I’m getting questions from folks that are very helpful, and make it easier for me to think about how to discuss these issues. I thought I’d start posting some of those questions and my responses here. First up: a question from April Till on the Invisible Strings Facebook page!
Was receiving a diagnosis personally or professionally useful?
I would say it was personally useful, because in going so long without a diagnosis, I developed a lot of coping strategies that were not very helpful. I didn’t understand my social/sensory differences; I put a lot of effort into hiding them, and this was a pretty destructive thing to do, emotionally speaking. So, with a diagnosis, I was able to adapt accordingly and develop (with the help of a very kind autism specialist) coping strategies that were more beneficial.
It wasn’t an easy thing for me to hear. When I first received the diagnosis, I was pretty shocked…and angry about having gone so long undiagnosed, so it was a rough transition. But overwhelmingly, the adults I read about, upon receiving a diagnosis, respond in a very positive way…they feel relieved, basically. I think my initial response, the bitterness, was a minority reaction, at least among adults.
As to whether or not it is professionally useful: both mental health professionals and people on the spectrum report that Asperger’s Syndrome can provide a person with strengths that translate into marketable skills. I know I certainly lack any savant-like talents that would open up obvious career paths; those types of stories pop up frequently, but I can safely say I missed the boat on that one. I’ve alternated between low-paying graveyard shifts and unemployment. Good times.
To be honest, I’m still sorting through a lot of factors relating to this concept. I think about this a lot, but my experiences with this issue have been difficult to get a handle on.
My current thinking: I spent much of my life observing people, focusing on social rituals, behavioral patterns, all in an effort to make sense of others. And when starting college, it only seemed natural to study Psychology. I did so; ended up with a bachelors degree. The problem is that my goal in pursuing Psychology was to make sense of a very confusing social world. (I even doubled down on this effort and minored in philosophy! Yes, nothing clarifies a depressive state of profound alienation quite like Sartre and Kierkegaard.) In other words: from childhood through college, I studied others purely as a way to get by in life.
I worry that Psychology was more of a coping strategy for me than a genuine academic field of study. And in trying to sort through my pre-diagnosis life, I often wonder if “coping mechanism” was the best use of my college career. I can’t help but wonder what college would have been like absent the constant need to puzzle solve reality.
Having said that, I received my degree; worked at a psychiatric facility for years, with schizophrenic clients. Why did I work with schizophrenic clients? One reason was that these individuals were severely mentally ill, meaning that work-place social interactions were virtually non existent. I found it to be less mentally taxing, less stressful; which may sound odd given the setting, but it was a job predicated on routine. Routine I can handle.
Again, I worry that working a job purely as a coping mechanism (social avoidance) is not the healthiest thing in the world and just represents another form of dysfunctional hiding. But I’m not really sure, overall; I’m still piecing together the choices I’ve made in my life. I was competent at the job, so I’m hoping the “no harm/no foul” rule applies.
I’m in a different place now, emotionally…a better place…and a lot of these past difficulties were due, not to Asperger’s Syndrome, but to the lack of diagnosis and the counter-productive “coping skills” I developed. But as a result of all that: when it comes to careers and the spectrum, my own experiences have been difficult for me to fully understand.