As I’ve said, I have been very, very fortunate that many things have not turned out worse for me, thanks to my innocence, poor impulse control, slow processing speed, hyper-logical thinking, or a combination of all that teams up to get me in dangerous situations.
But as lucky as I’ve been, I sometimes feel like I am running out of time. I have the sense that eventually I’m going to run out of luck, and things will not turn out as benign as they have up until this point. And I have this sick, sinking feeling that it will be at a point in my life when I’m cognitively impaired or elderly and/or isolated, and I won’t be able to protect myself. At all.
So in talking about diagnosis of typically overlooked people on the autistic spectrum (including women and men who don’t fit the stereotypical profile), we absolutely positively cannot lose sight of personal safety issues. I don’t like to think about it very much. I don’t like to dwell on it, and I don’t like to make a big deal out of it. The last thing I want to think about, when I go out for a lovely Sunday morning walk, is how Asperger’s may get me in trouble. It makes me uncomfortable to think about, and it gives me a very strange feeling in my gut when I really sit down to think about how things have gone with me and how things could have gone. It also gives me a sick sinking feeling when I think about other people who are in danger because of their autism.
Yeah, it’s really easy to get into trouble when you have that culmination of naïveté, gullibility, openness, lack of impulse control, poor executive functioning, and delayed processing speed that doesn’t even let you accurately assess the danger in the moment. You can be hyper-logical all you like, but that doesn’t do much in many social situations.
How can you properly manage your issues, if you don’t know you have them? How can you properly respond to social situations, if you can’t assess them in the moment? What if you are isolated and/or prefer to spend time alone? How are you supposed to stay safe? I worry sometimes that I’ll end up being a perpetual child in perpetual danger, a continuous source of nervousness and anxiety for myself and my loved ones, because I literally have no idea that my condition is causing me issues when it does.
So this is one of the reasons that I think it is very very important to diagnose women and girls and non-stereotypical autistic men as much and as quickly as possible. Terrible, awful things can happen to vulnerable people on the autistic spectrum, because they are not aware of what’s going on and they do not properly manage their issues. It’s not a question of whether or not they should get coveted membership in a special Aspie club, or get extra consideration at the expense of others, or be coddled in some way. It’s really about giving them the awareness, the tools, and the orientation, and then cultivating the ability to protect themselves under circumstances that they encounter on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis simply because their system space is built the way it is.
The worst part about it all, aside from the actual danger that I could have been in, is that I just feel like such an idiot afterwards. I feel like there’s something wrong with me, like I’m not getting something, like I’m just so stupid and so naïve and so blind and so impulsive and I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel like I can trust myself, I don’t feel like I can trust my judgment, and frankly I’m surprised that I have lived as long as I have.
It’s such a strange feeling, being a full-grown adult, and seeing yourself do this kind of thing not just once but several times over. It’s like you’re your own autistic child who has a tendency to just run off… and you don’t even realize they’re gone, till they’re in deep trouble, somewhere.
And if anything contributes to the danger with me, it’s the ongoing lack of awareness about this actually being a problem. I go out for a walk on a beautiful Sunday morning, and the last thing I really want to think about is Asperger’s. The last thing I want to think about is autism. The last thing I want to have to accommodate in my life is a neurological condition that blinds me to the inherent dangers that are just part and parcel of every day life. And that, I think, is one of the most debilitating things about this condition — how relentless it can be, and how sneaky… insidious.
Beating yourself up over stupid things you have done is exhausting. And never really feeling safe in your own skin, because you don’t feel like you can trust yourself, is no fun either.