It’s arrived. I expected the envelope to contain the report from Tyger’s last appointment and perhaps even an appointment for the next step. It did contain the report and…an official diagnosis!
So, I can formally say – though, I have been informally saying it for about a year now – Tyger has ‘High functioning autistic spectrum disorder’, which is basically Asperger’s (they just don’t tend to use the term anymore). In fact, the child psychologist herself referred to it as Asperger’s both in the appointment and in her written report. I only mention this because I think a lot of people have a better idea of what is meant by ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ than ‘high functioning ASD’ (not to mention the controversy surrounding the use of the phrase ‘high functioning’).
However, as much as the term ‘Asperger’s’ is helpful in some ways, there are some misconceptions (okay, loads of misconceptions) about what it means to be an Aspie so I thought I’d address some of those.
Firstly, no Tyger does not have a ‘special ability’. I think Rain Man is probably largely responsible for the belief that all Aspies are also savants. They’re not. Sadly, Tyger is not likely to earn large sums of money through counting cards or drawing amazingly accurate pictures from memory. He can’t glance at a group of objects and tell you immediately how many there are (unless there are three because before he’s actually counted anything he will always tell you there are three…I’m not convinced that counts as a special ability, though).
I already covered this second point in my blog post last week but it’s worth reiterating: it is a myth that autistic people don’t feel empathy. In fact, there’s good reason to believe people with ASD often feel empathy far more keenly than their neurotypical counterparts to the point where they are completely overwhelmed by it and incapable of action. They also often don’t know the socially acceptable way of showing said empathy. These problems mean – to the casual observer – they may seem indifferent to someone else’s suffering but the truth is they may be so affected they are struck by an inability to do anything about it. We have our own example of this in our house. One time my sisters were playing on a water slide in the garden when my parents were out. My youngest sister badly hurt her leg (think: lots of blood and tears). So, my Aspie sister reacted by…leaving Youngest Sister out there to cry and going inside for a shower. She has since explained that she didn’t know what to do and apparently she has her best ideas in the shower so this seemed to be the most sensible solution. The epiphany she had in the shower was to make ice cream floats. I’m not sure how much this helped Youngest Sister’s leg but I guess it distracted her. It wasn’t callousness that sent Aspie Sister running to the shower instead of helping and comforting Youngest Sister, it was simply the helplessness she felt when confronted with this entirely new scenario. She wasn’t equipped to deal with it but I can assure you she’s an empathetic person.
The third one is probably one I’ve covered before, too. It is absolutely not true that autistic people always prefer their own company and don’t want friends. I mention this as something my mum was told by a fracking doctor, who should know better. When my mum first took Aspie Sister to the GP with her concerns the GP told her ‘the good news’ was it wasn’t autism because my sister ‘wanted friends’. Any time my sister sees that GP now my mum always mentions her ASD diagnosis very pointedly. ASD is a social and communication disorder. Aspies do struggle with social situations and communicating in a socially acceptable way. Because of this they may find it hard to make or keep friends but that doesn’t mean they don’t want any! I struggle to do lots of things. Hey, I find writing most of these blog posts hard; obviously that means I don’t want to write a blog…right?
Fourthly and finally I’m just going to straight up steal a great saying I’ve seen floating around the internet. If you know one person with autism; you know one person with autism. It’s a big smegging spectrum and even aside from all the autistic traits varying from one person with ASD to the next, their personalities also vary. You know, just like how everyone else’s personalities vary? If your neighbour’s cousin’s autistic friend once had a meltdown because you put the milk in their tea before the water (although, why anyone would do that in the first place is completely beyond me but I guess this post is all about accepting that people are
wrong different) that doesn’t mean the next autistic person you meet will even like tea, let alone get worked up by how it’s made.
Anyway, back to Tyger’s diagnosis. How do I feel about it? I’ve wondered for a year now how I’d react to finally getting that letter. Would I feel relief that it’s been recognised and he’ll find it easier to access the support he might need in the future? Would I feel vindicated? Would I feel upset despite already knowing he had ASD?
Actually, I don’t feel much. Perhaps the numbness will wear off at some point but I suspect it’s more the fact I’ve come to realise a diagnosis isn’t the end point I once thought it was. Okay, so Tyger is officially autistic now: that doesn’t change his daily struggles (or mine). He was already autistic before we got the letter through and he won’t stop being autistic now. I’m glad he has the diagnosis because it may make a difference at some future point but life isn’t a film with a nice neat conclusion. I want to say the wheel never stops turning but it doesn’t seem appropriate to start throwing in Firefly references so I think I’ll stop here…
…That only matters to the people on the rim.