The Brilliance of Autism

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I’ve long held the belief that there is a thin line between genius and madness. That is part of the brilliance of autism. You can see the over-stimulation in the mental capacity of those that are capable of great things. They think faster and react quicker. This is something that I began to identify in myself in my 30’s. My journey to understanding myself has been a long one, but incredibly profound.

I will be 49 in a few months. Having worked for a non-profit related to Autism several years ago, I was diagnosed as “on the spectrum” for Asperger’s during that time. I was 46 years old. It changed my life completely.

As the doctor who consulted with me explained, “You’ve made it through the toughest part now.” And I did it on my own, without having any idea of why I was the way I was. Referring to my eccentricities as “quirks,” I had grown to believe I would always spend my life alone and made peace with that. It was a tough row to hoe.

Uncle Raymond

My mother had an uncle who had severe autism. He was institutionalized in the 1930’s until his death in the late 1960’s. His name was Raymond. After my mother saw the movie “Rain Man” she explained to me, “that was your uncle Raymond!” He was brilliant like that – incredible with numbers. Uncle Raymond just lacked the social skills to function in society. He died before I was born, so we never met.

My father explained to me throughout my life that my mother had “some of what Raymond had.” At that time, I thought he was nuts. Turns out, he knew exactly what he was talking about. Shortly before he died from bone-cancer, he shared with me, “you are more like your mother than you know.”

He reminded me of a time when I was young, and would run screaming from the yard when he would turn on his saw. The high pitch sound literally drove me mad. I felt like my ears were bleeding. My childhood was filled with my seeking out peaceful places to exist where my mind could relax. Sounds and loud noises in particular could drive me to … madness. Concentrating in school was particularly difficult.

Grade school

My teachers told my parents repeatedly, “she is extremely bright, but fails to focus.” We, of course, had no idea why. I always harbored a suspicion that my father blamed himself for an accident that I was in at the age of four. I was crushed by a large washing machine and blacked out for almost half an hour. He ran into the house with me in his arms crying, “I’ve killed my baby, I’ve killed my baby.”

Having rushed me to the nearest hospital, my father held me in his arms until I regained consciousness. As I came to, the doctor proclaimed I was alive, and that was the end of that. As it was the summer of 1975, there were no CT scans available and we were sent home. Whereas that accident may have not helped my situation, (or maybe it did? hee-hee), the true reason for my difficulties in life would stem from Asperger’s.

I barely graduated high school on time by attending one semester of night school, as well as two sessions of summer school. Although articulate and always well-dressed, I found jobs easy to get, but harder to keep. As with anyone, finding the right position for my personality type was key. I was easily bored and required a great deal of mental stimulation. Yet, immensely distracted by certain noises. Copiers with squeaky belts or repetitious thuds could render me useless and frustrated beyond reason.

College

Fearing failure in a college setting, I put off attending higher education until I was in my 30’s. I never married or had children. Both of these scenarios seemed overwhelming to me and childbirth itself, horrifically scary. I was typically categorized as a late bloomer.

Having a misdiagnosis of ADHD, I took multiple medications that didn’t help the situation whatsoever, and caused me to lose too much weight. At the age of 30, I was 5’6 and 105 pounds – a size zero. I had to stop taking any of the medication in an effort to save my physical health.

My college experience was both incredible and difficult. I feared I had some mental incapacity from my childhood accident. Thus, I used Sudoku and other methods to increase my brain function. I added Norwegian salmon oil supplements to my daily regime and worked out.

One day I was reciting multiple statistics from memory during a classroom session and my teacher asked, “Do you take notes when you read?” I shook my head “no.” In that moment I realized my memory was better than I thought.

My grades were good, and I finally told my parents in my second year of undergrad that I was in college. They were stunned. In their minds, I would never be able to obtain a degree as I had had such difficulty throughout grade school. I graduated with a 3.01 and a B.A. in History with a minor in Women’s Studies.

Work

My collegiate career continued with my earning a M.A. in American Studies. Obviously, I ended up in a profession common for those with Asperger’s – I’m a writer. (My boss, also a writer, tells me I’m brilliant. Who knew!?!) I spend my days researching and writing on Wellness and the medical industry. The fit is perfect. But, it took a long time to get here.

It’s only because of my time in the Autism community that I was better able to understand myself, and what my needs are. I have a childlike playfulness in my personality that can often be misunderstood. This too is a trait of autism, particularly in females. I have learned that what some think of as peculiar are traits related to Asperger’s. The saving grace of this disorder is having an incredible mind capable of great things.

We are known to be creative, innovative, and see things differently than the average Joe. This affords those around us, particularly in a business environment, greater insight into the world at large. Recently it has been uncovered that adding individuals on the Asperger’s spectrum to the workplace can increase productivity and overall success.

The perfect job for me

Now I work for an employer who believes in holistic therapies and natural remedies. This has always been of great interest to me. The icing on the cake has been my introduction to CBD. CBD has a positive effect on our endocannabinoid system, thus enhancing our neurological productivity and development. Asperger’s is a neurological disorder.

Having used CBD for five months, I can testify that it is a game changer. The usual angst that I feel, particularly in crowded situations, is greatly diluted. I’m still an “Aspie.” I prefer quiet, and I require a lot of down time to recharge after interacting with others. Crowded arenas or rush hour traffic will never be my thing. But now, I have less anxiety than ever before and am able to function at a higher capacity in general.

The moral of the story? There is a thin line between genius and madness. Behaviors that display as abnormal can often convey an underlying intellectual capacity that not everyone has. Before assuming that someone is mad, consider that they may in fact, have an overactive brain. After all, there is brilliance in autism.