[Author’s note, 27 September 2017: looking at this post over a year on since writing it, and I HATE some aspects of it. I HATE the term “differently abled’. I’m disabled. And I’m happy with that. I leave it up as is, because this was my perspective at the time.]
It’s coming up to a week since I received verbal confirmation of my diagnosis. And whilst I’d been anticipating the confirmation of my autism, the ADHD and dyspraxia were a little more of a curveball. Sure, one of my former colleagues in an old job once made a flippant remark to me about ADHD when I’d got distracted by something; a counsellor I was seeing a few years back suggested I might want to look into dyspraxia, and I did mention it to my GP, but because there’s no separate mechanism for testing adults for the condition, I abandoned that notion and forgot all about it (and a lot of Aspies, especially females, are known to have motor coordination issues). But now these two additional neurodivergences have at least been deemed “probable” in my case, they do in fact make sense.
The thing that I’ve been grappling with most over the past week, however, is how to put a positive slant on them both.
I’ve been comfortable for a while with identifying the strengths and benefits of being autistic alongside the many difficulties – attention to (and enjoyment of) detail, recognising patterns, highly developed research skills, thoroughness, strong sense of justice and fairness, intense enjoyment and interest in learning, heightened sensory awareness (a blessing or a curse depending on the circumstances), and yes, extreme empathy (that’s a complicated one, folks – the “autistic lack of empathy” fallacy is for another post)…the list goes on.
But ADHD and dyspraxia? What the hell have those two ever done for me?
ADHD? All it seems to do is make me irritable, highly distractible, snappy, short-tempered verging on outright aggressive at times, and so bloody fidgety that (in combination with my autistic wandering brain) it pretty much ensures a crap night’s sleep.
Dyspraxia? Clumsiness. Poor muscle tone. Dreadful coordination. Pain with handwriting. Forgetfulness, and the intense anger that comes with losing the same bloody things time and time again (and the frustration this brings when it disrupts my autistic desire to be on schedule). A lifetime of being awful at sport, and the humiliation that came with that at school.
Where were the positives? I thought of “reaching out” on Twitter for suggestions, but decided simply to do some Googling instead. Blimey, I’m an Information Management graduate. I’m sure I can find something. And actually quite a few decent results came back.
And so I reflected. And I concluded. And yes, there are things here that I can work with; that I can own; that have contributed to who I am today, and what’s good about my life.
At times I might seem a little too animated. But energetic exuberance and enthusiasm mean that (at least so I hope) my teaching and training sessions are rarely dull. Finding it virtually impossible to keep still means that at the very least, my delivery is rarely stilted. Combine that with my years of experience practising verbal communication, and my autistic attention to detail and immersion in special interests, and I can be pretty damned effective in the classroom. And people tell me this is the case.
And I may well be just hypothesising here, but perhaps this ADHD-tastic aspect of who I am also contributes to me being better able to cope with social interaction than some autistics. I mean, I still get a hell of a lot of stuff wrong, but perhaps my occasional impulsivity means I’m just that little bit more willing to throw myself into communicating, and doing stuff, with other people.
Creativity and problem-solving are abilities that seem to be strongly associated with both ADHD and dyspraxia. Certainly, when faced with being unable to do things in the way others seem to manage, you find workarounds. Sometimes those workarounds can be pretty convoluted; at other times they are truly innovative. Again, this ability to ‘hack’ has had a really positive impact on my teaching and curriculum development work, and other areas of other jobs I’ve had in the past.
Some of the strong positive aspects of dyspraxia, mentioned time and time again, include persistence and determination. And I know this to be true of myself. In my late 20s, under the care of a wonderful physiotherapist after a succession of running injuries, I re-learned how to walk. Let me get this clear: I was not physically incapable of walking; I’d just been doing it the wrong way all my life. And altering the extreme bad habits of a lifetime took some determination. It’s safe to say I am not a natural sportsperson. And yet I managed to follow, to near-completion, a full marathon training plan. Okay, I got injured prior to race day and therefore have unfinished business. But it gave me an inkling of what I was capable of. I have at various points in my life made myself physically very strong through lifting weights (my God, I’ve love to be strong again. And some day, I’m sure I will be).
And despite years of crippling procrastination issues, wayward time management skills (is this where my autistic obsession with always wanting to know the time stems from?), and executive dysfunction that has at times been so extreme it has reduced me to a screaming, shaking, sobbing wreck, I have the highest level of academic qualification of anyone in my family.
Perhaps it is this very determination and persistence that actually made me seek out an assessment for autism.
I reckon, also, that this tenacity is going to be a pretty darned useful tool to keep handy in the parenting workshed, especially if I’m ever to have a fight on my hands in securing the right kind of support for my daughter.
And although at times I get lost in the detail, I am still often able to pull back and see the bigger picture, zooming both in and out.
There appear to be some interesting conflicts and tensions between the three interacting neurotypes I’ve been blessed with. But without even realising it, I’ve been negotiating these conflicts and tensions my entire life. And yes, I’ve dealt with many, many challenges. But on the whole, my life is a happy one, and my happiness is a culmination of all that has occurred in my lifetime. And what has occurred in my lifetime, good and bad, has occurred because of who, and what, I am.
I am differently abled. And there’s a lot that’s positive about that.