduce stress – and enjoy cancelling social stuff.

    I really like that you present your cats, and the notes of how some things that like touch etc with humans is a stressor, but different with your cats.

    Also thanks for sharing what you have been excused from.

  5. Thanks for sharing your story and how you have made your own accommodations in life and found your happiness. I’m sure your parents were doing what they were told to do or what seemed right, but you most likely have some trauma to work on from those experiences. It might be something to continue to process.

  6. Very good to hear how well you’ve adjusted and advocated for yourself, and how true you’ve been to yourself after your late diagnosis, David. At 53, I’m still in early stages of figuring this out, and you and others sharing on this site are an enormous help. I was in the food world, too—baking and pastry—but gave it up when I couldn’t take all the interpersonal difficulties. Your dishes look wonderful; and as a hobby, I still love making things that look like your awesome candles!

  7. fascinating account for which thankyou. i too was diagnosed later in life, age of 63 to be exact. a huge leap forward for me, that explained so much of my lifelong difficulties. luckily i was blessed with very gentle parents, who never forced me to do anything physically bad. i just loved the account and photos of your cats. through most of my adult life i have enjoyed the company of between one and three of them. currently i am owned by a brown Burmese. some years ago, i recall reading that an unofficial survey indicated up to 80% of Aspies are cat fanciers. i found that the greater proportion of our ‘tribe’ that i have met over the last 20 years have been passionate cat lovers. many of us like to think of ourselves as being honorary cats, – or maybe that cats happen to be honorary Aspies! i have been married three times – rather disastrously, because i have always liked the company of women. But, and it is a big but… intimate living with a woman i find to be unpleasant, draining and sheer failure. so now i live alone much more comfortably.
    i didnt have any obvious stimming practices, but i certainly find social gatherings and small talk to be tedious and beyond me. on the other hand, i have been a public speaker and professional actor, and that area of activity is my major skill. i do like my very small group of close friends, though i do best with them when limiting my association with them to moderate lengths of time. I’m now 86.
    Ron Hedgcock (Australia) author of Confessions of an Unashamed Asperger.

    1. It was fascinating to read that so many of us like cats. I wonder why that is.

      Although I grew up with dogs, I’ve always preferred cats. Dogs are pack creatures and they’re prepared to love just about anyone who lets them join their family. Cats are more selective and you have to earn a cat’s trust. The friendship and love will then come in time.

      It helps that cats aren’t as needy as dogs. You don’t have to walk them. You don’t have to bathe them. As long as you keep they have food, water, clean litter boxes, and kitty furniture, they seem to be happy.

      My cats visit me when they need petting. They follow me from room to room. When I go to bed, they will settle themselves around me. The senior kitties get to sleep near my head or chest. The junior social status kitties have to sleep by my feet.

      It is admittedly nice to have my cats to come home to.

      In terms of women, I’ve been engaged three times. I have broken all three engagements because when the time came to discuss wedding plans, I just couldn’t do it. From their perspective I had “commitment issues”. From my perspective, things were a bit more complicated. One woman was a closet alcoholic who refused to admit that she had a drinking problem. The 2nd woman went on a cruise and then wouldn’t have anything to do with me after she returned because she had met someone else. After realizing that this other man would never contact her, she wanted to proceed with our wedding but since she made me feel as though I was some sort of a consolation prize, I declined to be with anyone who that they were “settling” for me. The third woman was addicted to on-line gaming. Whenever she was awake and not at work, she was gaming. She would game DURING A DATE. She started gaming at work and got in trouble with her employer. As with the woman who had been an alcoholic, she was unwilling to admit that she had a problem and I had to give her a hard pass.

      Like you, I do not enjoy small talk. As a teacher I have been a public speaker not just with my classes but also with entire auditoriums that were full of people. I have even given teacher in-service workshops at the school level, the district level, and even the state level. I didn’t mind doing any of these things as part of my job as a teacher. I didn’t like small talk because I had no very little control over the conversation topics and sometimes have problems with understanding when (or even why) the conversation had shifted from one topic to something that was completely different.

      Presentations are much more structured and like most of us on the spectrum, I gravitate towards structure as a way of making sense of a world that often seems confusing and chaotic.

    2. Ron, I feel a bit encouraged, maybe, by your diagnosis at 63, since I am 68 and trying to get an official diag from a psychologist (see my other post). I have one cat, Ming3 (they all were named after my favorite musician). But I am allergic to cat hair, so it’ a bit difficult. Funny thing, I never noticed, or I always had an internal explanation, for why I never had friends, and did everything alone for my entire life. But the one friend I do have, is a guy I (virtually) met thru work, He lives in Australia and I’m in the USA. Don’t know why he and I get along, but he’s a very nice person. We email from time-to-time. I’m going to check out your book!

      1. Up with truth.
        i have to say that i was very fortunate in getting my diagnosis back 20 years ago from a professional in Melbourne. at that time there was simply not the demand on such services that there is today, and i saw him very quickly and at a very reasonable cost.

        back to our association with Puss-cats! one other very distinctive thing we have in common with cats is our desperate desire and need for routine and regularity. cats also love routine and one can sometimes interrupt that routine they have at our peril. like us they require the freedom to choose their own time schedule and to be left alone when they choose. recall a point made by Australia’s Prof. Tony Attwood. — if you want to ‘cure’ an Aspie, its simple….. Just leave him alone. heavens – a cat is just so peaceful. a cat curled up on your lap is restful and soothing. none of the demands that a fellow human being of either sex would put onto one. yes, just lovely to come home to a beloved cat!

        1. I wish I had known that I was autistic much earlier in life. If I had made different career choices, I might have retired by now. As it is, I will have to work for ten more years. It’s fortunate that I really like my job. Assuming my body holds out, I should be able to retire in another decade.

          As for cats, I agree that they are creatures who like strict routines. This afternoon I was taking a nap when I woke to a horrible wailing sound coming from the dining room. Buki was screaming because it was 4 PM and the cats were supposed to have been fed their daily moist meal at 3:30 PM. The other three cats were seated around him in a semi-circle and all of them were looking expectantly in my direction. It was almost as though they had unionized and delegated Buki as their spokesperson or spokescat.

          What could I do other than to apologize and to feed them?

          1. It would not astonish me if they had indeed delegated Buki as spokescat. As for what could you do other than apologize to them and feed them? I don’t know any other thing you could do which would show them your sincerity. My experience is that if you have a level of sincerity cats can sense, they are willing to forgive.
            There is a Canadian blogger named Pamela Merritt who has a long running cat blog and podcast. In 2018 she released a book with same name as her podcast, it is worth it, “The Way of Cats: How to use their instincts to train, understand, and love them”.
            She kind of stumbled in to being a rescuer and cat behavior analyst & from what she’s seen in her years of doing that it sure does look like cat behavior indicates they will select one of their own to go interface with the human caretakers.
            And she says outright that she has seen the ‘spokescat’ thing happen.
            She has also observed that when having several cats they do appear to delegate which cat interfaces with the humans about which facet of cat care.
            My two orange rescue fellows have apparently been quite understanding that my particular health problems pretty much scuttle keeping a regular schedule in any part of life & they cut me a certain amount of slack; even so, there does come a point where if certain things have not happened there will be commentary made.

        2. With my body’s health the mess it now I don’t do nearly as much coming home as before, but, yes, in earlier decades when I was working it was a joy to come home to the cats of those years & it is likewise a joy now to come home to the two orange tabby rescue fellows who share my home. And it is fun to watch them trot out to see who is here from the home health company. A good number of those gals have pets, often of several species & I am going to say my cats approach them faster than those who do not have pets, I expect so as to investigate what animal scents may be on them.

          1. I was on medical leave for six months because of a prostate condition for last year. Although surgery ultimately corrected this condition, due to Covid outbreaks the local hospitals closed their doors to all elective surgeries that required overnight hospitalization. The outbreaks were so acute that they had to extend ICU.

            Since wearing a catheter was painful for me and too much movement or bending caused me to bleed into the catheter, I spent most of my waking time in my recliner. The cats were very patient with me and Buki didn’t do any of the wailing that he has resumed doing since my recovery. I think my cats knew that I wasn’t well and as with your orange cats they cut me some slack.

            They didn’t complain about late meals or litter boxes that weren’t cleaned or changed as frequently. They were incredibly considerate.

            One or more of them also kept me constant company while I was on the recliner. Although I had a pillow over my private area to protect this sensitive spot, the cats either lay on my chest or on the arm rests. Instead of simply jumping onto me as they now do (and did before I went on sick leave), they would patiently sit within my line of sight and wait until I actually invited them to join me. I really appreciated their company as well as their consideration.

            Some people think that cats (like people who are on the spectrum) are aloof and have no feelings. I don’t think this is true.

            I remember when Uma came to live with us as a kitten. She was so frightened that she adopted a tough persona and hissed at everyone even though she was barely large enough to cover the palm of my hand. As the alpha male, Buki was very indulgent. When Chi Chi took exception to the tiny kitten and raised her paw to smack her, Buki shouldered his way between the cats and hissed at Chi Chi as if he were telling her to stop. The adult female stared at Buki before lowering her paw. After licking Buki on his head, she began grooming Uma.

            I think people on the spectrum are quite similar. While I certainly can’t speak for other autistics, I know that I don’t wear my feelings on my shoulder.

            Years ago I worked as a teacher at an American school in Saudi Arabia. Prior to Thanksgiving, the faculty collected food to donate to the custodians. The custodians were for the most part from Sri Lanka and were supervised by an Indian foreman.

            Instead of just giving the food to the custodians, the principal always made a big deal of this. The custodians would file into the lounge before the assembled faculty where they would be given their Thanksgiving gifts. I always thought that this was humiliating. Doubly humiliating was the fact that most of what they got was canned food.

            I didn’t donate anything to the faculty food drive and was accused of being a miser. What the faculty didn’t know was that after school I sought out Ashraf, the head custodian. I asked him point blank what the custodians needed. He asked for a turkey. I got him the three biggest turkeys I could find and gave them to him the following morning before school.

            I followed this practice for 6 years before I transferred from Dhahran to another community in Ras Tanura. On my last day of work in Dhahran, Ashraf came to say goodbye to me. While we were speaking I asked him if I could ask a personal question. When he said yes, I asked him why the custodians had asked for a turkey. Since I knew they weren’t American, I knew that they weren’t celebrating the traditional Thanksgiving meal that the Americans enjoyed. What did they do with the turkeys?

            Ashraf smiled and said, “Mr. David, a turkey is a very big bird and we cut it up and share it out so that each of us may cook it the way he wants. Some of us roast the turkey. Some of us make it into soup. Others make a curry.”

            A passing teacher heard us talking. After Ashraf left she came into my room and stared at me with wide eyes. She had been one of the teachers who hadn’t been shy about disparaging me for my selfishness in not contributing to the annual food drive. She was now embarrassed and sorry for everything that she had said about me. To make amends, she promised to take my place during the following year and to secretly give turkeys to the custodial staff.

  8. My own experience has revealed to me that high-scoring adverse childhood experience trauma that essentially results from a highly sensitive introverted existence notably exacerbated by an accompanying autism spectrum disorder, can readily lead an adolescent to a substance-abuse/self-medicating disorder, including through eating.
    It’s what I consider to be a perfect-storm condition with which I greatly struggle(d), yet of which I was not aware until I was a half-century old. I believe that if one has diagnosed and treated such a formidable condition when one is very young he/she will be much better able to deal with it through life.

    I’m sometimes told, “But you’re so smart!” To which I immediately reply, a bit agitatedly, “But for every ‘gift’ I have, there are a corresponding three or four deficits.” It’s crippling, on both professional and social-life levels.

    I understand that my own brain uncontrollably releases potentially damaging levels of inflammatory stress hormones and chemicals, even in non-stressful daily routines. It’s like a discomforting anticipation of ‘the other shoe dropping’ and simultaneously being scared of how badly I will deal with the upsetting event, which usually never transpires. It is like a form of brain damage. Though I’ve not been personally affected by the addiction/overdose crisis, I have suffered enough unrelenting ACE-related hyper-anxiety to have known and enjoyed the euphoric release upon consuming alcohol and/or THC. The self-medicating method I utilized during most of my pre-teen years, however, was eating.

    Perhaps not surprising, I’d like to see child-development science curriculum implemented for secondary high school students, which could also include neurodiversity, albeit not overly complicated. It would, however, be more detailed than diaper changing and baby feeding. If nothing else, the curriculum could offer students an idea/clue as to whether they’re emotionally/mentally compatible with the immense responsibility and strains of parenthood.

    When around their neurotypical peers, young people with an autism spectrum disorder typically feel compelled to “camouflage,” a term used to describe their attempts at appearing to naturally fit in, which is known to cause their already high anxiety and/or depression levels to worsen. And, of course, this exacerbation also applies to the high rate of suicide among ASD people.

    Also, I’d really like some relevant specialist/author to pen a book on high-scoring adverse childhood experience trauma resulting from a highly sensitive and low self-confidence existence, especially when its effect is amplified by an accompanying autism spectrum disorder. This, of course, can readily lead to an adulthood of various forms of hazardous self-medicating. As a highly sensitive child, teenager and adult with ASD compounded by a high ACE score, I largely learned this for myself throughout my adult life. It’s what I consider to be a perfect-storm condition with which I greatly struggled yet of which I was not aware until I was a half-century old. If one has diagnosed and treated such a condition when very young, he/she will be much better able to deal with the scourge throughout their life.

    1. Yes, a book about the intersection of autism and childhood trauma—with a special focus on the specific kinds of abuses autistic children might get singled out for—and the whole mess of anticipatory anxiety, addiction, depression, and general dysfunction that tend to result from that mix would be helpful. I’m in the same boat riding out that “perfect storm.” Not a fun ride.

  9. thanks for your comment David. in my book i have one whole essay on the relationship we Aspies have with cats. also there is a very clever piece i was given that relates cats to the official diagnostic description of Aspergers. there is also that wonderful little picture book for children called ‘All Cats have Aspergers Syndrome’.

    i dont think it’s hard to understand the relationship that exists between so many of us and our cats. cats are not bouncing all over and around us, demanding attention in a boistrous way in the fashion that dogs do. as you say they are secretive, they frequently just attach to one individual in their lives. i emphatically believe too that we on the Spectrum actually understand them. like us they attach themselves to that person who they trust, unlike the NTs who rely apparently on some other obscure or special sense to pick someone to love. much the same as the comment quoted by Barbara Jacobs in her brilliant memoir called Loving Mr Spock. her resident Aspie when asked what he meant by ‘love’ answered after thinking about it – ‘i feel safe!’. how well i know that feeling, that criterion for loving someone. just as our cats do, we dont see ‘into’ other people. we take them and whatever they do LITERALLY. also, cats unlike dogs appear to have a genuine sense of freewill! that’s why they can be so hard to train. i have genuinely grieved for my departed cats so many times in a way i’ve never grieved for any human being.

    1. YES! Dogs are REALLY ANNOYING. They’re loud! They’re boisterous. They have a disturbing tendency to lick you. They also get dirty and at some point will start to stink. In contrast cats clean themselves. They’re much more mellow. I even like their purring.

  10. I am happy for you. I’m seven years older than you and I went thru similar experiences thru my childhood and adulthood. I worked in computers for over 30 years and every day of those 30+ years, I thought, this is the day ‘they’ are going to tell me that I am an idiot and a fake and fire me! I started researching autism about three years ago for my adult daughter, and as a result, at age 26, she received a diagnosis of ASD. I self-administered several tests. (I scored 159 on the RAADS-R test.) I asked my therapist to do what she could to test me for ASD and she diagnosed me with ASD. I’m 68 now, an it’s incredible to read the various research articles and books and finally start seeing my entire life thru a new lens. Interesting but also very depressing, at such a late age to finally start to understand why life was always so extremely difficult. There is a fair amount of literature out there about adult diagnosis, trying to read all that I can find. I wanted to get an official test by a psychologist, but the one that works for my local regional center said it is not possible to test an adult. I am feeling very discouraged and quite depressed about that response, because it is not true, so I guess that person has not kept up with the science. Not sure where to turn, but maybe someone reading this will have a suggestion. I guess I could pay out of pocket for testing, but I am a lot more broke that I thought I’d be at this age, partially due to still having to support my daughter. Been trying since 2014 to get soc sec for her, started that a bit before her ASD diagnosis. She has several severe other MH problems and she has always had great struggles with life since she was very young. I updated that diagnosis to the soc sec folks, but they completely ignored it. Even with a lot of evidence of disability, I guess you have to have an attorney.

    1. You need more than a diagnosis. You need an evaluation letter from a clinician that your daughter will be unable to support herself. It might help to get an attorney who specializes in disabilities. Although there is no limit to the number of times you may apply for disability payments, a record is made each time you apply and I’ve heard that this makes it more challenging to subsequently get a fair hearing.

      You might find this site useful:

      It’s specifically about applying for disability if you’re autistic.

  11. Great post, David. Self-care is so important. I’m so proud that you’re putting yourself and your needs first to reduce your stress levels. Keep doing what you must do to prevent overloading yourself.

  12. Your experiences echo many in my own life, David. I was a brilliant, awkward, weird kid, who loved books and electronics, and hated girly clothes and makeup. I was more interested in messing around with the stereo or TV than I was with being ‘ladylike’. LIke you, my parents and relatives used coercion, force, punishnent and sometimes violence to get me to conform with what they thought I should be. In spite of that, and other sometimes harrowing experiences, I managed to carve my own space in this alien world. I was lucky that my main special interest was electronics and complex systems. The US Air Force gave me my foundation in electronics, as well as my degree. After I got out, I turned my hobby of messing with computers into my living. I’ve been successful enough to get my own home and build a fantastic library.

    Like you, I am a solitary person, and an Ace (asexual). I was never ‘boy-crazy’, which puzzled my parents, and I hated dating. I still do. And like you, I have cats- two in my case. My theory is that cats are more selective in who they interact with, and if they like you, they like you. Mine make my house a genuine home, and I love being greeted by them when I come home from work.

    I got my diagnosis in my mid-fifties. It confirmed what I suspected for years. I had to take some time and re-examine my life from an autistic point of view- my masking, my personas, my sensitivities, my impostor syndrome, anxiety, stims- the whole thing, and make peace with who I am. I’ve turned my home into a sanctuary, tuned to my and the cats’ needs. I do have friends, and more than a few of them are on the spectrum themselves. We understand each others’ needs and sensitivities, and enjoy our visits. Here, in Covid time, not having to do many things in person is nice, but I do enjoy sharing time with people who have interests similar to mine. I can put on my professional persona and do ‘small talk’ when needed. Being a techie is an advantage, in that my purpose is to fix whatever problem my user is having. The ‘small talk’ helps smooth the interaction. Making them smile or laugh is bonus.

    It’s tough feeling like we’re living on the wrong planet, but I have found some semblance of peace with this existence. I have decided that people like me, if we manage to get past the harsh ‘normalizing’ imposed upon us, and find our real passion and place- do more to improve this world than most.

    I wish you all the best.

    1. Thank you for your kind comments and for sharing your experiences. I am pleased to know that I am not alone and that my experiences, while unique to me, are not completely atypical. It is good to know that others have built their interests into a career.

      I am really impressed that you were able to function with the Air Force. While I appreciate the concept of military structure, I suspect that I would not have reacted well to having an NCO scream at me while making belittling comments in boot camp. I was in the Army ROTC while pursuing my bachelor’s degree. While I didn’t mind unit formations or marching drills, I didn’t enjoy our field exercises. I especially didn’t enjoy sleeping in a muddy foxhole while it was raining or having to eat cold C rations out of a can. When a new directive came down say that all officers had to have experience in the combat arms prior to going into a support field which for me would have been the quartermaster corps, I opted out as soon as I was told that they only vacancies the army was projecting was for infantry platoon leaders. While I might have considered armor, I wasn’t interested in being a ground pounder.

      I agree with your thoughts about sometimes feeling as though we’re on the wrong planet. I suppose this is why I admire the character of Spock in the original Star Trek series. It was always interesting watching him struggle to adapt to human norm behavior. He was a being of pure logic who didn’t like guessing. The concept of humor, sarcasm, and the unspoken communication conveyed by body language sometimes completely eluded him. Long before I knew I was autistic, I found that I completely related to Spock.

      Thank you also for introducing me to the term “Ace”. I was not familiar with this term. While I do find women to be attractive, to me a beautiful woman is attractive like a portrait painted by Leonardo Gasser or a marble statue that was sculpted by Emilio Fiaschi i.e. they are to be admired for their beauty but may never be touched or approached or even spoken to.

      In the movie version of Anne of Green Gables (1985), the character of Anne Shirley asked Matthew Cuthbert the following; “Did you ever go courting, Matthew?”

      “Well now, no, I dunno’s I ever did,” said Matthew. In the movie version he goes on to explain that in order to court you have to be able to speak to women.

      While I am capable of interacting with married women, I am usually tongue tied in the presence of a single woman especially if she’s attractive and close to my age. I suspect that I don’t see married women as a threat because they’re married. Given my conservative morality, I would never countenance anything other than a platonic relationship with a married woman. Some of my best friends have been married women or women who had a significant other in their lives. I actually ended my friendship with my last best friend after her live-in boyfriend objected to our friendship. Since it was never my intention to interfere with her relationship, I ended our friendship as soon as she told me that her boyfriend was jealous of me. I am mystified as to why she seemed hurt after I did this. Her last words to me were, “I wish I had never told you what ___ thought.”

      I am glad that you have found a niche for yourself. While the concept of happiness continues to elude me, I am content with my life the way it is now. I have a successful career. I am respected within my field. I have a lovely albeit somewhat cluttered home. I am in reasonably good health. Having found my niche, I no longer feel lost or adrift as I did when I was much younger. It is also admittedly nice to be of an age where I can afford my modest creature comforts. For me this means being able to watch a pay per view movie or channel subscription from the comfort of my Lazy Boy recliner while enjoying a Coke Zero with a Door Dash order.

      It was also nice hearing that you have the ability to make others laugh. While I have been told that I also have this ability, my attempt at humor is almost always completely unintentional. I often do not understand why others are laughing which seems to amuse them even more. So long as they are not laughing at me, I do not mind when others do this.

      I also agree with what you said about finding our real passion and getting past the harsh expectations of norm behavior that others have. You and I are fortunate to have found our way. There are a great many others who have not.

  13. That bit, “My theory is that cats are more selective in who they interact with, and if they like you, they like you. Mine make my house a genuine home, and I love being greeted by them when I come home from work.”, I oh so totally get.

  14. You need to get to a place you know works for you. Then you are happy and have less stress or outbursts. Not everyone will agree with that. There are people who think we should in the workplace force people to be social. I think that is the worst thing. Some have issues with sounds, others lights, etc. I am glad you found an accommodating employer. Kudos to them. I think most bosses and workplaces would not be willing to make those accommodations. Again glad you found your happy place!

  15. I started thinking that my adult child might be autistic in 2018. Started doing research, lots of reading. Gave both of us several of the tests including RAADS and others. I tested higher on the spectrum than my daughter in several areas. An LCSW tested us both with the results that we were both very high on the spectrum. My daughter was tested by the local regional center and accepted for services. The person that did the ‘official’ testing and evaluation did a good job. A year or so later after a lot more reading and reflection, I called the same person that did my daughter’s evaluation and asked about testing me. I was told that basically I could not be tested because both of my parents were dead, which really surprised me as that did not seem to match what I had been reading. So, I don’t know if that was the real/only reason. Maybe because the regional center pays service providers half as much for adult services, maybe it’s because it would be a bit different testing… Dunno, but I felt pretty lousy about it. It’s pretty tough (depressing) to look at your entire life from such a new perspective. You have a different way of understanding/evaluating how difficult life always was, and how it possibly could have been different. And how ASD relates to my lifelong (and diagnosed) problems with ADHD, self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. And I thought I was just very nerdy and odd…

  16. Hi. As I read your description of your childhood, I nearly jumped out of my skin when I read that your parents also “taught” you to swim by nearly downing you. It felt like I was back in the water. Gosh, not knowing stuff really allowed a bunch of horrible things to happen to us as children. I’m in my mid-fifties. I don’t have a diagnosis and probably won’t pursue one at this point. My youngest child insists that she is autistic and I have given her direction to get herself evaluated so that she can hopefully find peace and move forward in her life. (She’s an adult.) I hope she can find a qualified professional who can help her. I am probably somewhere on the spectrum too. I am certain that there are those tendencies. Thank you for writing. Enjoy your furry friends.

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