Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
If you’re new to the topic, you might be wondering what autism actually is or how it is presented. There are different diagnostic criteria and manuals (DSM and ICD). So, it’s quite impossible to explain autism in one sentence. As the name already says ASD is a spectrum and autistic people can be just as different from each other as non-autistic people. I do know a lot of other autistic people, but I can’t speak for others. Therefore, I’ll focus on telling about the way I notice my own autism. I’ll also try to get into some of the official symptoms but remember I’m not a professional. So, I don’t know every single thing about autism either.
ASD vs. Aspergers
As I’ve mentioned before there are different diagnostic manuals and therefore there are also different names for the same condition. I’m currently living in Denmark and apparently in 2019 we still use the ICD-10. In this manual there’s differentiated between Aspergers syndrome and the other autistic diagnoses. So, I was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome in 2017. However, there is for example the other diagnostic manual, DSM-5, and there, autism is described as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Because there are many (especially English speaking) countries that use the term autism spectrum disorder, I’ll mainly call it autism as well.
I’ve often heard that the main symptoms of autism include repetitive behavior and difficulties within social interaction and communication. Those symptoms definitely exist but I feel like there’s missing a lot more. Some of the main issues I have are for example my huge need for structure and predictability and sensory difficulties.
I think, my biggest challenge when I’m around others, is that I have a really hard time maintaining eye contact. I am able to hold eye contact, but it doesn’t feel good. If I talk to someone I don’t know well, I mostly have to force myself to maintain eye contact.
I really have a hard time with small talk. I just don’t know what to say to people that I’m not that close to. Again, I’m able to do it, but it just doesn’t come naturally to me. When I’m in a big group of people I also don’t like saying too much. One the reasons is that I never know when it’s my turn to say something. Another issue for a lot of autistic people is the use of metaphors, irony and sarcasm. I think I learned to understand it, but I really wouldn’t use it myself. I definitely prefer when people are very direct and tell me exactly what they mean.
Structure and predictability
I love structure, plans and calendars. I get really anxious when there are new things happening in my life. It’s best for me when there are as few unexpected things in my life as possible. And I think that’s really one the characteristics that fits to most autistic people. We just need to be prepared for everything.
I have two main sensory issues. The first one is that I have a really hard time with bright lights. In summer I always have to have my sunglasses with me all the time. I get a headache so quickly if I’m exposed to too much sun. The second sensory issue I experience is that it’s difficult for me when I’m surrounded by too many noises. My brain just can’t sort which noises there are important, so I focus on everything.
Low energy is probably not an official symptom of autism but for me it’s definitely a result of all the challenges I have because of my autism. Not knowing how society works, masking and adapting, unpredictability of life and sensory issues just take a huge amount of my energy.