With autism surging into national prominence with various facebook campaigns, the barrage of radio ads from Autism Speaks, and the popularity surge of autism awareness month (April if you’re wondering), many concerned parents have chased down MCHAT tests at the first sign of flappiness or language delay or sleep disorders. Jeez, there’s even an OkCupid “broad autism phenotype questionnaire” to see if you might carry the autism gene or something. Don’t bother filling it out unless you want to register for the site to see your results. No surprise as new genetic evidence comes out linking autism genetics, and autism heritability. (There is no single, Mendelian autism gene. The genetic link is an incredibly complicated one, and far from fully understood.) Now more than ever, everyone’s got a little autism on the brain.
One rule of thumb I’ve learned is that if you suspect or wonder if you have autism, you don’t. There are very few exceptions worldwide anytime recently of people growing up without knowing they have autism. It does happen, but only in extraordinarily high-functioning autistics. They often had truly horrible parents who never realize, or care, or want anyone to know, that their child is very different.
That said, there’s something every Diagnosis Parent does as they read and research the Dreaded Genetic Link. They look in the mirror.
I’m no exception. I had a pretty normal childhood, talked and read a bit early, had a few good close friends, some behavior problems that diminished by middle school, etc. So at first I mostly dismissed the genetic link.
But I grew to see and understand a lot of what Dmitry does. His thought processes are as inscrutable to me as they are to anyone else, but his physical tendencies started to make a lot more sense to me.
My shirts were shredded growing up, anywhere I could chew them: sleeves, neckline, bottom front. I refused to wear jeans until I was a teenager and wanted to fit in, because the tactile sense was just unbearable. I almost never wear them now. My socks had to be perfectly straight, the seam exactly aligned along my toes, or I would throw a shitfit for my long-suffering mother. As an adult, I chew things. Like everything. Pens don’t stand a chance, and sometimes I chew my fingers to blisters and blood, especially when I’m nervous. I never have to clip my nails, I just chew them off. And I need joint pressure, especially when I’m bored or nervous. Pressing my nails against something, fidgeting, jiggling my leg, balling my hands up to fists to press my nails against my palms, and rubbing my toes against the top of my shoes until I’ve worn a hole through them. My wife has only recently discovered this and aids me wonderfully by simply taking my fingers and pressing on the joints and nails to calm me down. There’s this unpleasant, indescribable sensation of sitting still while expecting your legs to explode or your nails slide right out of your fingers unless the sensation is relieved by firm, constant pressure or a particular movement.
I’ll never get most of Dmitry’s weird habits and interests, but the hyposensitivity, I get. He rubs his hands and head and feet and legs all over you, and stays still (for once, for a few seconds anyway) when you press his calves with deep pressure, or thump his back with cupped hands and deep heavy pats. I never realized that I had aspects of autism growing up or as an adult, but they become clear as day once I’m exposed to the same things in Dmitry. His mother laughs when I hit him in the back and push his knees together and bang my head into his and drop him on the bed to feel his sensation of falling, and I smile too.
At last, one derpy thing, this hyposensitivity thing, it’s something I get. I get it!