When I was young, my parents tested me for autism. Why? I was a quirky kid. I preferred being alone to being with other children. I didn’t talk much. I tapped my fingers against my thumb repetitively. To this day, I am still uncomfortable in crowds, even when the crowd is made up of family. I’m just not a people person. The doctor decided I wasn’t on the spectrum; I was just wired differently.
The autism spectrum encompasses a huge range of personalities, skills, and challenges. As a matter of fact, a common saying among those who are either on the spectrum or have a loved one on the spectrum is “If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.” There are so many different quirks and symptoms that some days after I finish researching autism spectrum disorders, I begin to believe we are all on the spectrum. It’s rather overwhelming.
So how can you tell if you are mildly autistic or are just having a difficult day? I found a helpful checklist on www.verywellhealth.com that answers the question in simple English. I wanted to share it with you.
1. You find big parties uncomfortable and overwhelming, but only if you’re in the wrong mood. Yes, people with autism do struggle with noise and small talk, but a general preference for smaller groups or quieter conversation is not a sign of autism.
2. You can’t stop pacing, biting your nails, or twirling your hair because you’re feeling tense. People with ASD “stim” (flick, rock, drum like J, etc.) to calm themselves. People without autism do the same thing. But people with autism are more likely to “stim” by rocking, flicking, or flapping, which are not socially typical. In addition, they are likely to “stim” when excited, anxious, anticipatory, and for many other reasons.
3. You dislike loud concerts, bright malls, or scratchy clothes. Many people do have sensory challenges, autistic people among them. But sensory challenges are not enough to suggest autism. Many people also have sensory sensitivities only under specific circumstances (for example, they are already anxious, they aren’t feeling well, etc.).
4. You’re absolutely fascinated by a new TV series and can’t stop watching or talking about it. Until the next cool series comes along. Or the football season starts. It’s true that people with autism can get stuck on one subject, but it’s rare for an autistic person to “move on” to something new out of a desire for novelty or a feeling of boredom.
5. You find it hard to make good friends although you have tons of acquaintances. People with autism don’t generally have the skills to create a network of acquaintances. And having a tough time finding and keeping good friends is not the exclusive domain of people on the spectrum. In fact, it’s a pretty common malady in today’s world.
6. You’re an uber geek. You love every incarnation of Star Trek, you’ve memorized the Marvel pantheon, and you’re a whiz at Dungeons and Dragons. You even go to Comicons dressed as your fave superhero. No, that doesn’t make you autistic. It makes you someone who enjoys a particular type of fantasy entertainment which some people with autism also enjoy!
7. You sometimes choose to take things too literally. When someone tells you six times in a row that they can’t have lunch with you because they’re “too busy,” you believe them. Somehow, it doesn’t enter your mind that they are politely letting you know they’re not interested in YOU. People on the spectrum struggle with subtle social context but this mild degree of social difficulty is not a sign of autism.
8. You sometimes enjoy spending time alone. Isn’t it sad that we see a desire for solitude as a symptom rather than a positive quality? People with autism are often far more able to enjoy their own company than “neurotypicals,” but taking pleasure in solitude is not a sign of autism.
Yes, there is a big difference between having autistic-like moments and living on the spectrum, but isn’t it wonderful that we can find common ground? At last Friday night’s football game, J had a wonderful time playing with a group of kids including Z who is also on the spectrum, and his cousins who are not. None of them cared if they carried a label of autistic or not. They were just having a great time sharing laughs and playing chase.
GLENDA THOMPSON, aka Grandma Bear, resides in Charlotte where she is hard at work on the first novel in a series about Texas Rangers with dark secrets. She is also writing a series on Autism for the Pleasanton Express. These are a combination of research and personal experiences.