I may be the first to tell you what I am about to tell you. Or maybe not. But it is important to know either way. Autism is a social disability. That means the disability exists because of constructs set out as “normal” within social circles.
However, further disability can and does exist in other forms. This is what is referred to as co-morbid conditions. It is not uncommon for an autistic person to have additional conditions that make up what people typically attribute to autism.
Today, I want to highlight three of these co-morbid conditions that I have, and how they can serve to exacerbate signs of autism.
First is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In part, NIMH defines OCD with the following information:
- Having things symmetrical or in a perfect order
- Repeatedly checking on things, such as repeatedly checking to see if the door is locked or that the oven is off
- Some individuals with OCD also have a tic disorder. Motor tics are sudden, brief, repetitive movements, such as eye blinking and other eye movements, facial grimacing, shoulder shrugging, and head or shoulder jerking
Perfect order for an autistic child is often observed as the categorical ordering of objects by shape, color, or size. In adults, this is more subtle and understated. I have certain things that must be certain ways to feed in to my functioning routines. If they are not, then that part of my routine is interrupted. I repeatedly apologize to my wife when we run in to issues effected by this. Most of the time, all I can say is “it’s gotta be this way to work.” I don’t usually have an explainable answer past that, and that aches that I don’t.
I do repeatedly check door locks and light switches in our home. There are two lights I leave on at all times, and all the doors are left locked to the maximum capability. On top of this, you can observe me checking pockets for my phone, wallet, and keys when leaving to go somewhere. 99% of the time, I have these things. I check for them anyway, because I am fearful of that 1% when I don’t have those things.
Stimming, or self-stimulating behavior, is something that happens with autistic people. This is physical movement that helps to calm the individual. It would not be uncommon for some stimming to be classified as a tic. One of my stims that people rarely notice is the flexing of the tendon at the front of my neck on my right hand side. By classic definition, it would also be a tic.
Next is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In part, NIMH defines ADHD with the following information:
- Overlook or miss details, make careless mistakes; Not following through on instructions and starting tasks but quickly lose focus and get easily sidetracked
- Having problems sustaining attention; Being forgetful in daily activities.
- Fidget and squirm in their seats
- Blurt out an answer before a question has been completed, finish other people’s sentences, or speak without waiting for a turn in conversation
- Have trouble waiting his or her turn
Overlooking details is a big, giant struggle in life because I am so detail oriented. It’s painful when I miss a detail. This internal conflict is so big that I will seem to remember everything, only to miss one thing. I usually remember more than the average person, but the one thing I forget is the one thing everybody else is looking for me to remember. Being a perfectionist, this is probably the biggest thing I hate about how I handle myself.
Problems with forgetfulness or with sustaining attention loop back around in to the autistic difficulty with executive function. I can tell you ALL DAY what needs to be done where, for how long, and with what resources. When you expect me to be doing these things though, it is a struggle to follow through. The bad part where “normal” society comes in to play, I never have what would be considered a good reason for missing things.
Talking over people is a real struggle for me, both from a technical and social aspect. First, I realize that there is chaos found in talking over people. Second is something that always got me in trouble as a kid, and still does now sometimes. I’ve gotten accused of not listening and considering what a person has to say when I start talking before they’ve finished their point. It is a social faux pas. I get that. But very rarely have I ever changed my mind based on the few additional words due to be said had I not interrupted.
Ok, I realize I’m going off the rails in that last paragraph. What it boils down to is that I get accused of never taking the other person in to consideration most every time, no matter how I handle myself. The ADHD tendencies do not help matters. But what does matter is there is a hypocrisy. It may not be intentional, but it is there.
Next is Generalized Anxiety Disorder. In part, NIMH defines GAD with the following information:
- Restlessness or feeling wound-up or on edge
- Difficulty concentrating or having their minds go blank
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty controlling the worry
I’ll be the first to say that anxiety is no joke. From what I know now, I very well had minor anxiety issues all the while growing up. It’s only been in the last month or two that I have really started to struggle with this. The thing about anxiety is that the symptoms can and will grow from societal issues of any type…ESPECIALLY if it already exists. Physically, anxiety is draining.
(My usual disclaimer: Most things I talk about in relation to Autism can be applied to other Autistic people out there. Please understand that anything past the generalizations describe only my experiences and may not describe the specific experiences of other Autistic people. As always, if you have any questions about what you’ve read, feel free to contact me.)