Autism Diagnosis as Scapegoat

One way to oversimplify what it means for me to be autistic is to say that I’m like a “misunderstanding machine”, by which I mean that I am prone to having misunderstandings with people, and this to a much greater degree (i.e. “clinically significant”) than is true for (so-called) normal people. These misunderstandings can take two basic forms, with mixtures common: in the first place, I am prone to misunderstanding others, but in the second place I am also prone to causing others to misunderstand me.

Now, however tempting it may be to reassure me here that “everybody has misunderstandings”, I must respectfully ask you to resist that temptation. One of the potential benefits to both of us of my ASD (autism) diagnosis is that it gives us a handy scapegoat that we can and should (in my opinion) use to mitigate and hopefully resolve these misunderstandings. Whenever such misunderstandings arise, instead of wasting time and energy spinning our wheels in the clay of “whose fault is it?” we can instead simply agree that “autism is a bitch” and focus more productively on resolving the misunderstanding.

I hope that’s useful! 🙂

Image by Hanna333 from Pixabay

‘Doctor Shopping for Validation?’ — Response to an Invalidating Reader Comment

I’d like to respond here to a comment left on my previous post by an anonymous reader. He wrote just one simple question:

“Doctor shopping for validation?”

I don’t know about you, but when I first read this comment I found it quite invalidating, got triggered, and then proceeded to perseverate on it, vacillating between wanting to ignore/delete it entirely and writing some scathing and satirical rebuttal.

But neither of those responses align with my recent therapeutic commitment to strongly favor validation over invalidation in my interactions with others. However unpleasant may be this comment with its implicit accusation that I might actually and deliberately go from doctor to doctor, embracing those who confirm that I’m autistic and rejecting those who don’t, in the end this sort of feedback is a perfect opportunity for me to walk my validation talk.

So, here goes (please let me know what you think, if you like, in the comments below):

For starters, I guess I should have explained in that previous post that the therapist I’ve been seeing for the past two years is starting a private practice and so is leaving his employer — my health care provider.  He’s also taking a few months off so he can work on setting up his new practice and has recommended to me that I continue with this new guy.

So, to answer the basic question: no, I was not doctor shopping for validation. I needed a new therapist and this guy was recommended by my old one.

Also, although I do find his “borderline” theory about my own level of autistickishness invalidating and uncomfortable, in the end I must acknowledge that it’s really never been my primary objective to “be autistic”, whatever that might mean, but rather, to find my place in this world. To find sensible answers to questions such as “what is my purpose in life?” or “where do I fit in Society?” has been my primary objective for as long as I remember, and to this day it remains unanswered.

It is a publicly observable fact that I have never achieved any sort of stable, long-term success in the domains of school, work, friendship, romance/marriage, or fatherhood, and only a person who hasn’t actually observed those facts might claim otherwise.

That’s not to say that I haven’t had significant periods of success. After struggling through my first 12 years of Public Education, and then one very rocky year off for some desperate “soul searching”, I underwent a profound transformation in my understanding of how to self-accommodate in an academic setting, went to college and had a very successful undergraduate career during which I won a scholarship award and completed the requirements for a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Sciences and Mathematics. In the decades following college, I had one job that lasted 5 years, and several that have lasted somewhere from 3 to 24 months. I’ve been in romantic relationships with women who toughed it out with me for 5 years, 3 years, and most recently 9 years before they just couldn’t take any more of me as a boyfriend/husband. I have one active friendship with a woman who’s been my friend for over 30 years, and only two people in my family seem committed to hating me for the long haul. With everyone else in my family we’ve always managed to resolve our differences.

But these islands of success are surrounded by a great deal of turbulent water. As one general, high-level measure of that turbulence, consider first that over the course of my life, listed in very roughly chronological order with the number of employers who have paid me to do that kind of work following in parentheses, I have had the following kinds of jobs for varying lengths of time and levels of pay:

  1. birthday party magician (3),
  2. greeting card salesman (1),
  3. yard worker/landscaper (5),
  4. golf caddy (1),
  5. snow shoveler (5),
  6. deli sandwich maker (1),
  7. kitchen helper (2),
  8. janitor (2),
  9. car parking attendant (1),
  10. delivery driver (2),
  11. house painter (5),
  12. math/physics tutor (2),
  13. chauffeur (3),
  14. factory worker (1),
  15. school teacher (2),
  16. carpet cleaner (2),
  17. news writer (1),
  18. waiter (1),
  19. ad copy writer (1),
  20. car salesman (1),
  21. multi-level marketer (3),
  22. software developer (10),
  23. telemarketer (1),
  24. stand-up comic (5), and
  25. IT production support analyst (3).

So that’s 25 kinds of work that I’ve done over the course of my life and 64 different employers who have paid me to do it. Since I’m 55 years old and I did my first paid birthday party magic show at about the age of 10, that works out to about 64/45 = 1.42 employer changes per year over the course of my “career”. I don’t know how that number compares with others (you can let me know below in the comments if you’d like), but I doubt anyone would consider it a strong indicator of job stability.

I could provide you with other kinds of measures, like my net worth, the number of times I’ve been fired, how many people never want to see or speak to me again, but because employment is so important to every other aspect of life, I think the fact that I’ve changed jobs nearly one and half times per year for 45 years says enough for now.

Considering just my erratic job history I’m pretty sure even my harshest critics would agree that there’s “something wrong” with me, whatever the cause. They might not believe that I’m actually autistic, or if they do, they might not believe my autism to be especially relevant; they might believe me to be merely lazy or an asshole or an idiot, or some combination thereof; but I don’t think anybody who knows me well enough to have a meaningful opinion on the matter doubts the basic premise that I am some in some important sense a social misfit.

And it is the resolution of this one indisputable problem that is my number one priority, as it has been for as long as I can remember.

Sometimes I like to comfort myself by thinking that my real purpose in life is simply to find my real purpose in life, but to be honest, that seems like a cheap trick.

No, I actually want to find my real real purpose in life, and although I do currently and sincerely believe that my “being autistic” has something very important to do with that purpose, to the point where it makes me feel invalidated and uncomfortable when someone, especially someone like my new therapist questions whether or how much I really “am autistic”, at the end of the day, it’s the facts of the matter that actually matter, and so if I’m not really, as such a matter of fact, autistic, then screw it, I want to know the Truth, and perhaps this new therapist has glimpsed it.

As it turned out, I had a great session with him on Friday afternoon and the subject of my “borderline” autism arose only briefly when he brought it up and even then I chose not to dwell on it or get sidetracked by how I felt about it. The fact is, it honestly seemed to me that we had more interesting matters to discuss.






Image Credit: Pexels on Pixabay

The Autism-Expert Spectrum

I’ve started seeing a new therapist. He’s a Clinical Psychologist, PhD, and although his advertised expertise is in helping people with sleep disorders, chronic pain, and mood and anxiety disorders, apparently his own sister is autistic, and he has a long-standing personal and professional interest in autism, as manifested in his professional training and especially the various autism-related research articles he’s co-authored and published in a variety of peer-reviewed professional journals.

So after interviewing me for 45 minutes last Friday afternoon, this kind gentleman informed me that in his opinion, with regard to my location on the so-called “autism spectrum”, he’s inclined to see me as being near some hypothetical “borderline” (his word), which I understood then and still take to mean that I’m somehow not actually autistic (perhaps like his sister is autistic), but am perhaps, say, merely autistic-ish.

And even though I rather like autistickish[1] to describe myself — hence the name of this blog — somehow I still felt wounded or invalidated by this man’s (initial) assessment of me. It felt like an insult of some sort. In the session I tried not to seem wounded or insulted, and definitely didn’t try to defend myself against the slight, but in the days since I have been somewhat preoccupied with this incident. My mind keeps returning to it, replaying it. I keep trying to figure out what I will say to him about it in our next session. I definitely feel a significant urge to defend myself, which is a key component of the “ultimately self-defeating” lifelong habit #2 that I wrote about in my recent post Validate Unto Others….

Basically, I feel somehow invalidated by him, and now I feel the urge to reciprocate his invalidation. I’ve considered various approaches to this. I might criticize his apparent assumption that a 45 minute interview is long enough to reach some sort of conclusion. In comparison, my initial ASD diagnosis came only at the end of a full day of psychometric tests and interviews, and has since been corroborated by a psychiatrist at a prominent university autism clinic who trains medical students in autism related topics and who has been interviewing me almost monthly for a year and a half.

I might ask him whether he’s afraid that fully endorsing my ASD diagnosis might one day lead to his being accused of fraud by an insurance company. If he is worried about that then the conflict of interest between his wish to help me and his wish to protect himself from ruthless insurance companies could be affecting his judgment.

At the moment my favorite approach would be to postulate first a spectrum of autism expertise that ranges, say, from “has seen a few episodes of The Good Doctor” to the collective of the World’s 100 leading autism researchers; along with a hypothetical “borderline” that separates the real autism experts and everyone else; and then ask him how close he thinks he is to that borderline.

Yeah, that’s the old me. As I explained the other day, I’m committed to changing this habit, which implies that I should really be trying to figure how to validate him in some way.

But at the moment I’m at a loss for how to do that. Let’s call it a “work in progress”.

Suggestions welcome!

[1]I think the k is required in the spelling to clarify that the c in the suffix is hard and not soft as it is in words like mysticism, criticism, ostracism, etc.

Image Credit: hschmider on Pixabay.