Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. Thanks for being here as I embark on the second century of blog articles. I use the term “embark” deliberately. I feel like I’m about to embark on a journey into the various offshoots of my neurodivergence over the coming months and probably years. I’ve been coming to a realisation that there is far more to my neurodivergence than autism alone. I’ve thrown myself into the subject of autism so deeply that I’ve largely failed to take account of other potential paths of neurodivergence. But I’m going to start having a look. How far I’ll get and where the paths will lead, I don’t know. Hopefully, it will be fun… but I’m not banking on it.
Here’s an interesting thing: As regular readers will know, I was formally diagnosed as autistic at age 54. I had started to suspect something was different about me only at age 50. The reason I didn’t come to awareness more quickly is that I had been in denial about my differences since childhood, and I had unconsciously masked with a level of determination and aggression that, in retrospect, was remarkable. And debilitating. However, as a child, I was screened for epilepsy, and I don’t know why. I don’t ever remember having a seizure, for example. My screening for epilepsy consisted of an EEG. This happened on the same day my mother had the test. My mother was, apparently, diagnosed as having a mild form of epilepsy. My mother passed away long before I found out I was autistic, and I often wish I had known earlier, so I could have asked her about my early childhood and what signs she might have seen in me that I was different from other children. Since finding out all I have about autism, I’ve become convinced that both my parents were undiagnosed autistic, which, genetically, made it pretty much a certainty I would be autistic, and here I am. But there’s more. I’ve had to accept, recently, that there are certain areas of my neurodivergence that I have continued to be in denial about. I don’t know why I have pretended for so long that these things were not part of my makeup. But I’m now facing into it…
Firstly, I am obviously mildly dyslexic. I remember having fun made of me as a child for reversing letters in words. Despite being a highly literate child, I could not learn the alphabet until about age 9, when I heard some other kids singing the alphabet song. To this day, I still use that song in my head to think through the alphabet to find the letter I need. I love writing (please buy my books), but I have always hated long-hand writing, and it was only with the advent of word processors and spell-checking that I began to write regularly. But I still leave many so-called typos on my blog posts and social media activity. I sometimes have to re-read sentences repeatedly to get them to make sense if I have initially seen them the wrong way, and my brain gets snagged seeing them that way.
Secondly, I also have mild dyscalculia. I have always thought of myself as being shit at maths, but it goes beyond that. I was classed as a very intelligent child, but my arithmetical ability lagged far behind other kids. I couldn’t tell the time from clocks until very late in my childhood. I can clearly remember the exasperation of family members trying and failing to get me to understand clocks. I struggle with numbers unless I’m using a calculator or spreadsheet, and even then I can get stuck with some calculations. I remember being terrified when I got my first retail job and realised I would have to give people change at the till… but then I found the till did the maths for me. Phew! I am utterly hopeless at working out dates and days. It baffles me when someone is like, “Next Tuesday, that’s the 25th.” Even now, I will use my fingers when counting days for dates. But I’ll knock logic tests out of the park. Go figure – if you can add up, that is.
What else? Well, I’ve always had the ability to bring a huge amount of focus to a mental activity when I need to. I’ve historically called it being in the zone, but thanks to the autistic community, I’ve discovered the term hyperfocus. Some of the results I’ve achieved with hyperfocus are outstanding. But it’s not an always-on ability. Most of the time, I’m very forgetful and absent-minded. So much so that as a kid, due to my high level of intellect and wide vocabulary but absent-mindedness, I was nicknamed, the absent-minded professor. This absent-mindedness, or as I now sometimes think of it, poor working memory, is, I think, associated with attention deficit disorder (ADD). But wait, how can this work? How can you possibly be capable of autistic hyperfocus, and also be ADD? The answer is, I haven’t got a clue, but I’m already asking people in the autistic community about some discussion I’ve previously encountered which speculated that autism and ADD/ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) are kind of the same thing. I have almost no knowledge about this, so I’ve got a lot to learn. And there is more…
A more troubling aspect of my neurodivergence is (not officially diagnosed) obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’m not going to publicly discuss all the elements of this, because I find some of it extremely uncomfortable. But part of my OCD is that old OCD cliche; compulsive hygiene. To be honest, I don’t even feel too comfortable going into the full detail of the hygiene thing, but it’s frustrating as it is something people can see in my behaviour, and is sometimes commented on. I hate feeling seen in this way, but it’s also annoying because, well… why wouldn’t you want to be clean and hygienic? But, yes, my OCD goes into other areas, and I’m only just coming to terms with being honest with myself about this stuff. I’ve accepted that this aspect of me exists for a long time now, but I’ve still somehow been in denial of it anyway, pretending it’s not that important, even when it was clearly causing me problems! When I first started looking into OCD, I thought it was all about feeling compelled to engage in certain behaviours or activities. I didn’t know about the intrusive thoughts aspect. But I don’t have intrusive thoughts, at all! Except… (thinks hard) oh, shit, yes, I get it now. Intrusive thoughts; something else I’ve tried to hide away in a little mind-box and pretend wasn’t happening. And get this… my mother, she of the mild epilepsy and unidentified autism, confided in me a few times that she struggled with upsetting intrusive thoughts.
Apparently – I’m taking this from the small amount of research I’ve done so far – the causes of OCD and ADD/ADHD are unknown, but genetic aspects are accepted as part of the package. I cannot speak with any authority here – I’m right at the start of my journey – but I’m not always comfortable with looking for “causes “of things like this. It annoys me when researchers talk about finding the “causes” of autism. It’s pretty clear what causes autism; being alive. It’s a naturally occurring neurodivergence. Asking about the cause of autism is a bit like asking for the causes of noses. Humanity has just evolved that way. But the explanations of OCD and ADD/ADHD might not be so straightforward – I simply don’t know.
So, I come back to the question of a link between autism and other neurodivergences, particularly OCD and ADD/ADHD. If, as some have speculated, they are the same thing, what does this mean for my understanding of autism? I expect the answers to be complex. I’m already wondering if there are potentially different factors leading to the same outcome of OCD. What I mean by this is, maybe there is an element of neurodivergence that leads to OCD, but maybe there is also a trauma response. I’m speculating here, but I’ve often found great comfort in times of prolonged stress if I can take control of something in my life. Sometimes there have been unhealthy controls; obsessive eating, obsessive alcohol consumption, for example. Sometimes there have been more healthy controls; obsessive exercise regimes, for example. There have been other things, too, but they have all amounted to the same thing; becoming obsessive about something and acting compulsively, which counter-intuitively allows me to control something, as a response to stress. I’m not sure I’m explaining this very well. I mean, how can feeling compelled equate to being in control? But it happens; the compulsive behaviour means I am doing this thing, whatever it might be, and no one can stop me, it’s my thing. More worryingly, I think this compulsion and obsession somehow acts as an escape from re-living past psychological trauma. This would overlap a lot with aspects of my behaviour that are considered autistic; how I sort things a certain way, my need for order and routine, anything that lets me feel like I have some control in my life rather than feeling adrift in a chaotic ocean of neurotypical behaviours.
I’m aware this blog post has been something of a ramble, with me delivering few or no answers to anything, and just offering up speculation and questions. But that’s where I am right now in terms of understanding the parameters of my neurodivergence. We’ll see where it goes. I hope you come with me.
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That’s all for this week. Until next time, take care.
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Why Do I Write This Blog?
When I first found out I was autistic, I was a middle-aged adult and I knew nothing about autism. I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resources for adults in my situation. With this blog, I aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn, hopefully helping people who are on a similar journey of discovery. Like anyone who writes a blog, I want to reach as many readers as possible; if you like what I’m doing, please share it with your friends and followers. I will never hide this blog behind a paywall, but running the website does incur costs. If you would like to support, feel free to make a small contribution at BuyMeACoffee.Com.
You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.