If you’ve spent any time wondering if you might be autistic, the first thing you probably did was examine the diagnostic criteria from the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), right? But when you read them they probably sounded really alien.
“Oh,” you thought. “That’s not me!”
The thing to remember is that these criteria were developed through observation of the behavior of autistic children, many of whom had suffered extensive trauma and had no clear means by which to express their internal subjective realities. As a result, the DSM today relies exclusively on simplistic behavioral observations to provide diagnosis for a condition that from my perspective is characterized almost entirely by a rich and nuanced inner life.
What on earth could a person who only observed me know about me? About the deep rabbit holes that occupy my attention, about the passion for disambiguation and justice, about how the only thing keeping me from fidgeting is that nobody is asking me not to fidget? Do you see how arbitrary this is? It would almost be funny if the stakes weren’t so high!
Too, the diagnostic criteria is constantly being revised.
I want to take a moment to re-frame these clinical behavioral observations through the lens of someone who has lived with autism for his whole life. But, I also want to be clear that I cannot claim to– nor would I want to– speak for all other autistic folk. We come in all shapes and sizes, and we’re each on our own journey. What I hope I’ve captured here is a high-level view of what the autistic experience feels like from the inside. Just know that my view may not be yours.
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