The experts tell you not to rely on self-diagnosis. I didn’t, thank you very much. My mom figured it out way before I did. When my mother told me, she thought I was autistic, I could see it immediately.
It was shortly after my son’s diagnosis when he was three. We had both done a lot of research leading up to his diagnosis, learning about developmental milestones and odd behaviors that might be waved off as regular kid stuff. I talk more about his diagnosis in this post.
“I can see it now, but it wasn’t a thing in the eighties.” She said calmly.
There is a lot of my childhood that I can’t remember. I’m sure there is a trauma-related reason, but the specifics evade me. However, the most vivid memories I have don’t revolve around people. I remember things, locations, and the way they made me feel.
Awkward Black Girl
I’d always had a hard time with people. There were always too many or they would make too much noise. It didn’t matter. Since I was a little girl, I had to learn how to deal with them. I made a fuss when my mother made me go play with my cousins. I had nothing against them, I just didn’t want other people to get in the way of what I was doing. They didn’t want to play my games either. I can remember a lot of little kid arguments that I just walked away from to do my own thing.
When I was a young, only child, I spent a lot of time outside by myself. As you can imagine, many of us that grew up in the eighties did. Fortunately, I grew up with county relatives. That meant that the elders of my family had come to East St. Louis from places farther south. My mother was born in DeKalb, Mississippi and both of her parents had roots in Arkansas. Poor Black southern folks that moved up north for a shot at success.
This is what brought me to the outdoors. Kids didn’t get to sit around the house where the grown folks were. I had to go find something else to do. We had a large backyard and my grandfather fancied himself a farmer. We raised chickens and he had a garden as well where we grew some of the vegetables that we ate every day. At one point, he bought me a pair of ducks that were named Donald and Daisy. I don’t exactly remember what happened to them, but I’m sure someone enjoyed a fine duck meal at some point. There was a rabbit too, but the neighbor’s dog got a hold of my little rabbit friend after one night.
Despite all this, I enjoyed my afternoons exploring the yard. I poked at the animals, watered the plants, and learned which plants were okay to pull up and which would get me in trouble. The part I loved the most was the digging. Every spring, we had to get the garden ready for planting. That meant I was allowed to use the big shovel and dig in the ground.
Playing in the dirt was the number one activity I liked as a kid. When I couldn’t mess around with a shovel, I used sticks to poke holes into the ground. Most of the time, I used my hands and feet. I adore the feeling of the warm dirt between my toes. It was even better if I got my little hands on the water hose.
Mud was my jam! You could build with it. You could make fine pretend meals. You could squish it and make cool noises. It was the all-purpose time waster for five-year-old me.
Making the right kind of mud was a science. You needed enough water to loosen up the dirt but too much water would ruin the thickness. A proper mud puddle was just past the consistency of wet clay in my books. A good hole with the right amount of water was a fun afternoon in my world.
I can remember one afternoon that I had gotten my hands on the shovel and the water. I dug what felt like the deepest hole there ever was in the backyard. In reality, it was maybe a foot deep. I had dug down far enough that the dirt wasn’t warmed by the sun anymore and was a little chilly. I turned on the water hose and put my feet in the hole. I wiggled my feet to churn the mud into the proper consistency before I tossed the hose away. Before I knew it, I had my hands and feet inside my mud puddle. It felt amazing. As you can imagine, my mother was furious to discover her only daughter soaking wet and covered in mud sometime later.
I still have a severe love for mud. Now, I can cover it up with a love of gardening. Growing things is great and fulfilling too but I’m secretly in it for the mud. If I get the chance, I’ll go outside during a storm. I’ll amuse myself with walking slowly in the rain until I find a patch of loose dirt and sink my toes into some fresh mud.
Connecting the Dots
Having remembered all this recently, I can clearly see my childhood sensory needs. I can apply what I know now to how I behaved back then. I had a problem with wearing shoes. I still hate having to wear shoes that I can’t slip off at a moment’s notice. Socks and stockings? Forget about it. I’ll wear them but only for as long as necessary. Stockings were another thing I got in a lot of trouble about as a kid. I constantly picked holes in them because they were itchy and hot. I couldn’t operate correctly because I was thinking about how itchy I was.
I remember loving to spin in circles as a kid. While most kids would spend as much time as possible in front of the television, I spent my time with the ceiling fan. I would follow each blade with my eyes and tried to follow its movements until I got dizzy. I would spin as fast as I could and laugh. When I couldn’t spin anymore, I laid myself on the floor beneath it. I would watch the fan spin for a long time.
I only have vague memories of this, but my mother says I would lay beneath the Christmas tree when I was very young. She says I would move the gifts out of the way and lay in their place. I would watch the lights dance along the inside of the tree. She said I would smile, laugh, and touch the little lights. It seems innocent but it might have been indicative of another sensory need I figured out a way to meet as a toddler.
I say all this to say that I believe that I’m on the autism spectrum. Higher functioning, yes, but the signs are present. They have been all along. What I believed to be crippling social anxiety could be my autism growing as I do. I’m better with people as an adult, but I still avoid eye contact. I still hate socks and shoes, but flip-flops are more acceptable for more of the year. Clothing optional time is still the best time. I get a little thrill from watching fans, but I might get nauseous if I watch for too long now. I’ve grown up and adapted, but the signs are still here. For now, I’m going to work with what I know and rely on my self-diagnosis.
I’m right at the beginning of a diagnosis journey. I’m noticing things, comparing notes with other autistic adults, and seeking resources. If any parts of my story sound relatable, I implore you to do the same. A diagnosis might not change anything, but it might help you to understand yourself better. As opposed to just thinking you are a quirky weirdo for your whole life. I’m aware that seeking an adult autism diagnosis can be more difficult since it is commonly diagnosed in children. It can also be expensive to get all the necessary testing done. I still feel like it is worth it to find out. It could also get younger autists to understand and accept themselves faster if they have a good model to follow.
The road is long, but we can do this! I love you. Have a good week.