I Saw the Light: The relief of diagnosis

Some people question whether they or their apparently Asperger child should receive official diagnosis or not. Here I present a case for it for anyone who has it within their means.

Lights on in a darkened room. The effect of diagnosis.

What’s wrong with you Stobart?

Were you in a car crash?

Did your mum have chickenpox when you were born?

Why do you miss cookery lessons? (ANSWER: I was seeing the school shrink in the first half of the double period).

Questions like these plagued my secondary school years. I had thought past eccentricities and apparent neuroses to have been dealt with and that years of psychotherapy, physiotherapy and what have you up to that point could be left behind, even though I’d noticed one or two relapses in myself at the time. The fact that my school had both Junior and Senior departments and I could therefore stay and not suffer a near complete change of classmates could only have been an advantage, surely.

Scrub that word only. A major influx of new pupils had arrived, many of whom had come to board and weren’t used to my still somewhat eccentric nature unlike those who had been through the Junior Department with me. Hormones combined with homesickness and in some cases traumatic family backgrounds… Here was someone for them to take it out on.

Spastic

Mental

Cripple

Joey

Animal

“I see they let you out of quarantine” one of them remarked after we’d returned from a trip to France.

My noisy reactions and the way the stress caused me to fall back on my baser self soon had me back in psychotherapy again. And it didn’t matter how I bettered myself or tried to. Kids rarely let each other forget anything and although there was a strong hardcore of people who liked and respected me, torture continued.

Others with diagnosed conditions that everyone knew about did not suffer bullying – at least not that I ever noticed. I will never forget David* who had lost several of his abilities following a series of misconducted operations and now needed someone to either write for him or hold his arm which he had lost natural control of and was having to learn speech all over again. We all knew basically what had happened and while some of us occasionally mimicked him behind his back we all felt dead sorry for him and wouldn’t have dreamt of torturing him.

But no-one knew what to make of yours truly. Even the staff got it badly wrong on occasions. A class discussion about an outward bound expedition we’d just returned from saw the teacher ask “How did we feel about working with people like Tim* who’s deaf or Christopher (your author) who can er… be a bit of a pain sometimes?” My assertion that if I weren’t given quite so much hassle then it would be a different story was rebutted with “Er well I’m not sure about that.”

Even the fact that I was statemented told me nothing. It had been sold to me as a way of saving my parents money based on my past difficulties and knowing I had managed to overcome neuroses and behavioural problems in the past, I was keen to try and develop beyond where I could be deemed to have special needs.

Leaving school, I thought I could leave all embarrassments such as typing a sentence on the computer with the tip of my tongue, absent-mindedly walking out in front of a car on the school trip and finding myself rolling on the bonnet or dancing like a loon round the biology pond regularly despite equally regular shovings in, safely in the past and be welcomed by the world beyond as a normal human being.

But it was not to be. College brought on even more hassle. When we did Of Mice and Men for the English GCSE retake, it wasn’t long before I got nicknamed Lennie and though I had become more thick-skinned by then it was clear that whatever had caused me to act weird in the past wasn’t going to go away.

Then came work. I still remember the manager of the placement that eventually became my first permanent job calling me over to where he and others were enjoying an informal chat and asking me what it was about me that was different.

“I mean like when you write on your jeans with your finger – that’s more like something my two little girls would do.”

The misunderstandings and telling-offs were beginning to proliferate there too.

“Anything coming down the other side?” asked the van driver I was occasionally assigned to help.

The only thing I could see coming “down” was some water running down the passenger door window. I pointed this out and got snapped at. I had no idea he was talking about traffic.

Eventually it dawned on me that now that I no longer had the local authority to back me up in the area of special needs, I needed to get this thing called Asperger’s diagnosed officially. We’d only recently learned much about it having heard it suggested as one possibility some years before, but this was so obviously ‘it’ – years of psychoanalysis, experimental diets and neurological analyses had failed to solve anything and reading what little literature was available at the time was like looking in a mirror. But with the official word of a specialist, I’d have something to tell prospective employers as well as leaders of clubs, church groups etc – something we knew rather than just something we’d heard about. It would not prove to be a panacea for problems but it would at least mean there would be no enormous question mark hanging over me and how to deal with issues arising. Well, much less of one anyway.

And I’m so glad that on December 15th 1994, my mother and I made the trek to London (you have to take someone who knew you when you were little) sat with the specialist and got the thing officially recognised. Unlike much of what had gone before, it was my idea and remains one of the best decisions I have ever made.

So my advice to those unsure whether to get their condition officially diagnosed? If there are no practical obstacles… go for it! Don’t rely on your guesswork or books or online resources – it will hold little water with the powers that you or your Aspie offspring will have to submit to. Chances are they’re already not really knowing how to take you or your child anyway and while that won’t change completely with everyone, awareness and knowledge is greater than when I was diagnosed half a lifetime ago and more people will be prepared to help where necessary once they know.

My motto is Go and Tell.

Go and get diagnosed (if you can afford it under your country’s medical system and I know some can’t)

Tell your boss/headmaster/vicar/rabbi/etc

It will prove advantageous in the long run.

*Names have been changed

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