LIFE AS A WOMAN ON THE SPECTRUM
,I am a 42 year old woman, and I'm one of those people who would pass as normal at first glance. First of all I'm a woman, and the expression of symptoms are somewhat different in women as you probably know.
I also work in science where people are expected to be blunt and tend to behave differently from the general population, anyways. So I don't stick out as much in that crowd. However, having a son who is diagnosed with AS, I can see that the roots of his behavior are the same as mine. Therefore, while I am not ever going to seek a diagnosis (first because I don't think it is necessary in my case, and second because I think it could potentially open me up to possible legal or other disadvantages in the future), I am pretty convinced that I am one of the "successful" aspies.
I won't go into the gory details of my childhood, except to say that I was shunned by my peers, especially in the 4th through 6th grade (this is a bad time for girls). There was some of that in middle school, but at the same time I had gotten away from the worst of the bullies through the switch to middle school, so it was all mild by comparison. In junior high and high school, I was heavily into the music program, where there were all a bunch of nerds like me. I was also in all of the accelerated classes. I had my obsessions and interests like all good aspies, especially horses.
Transition to college
The transition to college was extremely difficult for me, and dorm life was a horrible experience. Not that the people were bad, but I could not tolerate group living. I moved off campus as soon as the school would allow me to, and got my own apartment. I had some radical and somewhat socially unacceptable political views through college, which I have grown out of with age and experience, and I was very vocal about it. I have not one single friend from my college years, when people are expected to make lasting friendships for life. Frankly, in college, I was obnoxious as hell.
I went to graduate school for two years in hopes of getting a PhD, but left after two years. There were a number of reasons for this, one of which is that my advisor did not get tenure; however, none of the other professors was eager pick me up to work in their labs. My work there was somehow viewed as sub-standard, even though I passed all my classes and my qualifying exams, and I still don't know why. I believe that I just didn't understand what was expected of me. I also have problems with auditory processing, and people in science are expected to be very quick on the uptake, especially graduate students in a high powered department like the one I was in. My attention span for seminars is less than that of other people, and I have a hard time understanding what people are saying when they are lecturing on an unfamiliar topic; I also have problems with unfamiliar jargon when reading scientific papers. This all bodes poorly for successful graduate work.
Transistion to employment
In any case, I left school with a master's and started work in a lab at a local cancer research center. I was the only employee in the lab for most of the time, and therefore did most of the work of the lab, including most of the research. This was the case for at least half of the time I was there, and we did produce one paper in a very respected journal. While I was working there I met my husband, who befriended me for a year before seriously courting me. I had some previous relationships with men that had not gone well, so I was wary and he seemed to accept that. We've been happily married for 14 years and have two kids.
I am still working in science, and now know that I never could have cut it as a professor. That's ok with me. I think I am a good mother to my kids, and they know a lot more factoids and have been exposed to a lot more knowledge than almost any kids I know. They both seem happy and reasonably well adjusted, including my son with Asperger's. He's so much like me it's scary, sometimes, but I think he has an advantage with having a mother who knows where he is coming from.
the need for time out
I still need to be alone in a visceral way on a regular basis. I have to use a nightguard because of teeth grinding, and I have all kinds of mental habits that no one would ever guess about. I "pass" as a normal person in most ways. However, I am not a "woman's woman" and most of my friends are men. My female friends tend to be unusual people, never the average soccer mom, friendly sociable types (not that they are unfriendly, but they don't run with the pack, either). I do not tend to attract a lot of people who want to socialize with me, although they don't blatantly reject me either. My husband and I socialize on a regular basis, but if it wasn't for him, I probably would have a very limited social life. If I followed my real inclinations, people would think I was a real weirdo, and I really mean that. But I have learned what is socially acceptable in the broad sense, so I know that a woman standing alone in the woods 10 feet off the trail not doing anything for an hour, except peering under the branches and smelling the leaves or the air, or inspecting the bark of a tree, would be considered strange! (I do these things, but I try not to let anyone observe me doing it...)
I am not an empathetic type of woman. If someone tells me their problems, my natural reaction is to try and find a solution. And frankly, I don't really want to hear how people "feel" if they aren't willing to do something about it. I have to admit this does get me in hot water sometimes. I also tend to say what I think, especially if someone is doing something I consider to be irritating or irrational, and tend to "go off" if people persist. My brain also tends to bog down in unfamiliar, stressful times, especially if there is a lot of confusion around me, so I get forgetful or conversely, obsessive about forgetting things. Travel is a nightmare for me, especially if I'm traveling without another adult. I can do it, but it is very unpleasant. I hate changing my living arrangements and have been known to continue to live in less than optimal apartments, etc. just because I would have to move. I need to know where everything is so it doesn't get lost, so I get really annoyed if people don't put things back where they came from.
However, all this being said, I do live a happy life, have a great husband and great kids. I am successfully employed and expect to continue to be so. In fact I think at this point that anyone I would work for would be lucky to have me, since they can be sure that I would work loyally and diligently for them, and keep everything organized. The friends that I have now are true friends for life, having been collected over a period of many years. They may not fill a room with their overwhelming numbers, but these are people who are true and trustworthy. I think that's pretty good.
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