A couple of months ago my mother sent me some of the paperwork from when I was diagnosed. What interested me the most was the ‘Diagnostic Criteria for Autistic Disorder According to The DSM-III-R’
There was a series of criteria to be met if I was to be on the Autism Spectrum. Below in bold is the criteria, I want to tell you what areas I have improved in and areas that I still struggle with. So far its been an interesting journey.
A. Qualitative impairment in reciprocal social interaction as manifested by the following:
Marked lack of awareness of the existence or feelings of others
This was a bit of a shock. I have struggled socially all my life but I never thought of myself as having a ‘lack of awareness’ of others, particularly the ‘feelings of others’. I remember feeling empathy for others but I suspect what I truly lacked was expression of empathy. I believe that I have developed my expression of empathy over the years. I learned how to react to others in an appropriate way. As a child I didn’t see the need to show empathy and therefor could come across as rude or cold or disinterested, I just didn’t realise a reaction was socially appropriate.
There are times when I can ‘zone out’ and cut myself off from the world around me, which would explain my lack of awareness of others, but I can turn that on and off when I see fit, unless I’m really tired, then I just tend to shut off social awareness, it takes up too much energy, but I think that is more of a general introvert trait.
No or abnormal social play and gross impairment in ability to make peer friendships.
When I was a child I often would play by myself. I wasn’t all to interested in being around other children. I was happy to play on my own. I was more interested in socialising with others by mid to late primary school. I watched how others interacted and found my way through by mimicking TV show characters or making silly noises in order to be noticed and seen as fun or interesting. I noticed that the class clowns got the attention so without becoming one myself I would take tips from them by observation.
As I got older, going through adolescents that developed till I found my own way of socialising. I learned to be myself more. I was still very introverted and continue to be into adulthood but I’ve managed to make some good friendships.
B. Qualitative impairment in verbal and non-verbal communication and in imaginative activity as manifested by the following:
Marked abnormalities in the production of speech, including volume, pitch, stress, rate, rhythm and intonation.
There was a period in my childhood when I had a stuttering problem. This was resolved over time. I don’t remember seeing a speech therapist, but I may have. I eventually no longer had that issue.
I often am accused of speaking too loudly. I honestly don’t realise that I am too loud. Often my parents, sister or my husband would tell me off for it. I’m still working on that one.
Marked abnormalities in the form or content of speech, including stereotyped and repetitive use of speech.
I think this is referring to my tendency to repeat stories or talk over people to get my point across or just change a topic of conversation that is not remotely related to what was being talked about. This is a common thing with people who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (as is now the official term, I don’t like it)
I believe I have improved in this area too. I had to learn to develop patience and pay more attention to what topics are being talked about and be ok with it. If I wasn’t interested, I would just sit quietly and listen. Why not learn something new about others interests. It certainly can’t hurt.
Marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others, despite adequate speech.
This area I believe is common with many introverts, not just those within the spectrum. Unless I know a person well I do struggle with this. I just come across as shy or awkward. I have improved over time though. I eventually learned to not just answer the other person’s questions about myself but also talk about the other person, asking them about their day etc.
Markedly restricted repertoire of activities and interests, as manifested by the following:
Stereotyped body movements, e.g hand flicking or twisting, head banging, complex whole body movements
When I was very young I would rock back and forth, often in time to music. Maybe that was just my awkward way of dancing or finding rhythm. For as long as I can remember I have rubbed my index finger against my thumb and released it in a flicking motion. Usually as a way to relieve stress. I have often done it without realising. That is a habit that has stuck with me. I don’t know how or why it started, it just is what it is, a quirk.
Marked distress over changes in trivial aspects of environment, e.g. when a vase is moved from usual position.
I don’t remember ever stressing over something as trivial as a vase being moved, unless I own it. That would really grind my gears. It still does. But often after the hissy fit is done I discover more often than not, I was the one who moved it. Figure that one out.
I think the main reason I ‘grew out’ of that was because I grew up with a mother who every few months would rearrange the house. I became used to a bit of chaos. It became organised chaos which probably explains why I’m not a super clean freak or OCD.
Unreasonable insistence on following routines in precise detail, e.g. insisting that exactly the same route always be followed while shopping.
Again the example given is extreme for my case. I do remember in high school I had to always be on time for each class, or for anything really. I hated being late. In my early highschool years I was always on time to parties too. I quickly learned to be a bit more relaxed with time for social gatherings. I was socially awkward enough, no need to make it worse by being the first guest at the party.
Markedly restricted range of interests and preoccupation with one narrow interest, e.g interested only with lining up objects, in amassing facts about meteorology, or in pretending to be a fantasy character.
The last example of this trait resonates with me. When I was a child I would love to play the part of a disney character and force my sister to play other characters. I knew lines from the movies word for word and if my poor sister stuffed something up she would hear about it.
Also for a number of years I did an activity my parents called ‘flip flopping’. I would go into my room and cut pieces of paper into shapes and move them around in a flip flopping motion while I imagined I was somewhere or someone else. I was completely in my own world. This helped me cope with the world. It was my way to unwind and escape. I eventually stopped doing it, knowing for a while how ridiculous it was. But it really helped me develop my imagination and creativity. As much as I’m embarrassed by it now I’m glad my parents allowed me to do it and didn’t force me to stop. It helped me through the majority of my school life.
One year in primary school my teacher allowed me to use the craft store room to have my ‘flip flopping’ time.
I remember in high school I loved the show Daria. I was obsessed with it to the point I started to talk and act like her. It worried my parents for a while but I grew out of that phase. I still think Daria is one of the best tv shows ever. I could really relate to her.
So there you have it. So far it has been an interesting ride. What has helped me so much in my progress is having a great supportive family and community and my faith. I became a christian at age 12, from that point on I grew into a much more confident person. I know who I am, I know I’m different and I’m ok with it. I truly believe that without God in my life I would not have improved as much socially. Knowing that I am loved by the guy that created everything has a way of changing how I see myself and other people. I’ve learned that if I should love people the way Jesus does then I need to connect with them. Growing spiritually works wonders with growing socially.
I hope you found this helpful and/or encouraging for your journey 🙂
Rock and roll