Everything I do—every thought, feeling, action, compulsion, achievement, and failure—comes from an autistic lens. Why? Because it’s who I am. There are many things I can share from the lens of autism but today I want to focus on comorbid conditions.
Comorbidity in terms of being autistic means that we can have disorders that co-occur with our autism. For some it’s an intellectual disability, significant speech articulation issues, or mobility issues. But by far the most common, as far as I understand it, is that of mood disorders—depression and anxiety.
For many of us autistics, these are a curse in which we live. Every day we manage to somehow exist despite them but they are very real struggles. I believe these disorders are often overlooked and undiagnosed.
I was diagnosed with depression in my late 20’s though I am convinced it was an issue for me from childhood. Fairly soon after, anxiety was added to my diagnosis. As the years pass, I acquire a number of different diagnoses to go with these, some of which make sense and some of which I consider incorrect.
To one psychiatrist I was narcissistic, another felt it was Borderline Personality Disorder, and another claimed it was PTSD. I was dealing with these diagnoses as an undiagnosed autistic person. I did my best to make my life fit together, keep all the plates spinning, and juggle all the balls without dropping any. What an impossible task and I couldn’t figure out why. I had no clue I was autistic. I thought autism was, like so many of my generation, Rain Man.
I went from relationship to relationship, job to job, course to course. Failing wherever I turned.
I have two failed marriages and 3 children, 2 of whom are also autistic. It was in raising them that I learned about autism and learned that it made sense of me.
Receiving that autism diagnosis was a moment of catharsis. Yes it had its very own issues too. It did, I confess take me some months to move beyond the doom and gloom and into a place of accepting myself.
I am an autistic person who is “different not less.” And it is indeed lifelong. How does one deal with that? What I hope is that it’s an acceptance of a diagnosis of neurodivergence. But that’s not always the case. If one is a child, an autism diagnosis often launches parents searching for a cure, and putting their child through training that is akin to dog training. Or we hear that it’s the vaccines fault, or some other such ludicrous and ridiculous notion.
My point is that what we autistics hear over and over is that we are not ok…that we are defective, less than, abnormal…that we are “other.” It is surely the massive dosage of “othering” that adds so deeply to some of the lifelong comorbid conditions we endure.
This massive “othering” makes it more difficult to negotiate and navigate the daily things of life. Important things like getting a job, keeping a job, or not inadvertently offending someone because we don’t understand society’s social rules.
I feel as though we walk a tightrope through life where, not even a misstep, but the mere hint of a wobble on the line ends up casting us out. Our autism is blamed or used as an excuse or reason we can’t manage life like everyone else.
The real thing though, is we are capable. We are willing. We are talented. We are passionate. Perhaps, parents, teachers, employers, you could acknowledge and focus on those real things. If you do, perhaps our other lifelong comorbids—depression and anxiety—could be mitigated.
Presume competence next time you encounter autistic people. Assume we can “do.” Try it and see what difference it can make to the real and actual outcomes of those autistics lives.
I reckon you might just see some improved outcomes.
Go on, try it, I dare you!
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