Am I ASD and ADHD? Does it matter?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 12, 2020, 3:00 PM | comments: 0

I'm a parent of a child who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The two often go together. I spend time trying to decipher how Simon thinks, and I tend to do it the only way I think I can, which is through empathy and my own experience. It's not a very scholarly way to go about it. I've kind of walked around whether or not I have these same conditions in various blog posts, but I feel like I need to be more specific and talk it out. While that sounds like me taking my kid's challenges and making it about me, I think I need to go through this exercise to get to a place where I can be more effective at helping him, because I'm definitely not at the moment.

Let me roll back to my childhood first. In the early 80's, and I suspect the 90's, kids were not routinely screened for or diagnosed with autism. Part of the reason is that autism was more narrowly defined, and if you weren't like "Ray" in Rainman, it wasn't autism. The world is older and wiser now, and that's why the wide range of things that may constitute autism are defined as a spectrum disorder. Have autism diagnoses increased in frequency? Of course they have, because the definition has changed. ADHD has followed a similar trajectory, because for a long time, what we now call ADHD was written off as a personality flaw, or worse, poor parenting.

The more I learned about Simon's challenges, from age 3 and on, the more I started to identify things that have given meaning and understanding to the things about childhood that were not great memories. In exploring these with a therapist, she believes that I probably have both conditions, but as she's a therapist and not a clinical diagnostician or doctor, technically she can't make that call. On the ASD side, I can recall at least a dozen vivid memories of situations that I could not logically reconcile and caused what I would describe as meltdown behavior. Even in early adulthood, I can recall situations where I would disregard certain social contracts in ways that I likely appeared "weird" to others. For the ADHD, it explains how I went from honors student to failing a quarter of American Literature in high school, because I couldn't commit to the work. Studying chemistry was the worst. It continued in college, where I'm surprised that I never actually failed a single class, but got damn close. The issue was never ability, because things I liked and wanted to do always would lead to success. Homework, when I just wanted to find free pizza and someone to makeout with? Good luck getting that done.

Where am I now? In an ideal world, ASD and ADHD require people to develop coping strategies and make adjustments that allow them to work more seamlessly in society and with its generally accepted contracts. Sometimes ASD can completely prevent the manifestation of creativity, but it can also super-charge it. Sometimes ADHD can prevent a person from finishing anything, but it can also enable a person to context switch and make short-term decisions like a boss. But again, getting there takes practice and patience. If I dig into what I'm really good at, I'm good at things because of my wiring, not in spite of it.

Does it matter if I am these things? Yes. Parental empathy aside, I want to know and understand myself. I'm not looking for a scapegoat or excuse for things that haven't worked out in my life, but knowing and accepting them enable me with a point from which I can move forward. Feeling bad about yourself is exhausting, but self-awareness as a basis for humility and empathy, to me, is a formula for being a great human being. I'm not broken, I just have a different interface to the world. I want to continue to adapt it to make it work for me, and for the world.


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