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Growing Up as an Undiagnosed Autistic, and How I Found Out About My Autism

Aspergers Syndrome

My earliest memories are when I was not even 2 years old, and I recall clearly the teddy bear and lion designs on the side of my crib in great detail! It astounds my mother to this day how clearly I can recall intrinsic details, many in a very visual way, from my very early years.

I also remember my cousins and my sister, and the other small kids in the neighborhood before the age of 4. I remember shying away from anyone but my parents. All I wanted was to stay close to my mother! I always felt uncomfortable around other children and did not know exactly what to say to them, so I remained mostly silent. I didn’t want to look into people’s faces either, as it made me feel very uncomforable. I fels somehow… different from other kids. I never knew why, just that there was something different or maybe “wrong” with me.

Growing up, I longed to belong, to be with other kids, yet my fear of not fitting in with them caused me to prefer to spend long hours arranging my toys into categories. I would put all the stuffed animals together, all the bears would be in one section, the two tigers in another, the rag dolls in yet another. They would be arranged by their colors. I would be so into what I was doing, that many times when someone would speak to me, I wouldn’t even be aware of their presence.

As I was growing up, I continued to prefer the company of my mother over other kids. My parents tried in futile desparation to get me to play with the other children on the street and in my school class, but I had such a difficult time relating to what my peers were interested in, that I felt too awkard and uncomfortable to be with them. It was literally painful going to school everyday. I would actually be so upset by the thought of having to face all of those other children, that I would get a stomach ache every morning when it came time to go to school.

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School was very difficult for me. I was not diagnosed with any sort of learning disorder, and the teachers just assumed I was lazy or stupid, or maybe both. The problem came in that I had a very difficult time focusing. First, in class I would listen, but the sounds in the background, such as talking from the hallways, the sounds from the other kids with their pencils writing on the paper and even the sound of others breathing would sound to me, as loud as the sound of the teacher’s voice. Too, I would read from a textbook and then after a paragraph, I would not recall a single word of what I had just read. I would read it over maybe five times, and still come up with nothing! It would have to be completely silent for me to absorb anything!

The other kids of course, noticed that there was something different about me, and either kept a distance, or teased me mercilessly. I preferred being ignored! That was what I was used to anyway.

I miraculously made it through high school, and then entered college. I think that because of the fact that I was able to choose the classes that I was interested in, that my grades suddenly were excellent. I was able to concentrate and focus. It was strange the way it happened the way it did.

I grew up with a few very close friends. I always did have a tough time making new friends because of what I think of as my extreme introverted personality. Outwardly I learned to be “social” throughout college in order to adapt, but inside I was always crying inside. I wanted to be heard for once in my life, yet I did not know how to express “me”.

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When my daughter, Jennifer was diagnosed at the age of 3 with autsim, I was 36 years old. It was almost immediate that I began to wonder about myself. Her sweet shy nature reminded me so much of myself. It was as if I were watching my childhood on rerun! In response to her diagnosis, I threw myself into researching Autsim Spectrum Disorders. I began attending Autism conferences and seminars. I would travel to go to them. I wanted to learn more about my daughter and how to help her.

It was on one such conferences that I was having a conversation with one of the speakers. After talking about my daughter for maybe 5 minutes, he looked at me thoughtfully and said, “If you will excuse my bluntness, may I ask, are you an “aspie”? (Aspie is a term used for people with Aspergers syndrome- a high functioning form of autism) I was a bit startled. I told him that the thought had occured to me but I had never been formally diagnosed, but I went on to tell him about my childhood and life up until that point. He suggested that I take a test to determine if I were indeed on the Autism Spectrum. He told me that he could tell by my mannerisms that I was most likely on the spectrum.

I was given a test by a phychologist and sure enough… I was rather high up on the Aspergers Syndrome scale. How I wish I had known growing up. Unfortunately back then, it mostly went undiagnosed, especially in girls. How I wish one of my teachers had had the intuite to somehow know that there was something that was causing the lack of focus! I remember kids who had learning difficulties back then, were routinely given ABA therapy. I wonder what it might have done for me! How different my life would have been!

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For now, I am just grateful that I was able to have the wisdom and the resources that are now available to help my little girl! I can now also understand myself.

Written by
Diana Smith