thoughts from a recently-diagnosed autistic queer feminist

Archive for March, 2012


Today I read a notice of a vigil in memory of an autistic man killed by a family member. The words from it which caught my eye werem’t the ones you’d expect:

“and other victims of domestic violence”.

And it occured to me how rarely I’d see that term used to describe cases like these. I’m aware there is cricism of the terminology itself and I’m insufficiently familiar with the arguments to enter into that discussion, but I do think we need to treat acts of violence against disabled people by family members as falling in the same general category as other violence within the home and family grouping.

There’s a pattern at the moment, and it isn’t good. Someone will defend the abuser on the grounds of there being insufficient services available to them and how they just got desperate. Others will agree. Anyone who wants to advocate for the person on the recieving end can’t even mention the service provision because (understandably) they fear it will play into the idea that it was in some ways justified.

But it’s obvious that in a world where people can’t access needed resources, tragedies happen. And that something needs to be done about it. And that doesn’t negate from the fact that these acts are inexcusable, that there is a clear aggressor, or that our support should be for the person on the recieving end.

I’ve heard many people talk eloquently and knowledgably about the circumstances in which domestic violence is more likely to occur. About the stressors which aggravate it. About how actual change in our society – not just violence at the bottom of the cliff type measures – is the way forward. And they do so without making excuses, without victim blaming. Without ever suggesting that things are okay.

So much of the groundwork has already been done, but some people have been left out of the discussion. We need to change that.


Almost diagnoses

Continuing with the autobiographical side for a bit. My diagnosis was officially made at the age of 27 – and anecdotally this is earlier than for a lot of women. I know some who were diagnosed as children, but they tend to be a few years younger than me. But although I was not sure what the result would be, even during and after the assessment, it didn’t exactly come out of the blue. I’m writing today about times when I was almost-diagnosed. I don’t mean the continual signs which have existed throughout my life, from the school reports that basically read “very bright, doesn’t play well with other children, needs to stop the tantrums” through my habit of sleeping under the mattress, but the times actual recognition was oh so close.


I’m about eleven, reading the newspaper at the dining table, spilling milk on it, trying to fold it back to make it more manageable, struggling with the width that is far wider than my arm span. There’s an article about Asperger’s Syndrome- and even though my family buy several, years later I will be able to picture the layout and typeface of the article clearly enough to work out which one it is. There’s a picture of a blonde-haired boy and his mother. I read. I start moving uncomfortably. My heart’s racing. This seems familiar.

There’s a sidebar column of signs that your child may have Asperger’s. I check them off. They all make sense until I get to one that says something like ‘doesn’t make up stories’. I’m not sure if I’m relieved or disappointed, but I write fiction obsessively; I completed a novel manuscript a year or so ago, and have books full of short stories. I turn the page. No answers here.


Mid to late teens. I’m crashing badly. I’m at once desperate for human contact and have no idea how to handle it when I get it. I’m a queer teenager in a very homophobic country, and the violence I experienced in middle school has affected me in ways I don’t understand. The short form is that I end up with referrals to mental health services. They don’t help.

I do have mental health issues at this time (they don’t recognise what they are either). There are problems with the service that would affect anyone. But for me it’s awful.Counselors give up on me because they think the fact I don’t see things the way they do is me trying to ruin their lives. I argue with psychologists. Psychiatrists make really dubious diagnoses and put me on inappropriate medication.

I leave as soon as I can, and avoid doctors except where absolutely essential from then on.


Often I will read and understand things, but make no connection to myself for a long time even when it’s seemingly obvious (this explains why I was, for a time, involved in queer rights activism while still thinking I’m straight). One of the connections happens when I’m twenty-four or so. I’m on my way to work and there are bus replacements for the trains. It doesn’t seem to have occured to anyone that as buses are smaller than the trains we might need more of them.

So the bus is packed and I don’t get a sea. I can’t stand – I’ve never been able to stand – so I sit cross-legged on the floor and watch the road. And suddenly it’s obvious. I’m dyspraxic.

When I start reading, everything makes sense. I’m diagnosed the following year, in an assessment arranged by (and more importantly paid for by) the university. It’s a quick, not very comprehensive one, but I’m pretty sure of the answer anyway. That’s as far as it goes, but it helps.


I’m almost uncertain whether to include these, because rather than being dead ends they eventually do lead me to an answer. I’m 26. I’m in Europe, visiting family and friends. The subject comes up with my parents, briefly – Asperger’s is suspected in other family members. Then I visit T, a high school friend. He lends me Tony Atwood’s ‘Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome’. This is what he has, he says, and I do too. He has absolute confidence in his assessment. I read chunks of it sitting on his rooftop in Malta drinking limoncello. I’m really not sure. A couple of months later my partner is lent a copy of Rudy Simone’s ‘Aspergirls’. She reads it on the plane home from Auckland and when she unpacks her bag she hands shows it to me and says she’s pretty sure it was written about me. It’s looking likely.

Starting Point

I have lots of options for a starting point, but I’ll pick one and work forwards, backwards and sideways from there. Just under a month ago I received, officially, the answer I had been looking for for a long time: a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, specifically Asperger’s Syndrome, along with anxiety and previously-diagnosed dyspraxia.

In the weeks since, as well as swerving drastically between bouncing off the walls in excitement and relief and freaking the fuck out, I’ve done two main things.

The practitioner who assessed me warned about telling people too soon. It was probably good advice in general; I’ve achieved those superficial marks of neurotypical success (partner, job, university degree, home ownership, friends) and would, therefore be exposing myself to the twin perils of disbelief and discrimination. It was probably even helpful advice for me, in that it encouraged me to think carefully and hold off a little while at least. But it was, ultimately, advice that I was never going to take.

I came out as queer at the age of twenty. That was about fifteen years after I first knew, and almost as soon as I did so my life got better. Being closeted was a horrible thing. I make no judgements about people’s decisions – sometimes it can be a lifesaver, and I like (most) queer people being alive, but it felt bloody awful. And now, here, was my second chance. And I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.

My partner was at the assessment with me (and indeed was one of two people to most strongly suggest AS to me) and I told a few close friends pretty much immediately and my parents a week or so later (they reacted by telling me that another family member had also been diagnosed that week – the diagnosis was no surprise, but the timing was). Then it was just everyone else to worry about.

It took a fair bit of stressing and worrying before I bit the bullet and posted to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. People wereawesome. I got a fuckload of support (as well as a couple of people contacting me to say they were also on the spectrum) and felt really boosted in my confidence.

The only place I’m not out is work, not because I think it would cause significant problems, but because for various reasons I don’t feel like having that conversation just yet. I’m aware, though, that having told so many others it may well become known. I’m okay with, and prepared for, that.

The other thing I’ve been doing is reading. I left the appointment with a reading list (which was exactly what I needed) and was almost immediately downloading Kindle editions to my tablet (somewhat to the dismay of my partner who mutters things about paper and libraries). I’m a bit of an information addict, and I’ve been motoring through them as well as various online sources, and accumulating a bunch of notes.

Words have always been my ‘thing’, reading and writing them. So this blog is really for me to explore the myriad of things I’ve been discovering. My interests are more social/political than medical/individual, and I have no idea how much interest it will be to anyone else, but if it is then welcome!