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Not Autistic Enough?

The more I read about being autistic or listen to the stories of those living with autism the more I feel that I may be not quite autistic enough. I’ll explain because that is what the blog is for.

People say that being autistic is a definite dichotomy: either you are or you are not. Just like you are either wet or dry, dead or alive, tall or short. Though likes those other states you can be in a liminal space between the two. You can be dry but sweating, so you are a little damp. You can be alive but being kept alive by expensive machines that ping. You can be slightly above average height but in a basketball team that doesn’t mean anything if you are the shortest person there. And if you’re not the shortest the person there then the basketball team is probably going to struggle. The average height of basketball players is six foot six, though one player called Muggsy Bogues was a tiny five foot three. I do not think his was Christened “Muggsy” and it is, in fact, a nickname. I have just checked, and he is called Tyrone Curtis Bogues. I do not know why he has the nickname, Muggsy. Perhaps he collected a lot of cups. Anyway, the argument that you cannot be “a little autistic” but you are somewhere on a very wide spectrum does appear to be incorrect. By the very use of the noun “spectrum”, you are suggesting that some people can, in fact, be more autistic than others. People who say that they are a little autistic usually mean that they don’t like talking to new people or find working to a routine comforting, these are autistic traits so are they just a little bit autistic? I often worry that when I do get my assessment, they are going to tell me that no, you are not autistic just anti-social and shit at things. Like small talk. Growing up I had some traits of dyslexia in my written work, however, it presented in no other ways. Am I a little dyslexic or did I just not understand letter formation?

I read about people having violent meltdowns on a weekly basis or turning totally mute for days, this is known as a shutdown. People stay in bed for days, they do this when depressed as well, but when I am depressed I do not do this. I plod along with what I need to do. Does this make me ‘functioning’ or just a little depressed. Borderline depressed and borderline autistic.

I can only remember smashing a desk out of frustration once and that was at the end of a long build-up of tightly suppressed emotions. I don’t have any other memories of lashing out in this manner. I do have memories of losing my temper and wanting to be able to get away from people. I find being alone restful and do need it, perhaps more than others. Once in Toronto, Canada when I had possibly been around people too much or had to listen to my then step-mum bang on about something, without any knowledge or reason, too much. It left me in a foul mood all day and I really wanted to be left alone.

I also walked home from my dad’s house, a walk that took all of five minutes, because my brothers would not let me read. Was that a meltdown or a normal reaction to my brothers being pricks?

My mum has said that when I would get stressed she would just take me away and leave me on my own for a bit. I do not have memories of these events, but I have no reason to doubt their veracity.

My wife says that when I am stressed, or are they meltdowns, then she knows I need to be alone. Are these just ordinary, everyday tantrums of a forty-year-old man child or are they something else. If I do have actual shutdowns then, I think it is characterised more by my mood falling off a cliff. Or having what I would term a “dip”. These come on when I am tired and have a lot of things on my plate. These things can be situational, such as my mum’s ever increasing illness or my own “mind forged manacles” of feeling like a pretentious failure. Which happens far more than I would like to admit. Are these periods similar to shut downs or are they just run of the mill whiney periods?

Fern Brady, in her book Strong Female Character, talks about “same foods”. These are usually bland foods that a person with autism will go to frequently, especially during times of sensory overload or stress. I do this. I have the same thing I buy at shops and the same things I order when we go out to eat. One of the women I work with can predict what I would have for dinner with an annoying accuracy. I order the following items: Pepsi Max, sandwich including some variation of chicken, Ready Salted Crisps. This is because I know that I like them. Long before I suspected that I maybe a bit spectrum-y I would always have a Pepsi Max and a Twix Xtra (why they do not include the ‘e’ in extra I don’t know, maybe it is to appeal to the Youth market that spend too much of their time being cool and youthful to waste it on an unnecessary vowel) after my lunch break. If I cannot have any part of these combinations, I don’t have a meltdown though I genuinely don’t know what else to get. The choices become too many. I am unsure as to what I want so I settle for something, like a Coke Zero and it just not as good. Everyone knows this but few are brave enough to say it. Is this just a very uneducated palate? I have been known to try new foods, on occasion and don’t always look at my wife like a confused puppy. I also don’t always ask her if I will like what I am going to order. Not always just incredibly often. OK, always including the day before yesterday. Actually, this leads me to another point, we went to an American themed restaurant and my son wanted to go to a small upstairs bit. I am six foot three (not as tall as the average basketball player) and this place had a very low ceiling. Plus, the whole area was small. Everything about it made me feel cramped and uncomfortable. Is this an autistic thing or is it a big man in a small place thing. Am I too quick to say “that is just autism” when in fact I had a very ‘normal’ reaction to a small place?

I have some sensory and clothing traits. Though I don’t know whether the use of the word “traits” is to automatically place a descriptive label to it. Anyway, I watched a lecture by a Professor of ‘These Kind of Things’ on YouTube who described an “Aspie Uniform”. This, he said, was mainly to wear baggy black clothing. This could pretty much describe my clothing for most of my life. I also wear football shirts and jeans as both are loose. If clothing feels too tight then I spend most of the time pulling at it or messing with it. I don’t wear belts, even though I have been told I should, once by a very drunken woman in a pub who had taken a photo. Is this a thing or is it just because I am too lazy to put a belt on? I feel uncomfortable in shirts that are slim fit but that is probably because I am not slim.

I don’t like creams on my skin as they smell, and I can still smell them for a long time after their application. I won’t use them. They can seep into my clothes. I remember my girlfriend at University wanting to put a cleanser on my back, for reasons only known to her, and I would kick off. Were these meltdowns or were they the predictable outcome of someone doing something I had repeatedly asked them not to do? I don’t like shops that smell of strong things as incense often gives me a headache. My wife won’t have scented candles or incense burners on when I am in much to her dismay. Could this be explained by not having these things in the house as I grew up? I have never grown accustomed to them meaning their otherness still surprises me. My Mum didn’t use incense and kept pot puri to a blissful minimum. Not that the house smelt bad, it didn’t. I can remember telling my Mum that I didn’t like it, though I thought that, like cushions, it was just a woman thing.

I would say I don’t have any “special interests”, the term used to describe something that an autistic person really likes. That they have an encyclopaedic knowledge of. Because I don’t think I know anything in that much detail. Though I have just spent five minutes talking about Jack Reacher books to a lady at work and which ones are the best. She said that one of the books she had borrowed were the latest, it wasn’t. I didn’t correct her but I have been sat here thinking about it. I could have told her that Lee Child wrote about one a year and that now he is retiring he is bringing his brother into the stories to take over. I could have but didn’t. I also didn’t tell her that the page count normally averages about 500 pages and he changes from first person to third person narrative in different books. Which gives a much more interesting insight into how Reacher, an uber masculine male, views himself. Nor did I tell her that I have all the books, in chronological order (of release date not in the narrative timeline) on my bookshelves and that I keep them in that order. Is that a “special interest” or is it just being a fan of something. Neuro-typical people can be fans of things and have a detailed knowledge of a subject, if they didn’t then Mastermind would just be autistic people answering questions and to the best of my understanding it isn’t.

These things, or traits, can be explained away by looking at it in a slightly different ways. I don’t have the symptoms or characteristics that are normally listed in a deep or profound way. At least I do not think I do. When I read or listen to other autistic people, I feel like a fraud for claiming the word that sometimes feels like it doesn’t apply to me as much as it does others. Other people have real struggles with their autism and with autism adjacent people. These struggles have shaped their entire life. I flop along life and generally react to things happening to me or going wrong.

People with autism struggle with so much and I, even without an official diagnosis, are telling people I am neuro-diverse when it hasn’t been officially confirmed. It is an educated guess by those that know me and many, many online tests. This is why I do feel not autistic enough to be classed as it. It is also why I think the dichotomy of you either are or you aren’t seems to be restrictive. I don’t know where the line between one classification of autism and neuro-typicality sits. I feel in the space in between. Neither one or the other and I am not sure how that works. If, when I am eventually assessed, they say “yep, you have it” then what? If they say, “no you do not meet the criteria” then what? Is the simple fact that I want an answer in black and white enough to suggest that I am? I don’t like the grey area I have put myself in. I want to know.  


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