I was diagnosed with ADHD this year, several decades into my life, and finally for one moment, understood myself and why I had always been different. The hyperfocus on certain issues. I knew I could pay attention when something was interesting. And I finally understood why I forgot so many things. It was an enormous relief.
Then, very recently, my son was diagnosed with autism and I started reading the symptoms and had this moment of understanding again. I looked up symptoms of autism in females and thought crap, this is me. Maybe I have autism too.
And certainly I have many autistic traits. But the truth is that ADHD and autism have significant overlapping symptoms, like sensory processing disorder, poor executive function and even distraction. And many people with mild autism are diagnosed with ADHD instead and maybe the person eventually gets a dual or changed diagnosis but maybe they don’t.
Yes, women’s symptoms are different. Yes, eye contact, appropriate social/emotional expressions, and talking about things outside my intense interests will always be a problem. But I lack the “not cute” autism symptoms. I think if I do have autism, it’s mild. I’ve recently been reading about people who self diagnose and I am not on board with self diagnosis for myself because it can end up harming the community. As a mama bear to someone in that community, not OK.
As a long aside, my understanding of autistic traits and families with subclinical autism was shaped significantly by NeutroTribes by Steve Silberman. There’s so much crap out there about autism and I was lucky to read his book as evaluations were going on and the diagnosis was given. Our family is the quintessential autism breeding ground when you’re talking non-diagnosed people creating an autistic child. My son’s grandparents are all involved in autism professions–science, math, computer programming and engineering. Three of them were serious musicians, and one even contemplated life as a professional violinist. As my son got the diagnosis, we thought about every grandparent and each parent and any one of us varied from definitely some autistic symptoms to hmm-never-thought-about-it-but-could-be-#AlsoAutistic. My son’s autism symptoms were invisible to me; they were normal. Perhaps my own are as well. But until there is a point where I need to be evaluated, I am not autistic, no matter how much I identify with many autistic traits.
I do feel comfortable with the diagnosis of cute autism. I meet that standard 100 times over.
Signing off with the words of Lydia Netzer, who wrote the post about her son, the character Sheldon Cooper whom her son sees as autistic, and Sheldon’s cute autism, that helped me self diagnose.
Cute autism, cute OCD, cute depression — they trick us into thinking that tolerance is easy, because these conditions can be sanitized into character quirks to enhance a thirty minute comedy plot. The producers may shrug it off and say, “He’s not autistic!” but he is, to everyone watching, and to my son who identifies with him so much. I know I should give you a pithy personal anecdote to really bring this home in a powerful way, but I won’t, because I am filtering out the ugly things about growing up autistic that might embarrass him or shock you. I don’t apologize for that, because my son is real, and his future is important. I maintain the cute autism, so my child is only as autistic as he is allowed to be. And it looks like young Sheldon will be too.