I have autism.
Those words are difficult to say, because I grew up in the 20th century. That means my parents had no idea what autism was. Our only frame of reference was Dustin Hoffman’s character Raymond in Rain Man, along with Luke Edward’s kid-friendly version in The Wizard.
I grew up believing autism was a mental illness and disability. It was stigamitized to the point that I felt shame whenever I exhibited any of the symptoms. I’m now 40 years old and just barely learning to accept and understand my true autistic self.
The journey was a long one, and it wasn’t as simple as getting diagnosed. When you think of autism, you typically think of a vaccinated person with super powers, like the ability to count cards or play video games well. There’s some truth to that, but it wasn’t my so-called “superpowers” that led to me understanding my neurodevelopment disorder.
Here’s a great TED Talk from Ethan Lisi explaining what it’s really like having autism.
For me, the journey was rocky. My parents threatened to have me committed several times, and I even found myself subjected to the Baker Act during my year in Florida. After failing to succeed in the Army and Corporate America, I ended up in and out of jail for much of my 30s.
But the final nail that sealed my understanding of my neurodivergent self was the crumbling of a romantic relationship with a close childhood friend. This is the story of my secret autistic life and how it negatively impacted me.
What Is Autism and How Is It Diagnosed?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability recognized by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It’s a neurological disorder that affects how the autistic person communicates, behaves, and interacts with society. There are a variety of symptoms, and their existence and severity varies widely from person to person.
A person without autism (or any other disorder) is called neurotypical. Auties, aspies, and people with other neurological conditions are called either neurodiverse or neurodivergent. The latter category is where I fall.
For me, the most obvious symptoms were my constant fidgeting (known as stimming in the autie community), inability to stand up straight, and trouble controlling my emotions and behavior. I was also socially awkward but assumed it was just something that came with being a kid.
Typically, children are diagnosed with ASD early on and assisted in their development. However, some people don’t display symptoms until later in life. I was gifted as a kid, so getting through school was easy. My biggest problem was not understanding how to talk to people, empathize, and connect.
Because autism is a spectrum, highly functional auties often don’t get the help they need. These are people with Asberger’s Syndrome, and they’re also referred to as high-functioning autistics. This is where I fit in, even though I was clearly neurodivergent to anyone who was paying attention.
However, because I was raised on a stigma of mental illness, it took decades before I got diagnosed. This required several months of counseling and psychotherapy, as I refused to see a psychiatrist and take drugs. The delay caused me to have a lot of issues in society, as auties and aspies often do.
Why Autistic Men Have Troubles in Society
Traditional male roles dictate that you don’t complain. Growing up in a military family, that was coupled with doing what you’re told under any circumstances. With boys being four times more likely than girls to be on the spectrum, this is where my problems began.
Unfortunately, my autism got progessively worse instead of better as I got older. I joined the Army to learn that all the stimulation would overload my senses. In fact, my sensory processing issues come up when I’m in crowds, which often happens when I attend major events, like the Cannabis Cup, E3, and CES.
Leaving the military, I worked for the banking industry and even worked my way up into management. It was easy for me, because I worked in an operations center with repetitive tasks I could easily learn and replicate. While I excelled at the work, I couldn’t deal with the people.
In fact, I found that spending several years working in a repetitive environment only made my condition worse. I’d fall into routines, and the interruption of those routines (as often happens in middle management of Corporate America) would devastate me.
I became essentially a hermit, leaving any regular job to work from home for myself as a freelance writer. But even that doesn’t fully keep me away from interacting with people awkwardly. The problem with being awkward around people is I’m 6’2″ and it can intimidate people very easily.
On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself having to defend myself to the police and in courts. At no point have I ever been violent – in fact, I’m a pacifist and have no record of ever fighting anyone.
However, this didn’t stop me from being arrested several times, Baker Acted, and threatened with being committed into a mental institution. I found myself in a constant cycle of having to prove my sanity to my parents, friends, romantic partners, police, and judges.
You would think that would be enough for me to finally accept that something may be wrong with me, but it was actually falling in love with a woman who did it.
Dating While Autistic
This summer I started dating a woman I’ve known since we were kids. She’s actually who taught me about my autism, and she recognized it in me because she also has it. Her son was diagnosed too, and that got me listening to all of the terminology you see used above.
She’s an autism advocate across social media and goes out of her way to get emotionally involved with any troubled man she can find. Watching her try to function in the world made me understand that we were experiencing the same thing.
I know this sounds like a match made in heaven and everything would be happily ever after, but that’s not how it ended. Unfortunately, she saw me as neurotypical and didn’t understand that I was also on the spectrum. She held me up to a higher standard, and I eventually failed her by falling into a manic episode. We broke up after only three months.
Still, she inspired me to continue my mental health journey, and it’s because of her that I finally went to the doctor to have my autism diagnosed and treated. It’s through her inspiration that I wrote this particular blog post, as my blog has always been about my secret autistic life.
Now I just understand enough about it and am comfortable enough in my own skin to admit it.