It was a day I will never forget and which would prove to be transformative in more ways than one. Looking back almost 10 years later, I could not possibly have imagined what would follow, granted how emotionally trying that day was for me and where I am today. This was the day on which I was told that I have Asperger’s Syndrome.
Asperger’s was one of the conclusions that a local neuropsychologist wrote in her report summarizing the results of a neuropsychological analysis which I had undergone and on which I naively thought I did quite well, in spite of how exhausting and intensive I found it to be. At the time, I was under the false impression that the only diagnosis which was relevant to what was going on in my head was that of a learning disability, handed down when I was just a little shy of 3 years old. Then this comes out of nowhere.
Having just turned 40 years old and only then learning that I have been on the Autism Spectrum my whole life, frustration, confusion and many questions set in. Why wasn’t I diagnosed earlier, particularly in light of the fact that I had worked with many capable clinicians over the years and was never told to investigate the possibility of Autism? Which of the challenges I had been confronting since childhood should be attributed to the learning disability and which to Asperger’s? Where do I go from here?
Thankfully, I was able to either dismiss or answer these and other questions in relatively short order, saving myself from all of the stress to which I would otherwise have been subject if I had allowed the questions to linger. It dawned on me that it doesn’t matter what the learning disability is responsible for and what my Aspie profile is responsible for; both are inseparable and I own both of them, so I left it at that. As for the past clinicians missing the diagnosis, why dwell on this? It’s all in the past, let it go! Besides, my wife already had them beat in that it did occur to her that something other than my learning disability might be in play, ultimately leading to the neuropsychological analysis and the Asperger’s diagnosis. As for what to do next, answering that question was easy. Seek help from other clinicians who know Autism Spectrum Disorders well, learn from them, and in so doing, address those challenges which I felt I needed to address: self-unawareness, unawareness of others and social competence-related deficits, for the most part. I continue to work on these to this day and I will probably never stop working.
My parents and brothers were the first to learn of my Aspie diagnosis after my wife and I found out. My brothers immediately questioned it, and at the time, I could not understand why they were invalidating what I was trying to explain to them, but today I understand. Questioning the diagnosis was their way of telling me that I had always been “Sam” to them, that I was still the same person I always was in that moment, and it would always be me regardless of whatever diagnosis might surface. Sure, I had my challenges and struggles with which they were quite familiar, but then again, who doesn’t? We all do. Just a few days ago, my oldest brother told me basically the same thing he and my other brother were trying to say to me years ago.
At the beginning of this blog, I stated that the day I learned I had Asperger’s Syndrome would end up being transformative. Not only did I discover a missing puzzle piece with respect to who I actually am. With time and help from others, I also managed to leave all of the initial confusion and frustration behind and not only accept but also embrace who I became as a result of this revelation. My brothers are correct in that the core of who I am as a person is still there as it always has been and always will be, though I now have a greater level of knowledge of who I am which, in and of itself, is transformative. It is as if I have not changed, and yet, I have!
The Asperger’s diagnosis led to me being more courageous than I had been beforehand in that I have become comfortable exposing my vulnerabilities when I feel that the situation warrants that I do so. It has also led to me being more socially aware as a result of the work that I have done with clinicians whose help I sought after I learned of the diagnosis. When my mother passed away two years ago, I was able to reveal my Autism Spectrum profile to a few hundred friends and family while eulogizing her at her funeral in order to provide greater meaning and context to all that she did to help me with what we thought was only a learning disability. I did so without diverting too much attention to myself, granted that the funeral had to center around her. Furthermore, I was able to talk about the attributes of my Aspie profile and how my mother helped me address the challenges it presented in a way that considered the potential sensitivities of people at the funeral who I knew were either on the Autism Spectrum or who had loved ones on the Spectrum. Today, all of my friends, most of my colleagues at work and others with whom I have associated know where I stand.
Soon after I lost my mother, I felt compelled to give to others in light of how much she gave me. I felt twice as compelled to do so after losing my father roughly a year later. I choose to give to others by sharing ideas and insights that stem from my experiences with Autism as to how challenges and adversity can be overcome in order to find success and happiness in life. I have written many blogs and articles that are relevant to this subject, and as I write this particular blog, I am working on my first book, hopefully to be completed sometime in 2019.
The way I see it, one’s outlook on a diagnosis of this magnitude depends heavily on his or her attitude. When I found out at 40 that I was an Aspie, I would have had reason to sink into the depths of depression, remain frustrated and confused over why it took so long for me to learn this about myself, or feel a lingering resentment towards the clinicians whom I had turned to earlier for failing to bring up the prospect of an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Instead, I chose to view the late diagnosis as an opportunity to move forward, as a newly discovered aspect of my personality which led to a more complete picture of who I am, and as the long-awaited answer to many questions I had about my past which my learning disability could never explain. As a result, I am emotionally stronger, smarter, more giving of myself to others and more socially competent than I was prior to the diagnosis, and I find myself writing a book, expressing my unique perspective as an Aspie who managed to be successful and happy against all odds. In these respects, the diagnosis truly was transformative, and a blessing in disguise. My sincere hope for everybody on the Spectrum who has faced or will face a late diagnosis is for all of them to figure out how to turn their discovery into a blessing, and to be transformed for the better.
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