Discovery or Diagnosis?

I’m coming out of the closet.  It’s not a gender identity closet, or a secret sin closet, or even a secret nerdy interest closet.  It’s a closet that I didn’t know I was in for the first 53 years of my life.  It’s a closet for some, a desert island for others, and a social leprosy for many.

My wife and I agreed that I needed some kind of testing to see what was going on.  Mood swings, forgetting conversations, poor decision making about very important facets of my life and our relationship…all with decent intentions, but not much success.  Her father had just passed away after a 20 year struggle with Alzheimer’s; we feared that I might be headed down a similar path.

The diagnosis was not Alzheimer’s.  ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, was one of the neuropsychiatric disorders on the doctor’s report, along with ADD, and depression.  What?!?  AUTISM?  That doesn’t make any sense!  I was reading at age 2 and in first grade, I blew the principal away by rattling off the first few paragraphs of the 6th grade level book she handed me.  I can’t pass by a misspelled word.  I did well on the SATs, and got into a highly ranked university.  As I look back, I never considered myself having a disorder of any kind.  And as a Christian, I flourished in all the social aspects of church life, even going to seminary and leading in small roles for a few years.  The kicker – I met a great girl and got her to marry me!  Isn’t Autism’s root word auto, alone?  The only cases of autism I was familiar with were folks who had trouble communicating with others, or they displayed various signs that would be typically seen as uncontrollable, “stimming” being the action that seems to get the most attention.

But college was tough for me.  Finishing assignments, remembering that I had assignments, sleeping through class – even in the front row!  At least I entertained a few classmates!  I didn’t fail any classes, and I didn’t have to take any summer classes, but I met the minimum GPA requirements for graduation.  Army ROTC was fun, but I remember being challenged with some of the tactical infantry leadership exercises.  I could find my way on a map, but leading others through the woods with multiple objectives was daunting. I did get a commission, but not the active duty tour I was hoping for.

College is just one phase of my life where I’ve been able to look back and say, “yeah, something was going on there” that may have been a clue to my issues.  Other phases have some glaring episodes, but many questions still exist.  Rather than consider this diagnosis a life sentence, or an excuse for failure, I’m trying to learn all I can.  I’m looking for therapies, research, or anything that may help me deal, or even help me solve some of the issues that come along with ASD.  Cures?  Well, I do know a Healer, but I can’t get hung up on my lack of understanding His mysterious ways, or His timetable. 

As I write more about my experiences, I hope that these posts give you perspective not only into my life, but perhaps into your own, or a family member or other loved one.  Autism is not the end; my diagnosis may have been the motivation I needed to put some life hacks in place.  Feel free to comment or start conversations.  It may sound cliché, but I now know more strongly than ever – He is not finished with me yet.

Published by Bart Shoaf

Blogging about victories and challenges as a middle-aged man with a late diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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