How an Autism Diagnosis Changed Everything
An unexpected diagnosis shifts every perspective you have
"There are only two kinds of people in the world," I tell my friend as we hike a dusty trail above the Flathead Valley in Montana last summer. "Me, and everybody else. That's what nobody gets." I try to explain how much work I put into interacting with other people—with anyone. I tell her how much energy goes into processing even the most minor conversation. I'm not usually this frank about what goes on inside my head; better that people don't know.
Explaining often feels pointless. I always seem to fall short when relating the stress of social interactions. Friends and family attribute this to introversion or social anxiety, or some other more familiar trait. They want to be able to relate to my experience; but early last year, I learned why they can't. At the age of 38, I learned I'm autistic.
It turns out that autism contributes to some of my greatest strengths: hyperfocus, pattern recognition, written communication, systems thinking. But autism is also the source of my greatest frustrations when interacting with others: verbal-processing delays, overstimulation, recognizing emotion and social cues. I don't experience autism as an issue when left to my own devices.
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