A Paradox and An Oxymoron
For females (especially fully grown ones), diagnosis for autism is tricky because autistic females don’t present the same symptoms that their male counterparts do. Most of the research on autism has been done with boys in mind, and much of the evaluations until lately have been developed for the boy model. A fully grown Asperger woman has had years to cover up the autistic traits that got raised eyebrows when she was young. It is a paradox that her chameleon abilities force her into a life of misunderstanding and misjudgment; her short-spurt adaptability makes her appear normal enough (for those times at school and at work, where people are likely to notice her most) so that decades later, when she cannot function as her put-on self and finally cries for help, nobody has funds/attention for someone who can appear normal, even if normal is a facade.
I’ve never wanted to be an oxymoron. But when the clinical psychologist interpreted my evaluation at the testing center that I had chosen for autism screening (I pictured dirt clods of varying sizes, from big clods down to dust particles being sifted—which was I? the big clods or the powdery bits?) I realized that I am in fact an oxymoron. She informed me that I was “VERY intelligent” This is a huge relief because I thought I had lost all my marbles. I’ve bounced so many checks, missed so many appointments, forgot what day it was, left burners on (repeatedly), gotten lost innumerable times even in my own town, just now figured out that I have been manipulated by many people I’ve trusted, and just last week realized that I have only one genuine friend. I’m so glad I’ve got some smarts left.
“You have what’s considered mild autism,” she continued. “You may see it referred to as High Functioning Autism (HFA). That’s because your intelligence is high, especially your verbal IQ.” She pointed to a bell curve on a printout and scribbled numbers past the second cusp of the bell. But here, in executive function and social interaction, you scored well below average for your age-” Tap-tap before the upslope of the bell. “So you are very high functioning in one area but very low functioning in another. What you have to do,” the therapist said, “is to use your smarts to figure out how to work around these lower functioning areas you have.”
So I’m high functioning – low functioning. As I thought about this conundrum (the challenges of all people with “high functioning autism”), I realized that for all practical purposes HFA is an oxymoron. I find this fact to be slightly humorous, word lover that I am. So I thought I’d continue the theme and write about other autism-related oxymorons.
This oxymoron is what many of us on the spectrum try to do, learn to do to an extent, and end up hurting ourselves because we do it so well, at least in public or for finite stretches of time.
To many of us, this oxymoron is very pleasant; we get the benefit of social interaction without that much actual interaction. Some people might call it parallel play.
This oxymoron is not how we like the books on our book shelves, or the cans of soup in the cabinet, or our collection of ceramic pigs—or anything, really. Unfortunately, there are some of us who have executive function issues so the clean laundry might stay on the couch waiting (in random order) to be folded—until it needs to be laundered again.
This oxymoron is what happens to those of us who are shy and timid. It also happens to some of us by choice because we don’t like to stick out that much. It’s a handy tool at a party we don’t want to attend. It can be escalated to actually BEING invisible by disappearing to a quiet corner or leaving the party altogether.
Rain Man—and other such films—is a true myth.
This oxymoron describes all of us who find ourselves on the autism spectrum.
For most of us with autism, we like those things that make us different. We enjoy our special pursuits and talents and perceive our autism as a positive thing. We like who we are when we’re free from the perils of the more negative aspects of our personalities. And we would no more wish to remove the autism from ourselves than we would our liver. We wouldn’t/couldn’t part with our very personality. Having autism with all of its charms (and not so charming aspects) is really the only choice we would make.