This is going to be a somewhat more personal post. Shortly before I went for my assessment, I talked to my dad a few times about the fact that I was doing it. Among other things, he also informed me that my childhood did not match up with what he read about Asperger’s, so if I have it, it must be “adult onset” or some such thing. Yeah, there’s no such thing as adult onset AS. It’s a developmental disorder. Of course, he also only bothered to research for one day, and informed me that he wasn’t able to find any information about AS beyond someone trying to sell a book, so I’m not sure how he wound up so convinced that nothing showed in my childhood. In any case, it’s something I’ve been feeling defensive about ever since (yes, my dad can still have a significant negative emotional impact on me. I’m working on it). So I’ve been slowly putting together notes on what I remember of my childhood that does indicate AS, and I figured I’d write a post about it.
1. I can recall, quite distinctly, that I struggled with metaphors. I can remember asking my mom was “read between the lines” meant and not getting a satisfactory answer. In fact, it took me years to figure out what that phrase meant. The explanation “read what isn’t written” just relies on more metaphors and is not helpful for a person who needs a literal answer. I still struggle with metaphors, by the way. I have no idea how people can have intuitive understandings of them, largely because I don’t have that intuitive understanding. At all.
2. I did not make eye contact. Ok, confession time. I have trouble knowing if people mean “looking at someone’s eyes” or “looking directly at a person” when they say “eye contact.” That said, regardless of which they mean, I tended to lack it. In fact, I lacked it so much people would scold me for it. Eventually I learned to force myself to look at people despite my discomfort, and sometime after that I learned to force myself to look at faces. I still don’t look at eyes if I can help it. Anyone’s eyes. Not even my boyfriend’s eyes. I think they’re brown, but I’m not sure. As it is, I am only comfortable looking directly at people if I am very comfortable with them as people.
3. Also from a very young age I engaged in a lot of black and white thinking. I can remember seeing a therapist when I was quite young who told me I thought in black and white and I needed to see shades of gray. I had no idea what she was talking about, as the spectrum involves colors and I’m not color blind. It took me a while to figure out that it was a metaphor for absolutist thinking, and far longer to start recognizing how I engaged in it. In any case, it was a lifetime thing.
4. Directly related to the last point – I viewed anything I did or made as only having two options of success – it was either perfect or it was horrible. Any error, however slight, meant that it was worthless. This is another issue that I still struggle with that definitely stretches way back into my childhood.
5. Also mentioned above – I was seeing therapists from a very young age. Even as young as elementary school. Clearly, my mom knew something was off about me. However, no one figured out what it was, so I just bounced around therapists on and off and no progress was made.
6. I was, and am, very literal. To the point that I can remember once being scolded for it. When I was very young, my mom did the usual mom thing and told me to not talk to strangers. So I did what she told me to and refrained from talking to strangers. At all. It turns out what she meant was that I wasn’t supposed to run off and start conversations with random people. If a stranger simply said “hi, how are you?” while she was around, I was still supposed to reply. Not knowing that, I said nothing any time a stranger addressed me at all, and my mom gave me a minor scolding for it. As can be predicted, I was mostly confused. It’s hard for me when I get in trouble for doing what someone instructed me to do.
7. I had trouble with playing pretend, though apparently there was an exception for that when I was playing with my brother. I can remember trying to play the way I saw other people playing, like having imaginary friends or tea parties with their stuffies or some such. It never worked well for me.
8. In middle school, I wound up with an ED diagnosis. As it turns out, at about the time that happened (late 80’s, early 90’s) it was not uncommon for people who turned out to have AS to be diagnosed ED. Once again, it was very obvious that something was wrong. It was not so obvious what it was, since nobody knew about AS yet.
9. In school I was bullied. A lot. Badly. Well, maybe not TOO badly as I was spared most of the physical violence you hear about sometimes. Still, it made school very horrible for me. Needless to say, kids tend to target those who are different, and those who are vulnerable. I was both.
10. Even as young as kindergarten, I had few friends and a great deal of difficulty in socializing. I was socially ostracized by all but a very small number of people in elementary school, and as the years passed that number of people dropped, basically to 1.
11. I had tantrum problems. For me tantrums were never about manipulation, despite that accusation being leveled against me. They were meltdowns, and they were about feeling overwhelmed and/or triggered.
12. People seemed to have a difficult time reading my emotions. For example, once when young (elementary school aged, I think) I was entered in one of those childhood beauty pageant thingies. Mostly I remember not understanding what was going on in the time leading up to it, when there was clothes shopping and explanations as to what I was supposed to do. Then it was time for the pageant itself, and I absolutely froze in terror. I managed to mechanically walk to the different points on the stage, but I wasn’t able to make myself to the pirouettes and such things as cute little girls are supposed to do. Afterwords, I was informed that I was angry. None of my protestations or explanations that I was afraid were heard. Looking back, I view that as a rather significant example of how I apparently projected my emotions incorrectly. I have another example or two, but this paragraph is getting long.
Having now written that list, I think overall it does indeed add up to indicating AS even in my childhood. I suspect that if AS was known then as well as it’s known now, I would have gotten a diagnosis in either elementary or middle school. And now if my dad tries to tell me that I couldn’t have had AS in childhood, maybe I can reference this list.
ETA: Oh! I thought of another one!
13. I had incorrect facial expressions while young. I do not remember if it happened all the time or if it’s more that my expressions were erratic (probably the second one), but I know it was a thing. At one point, someone scolded me for having incorrect facial expressions and pointed out that I was smiling while angry and frowning while happy. My initial response was anger – how dare this person tell me that my facial expressions are wrong! They’re MY expressions! Eventually I figured out that facial expressions serve a communicative purpose so it was counter productive if they substantially differed from the norm. So I put a lot of effort into correcting it, but I still sometimes lapse if I am particularly tired or particularly stressed.