My Autism Diagnosis

In future posts, I plan to delve into the details of the DSM V Autism Spectrum criteria and relate them to my own life and experience. But I wanted to start with more of an overview of some of the things that are specific to my diagnosis.

First, I apparently do not have any of the disorders that are so often comorbid with autism. My diagnostician emphasized that was highly unusual. In fact, attention issues are so common among autistic individuals that it was once simply assumed. But I tested fine in the tests for attention deficit issues. Similarly, I do not suffer from anxiety disorder, also an extremely common comorbid diagnosis. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have situations and circumstances that make me anxious and which are related to autism. For instance, the prospect of making even a routine phone call tends to require significant preparation and effort on my part. Driving has also never been as easy for me as it seems to be for most people. Fortunately, my wife prefers to drive anyway. However, my coping mechanisms mostly seem to work and my anxiety stays at manageable levels. I seem to be more or less “purely” autistic, whatever that means in practice.

It’s also very common for autistic people to have a significant split in their core intelligence (perceptual reasoning and verbal intelligence). According to my diagnostician, the split can go either way, but it’s often a feature of the autistic brain. Much of the time, that split is expressed as one portion of core intelligence being average or above average while the other portion is low average or below average. In my case, however, perceptual reasoning is high while verbal intelligence is, well, considerably higher. It’s roughly a 30 point gap. However, that apparently means my IQ should not be reported as a single number. Erroneous attempts to do so across varying tests are probably what led to wildly different reported IQ scores throughout the first part of my life.

Still, I find it a little amusing that (technically) I don’t have an IQ. 🙂

The testing did reveal that I have a very difficult time processing and remembering verbal information on a single presentation. My results were almost as low as the test could go. On repeated verbal presentation, my retention quickly moved up to the average or high average range. And my visual memory was close to the ceiling of that test. It’s the sort of problem that could easily be misdiagnosed as an attention issue if my diagnostician didn’t explicitly test for verbal and visual attention problems. But since those were fine, this is simply one of the ways autism is expressed in my brain.

If I’m verbally told something once, I’m pretty unlikely to process and retain it. Of course, I was aware of that fact in at least some contexts. During lectures, for example, I would always take notes even though I often never looked at them again. I thought I was just a visual learner and needed to see the information in writing, but the process of transcribing what you hear apparently transfers it over to a different part of your brain. It can make effective verbal exchange of information more challenging for me.

Those were a few of the somewhat unusual items in my diagnosis. At least, they stood out to me. Autism is such a large and encompassing diagnosis that it’s not easy to wrap your head around it at once. I began there and then started researching and thinking more deeply. I’ll continue trying to peel the layers off the onion in future posts.

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