My name is Ariel Gold. I’m 20-years-old, and like many people my age, I enjoy hanging out with friends. I also like to listen to audiobooks, write short stories, and volunteer (especially with children and young adults on the autism spectrum). People who have met me, but don’t necessarily know me that well, have described me as “talkative,” “outgoing,” and “intelligent.” I would agree with them: I am indeed “talkative,” “outgoing,” and “intelligent.” These are characteristics that people can see I possess within minutes of meeting me. These characteristics, however, are not usually associated with being on the autism spectrum. In our society, there’s a stereotype that people often have of an autistic person–someone who has a low-IQ, sensory issues, and stims (stimming is a behavior involving repetitive actions or movements that is commonly done by people on the autism spectrum). This stereotype, although not accurate for many people on the autism spectrum, is largely true of my older brother Noah, who is what you could describe as “classically” autistic. In comparison, I don’t fit into this stereotype at all.
I went through over a decade of schooling without any teacher (some of whom had a special education background) ever even suggesting that I might be on the autism spectrum. My parents never suspected it- perhaps because their perception of autism was influenced so much by my older brother, who I’m nothing like. I saw psychologists throughout my childhood, and none of them brought up the possibility of my having Asperger’s, either. Rather, I was diagnosed with everything but Asperger’s.
After much frustration with inaccurate diagnoses, I went through neuropsychological testing a few weeks ago to get a definitive diagnosis. According to Wikipedia, neuropsychological tests are “specifically designed tasks used to measure a psychological function known to be linked to a particular brain structure or pathway.” It was then, after hours worth of testing, I was formally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome- a generally high-functioning’ version of autism, in addition to dyscalculia, a math disability.
Before my diagnosis, I had done extensive research on Asperger’s- suspecting, for months, that I might have it. While Asperger’s presents differently in men and women, I discovered that my symptoms were common for women on the spectrum; high sensitivity, intense emotions, and inability to self-regulate. In addition to those symptoms, women with Asperger’s often have no problem making friends, but like me, struggle to keep them. Through my research, I found out that many conditions such as anxiety, depression, and OCD–all of which I have, to some extent–have comorbidity with Asperger’s. But perhaps most important, I learned that the majority of women with Asperger’s are undiagnosed and/or misdiagnosed–like I was, for nearly 20 years. I was not alone, as I had thought before.
Receiving the diagnosis of Asperger’s was both validating and off-putting. Off-putting not because I didn’t think I had Asperger’s, but because I was now considered to be “on the spectrum.” I’ve volunteered extensively with both children and young adults on the autism spectrum, starting in middle school. I had never seen myself in the children and young adults with whom I worked. While I have a generally positive perception of autism, thanks to my brother Noah, and the many children and young adults who I have worked with, my recent diagnosis, although expected, was still off-putting. How could I possibly have a form of autism? “I’m not like any of the children or young adults I’ve volunteered with,” I said to myself.
It took me a little while to come to terms with the fact that the autism spectrum is indeed a spectrum–and a particularly wide spectrum, at that. It includes both people like my brother, who can never live or work independently, and people like me, who can manage without significant support. When I told my friend Anna that I had been diagnosed with Asperger’s, her response was: “I’m not surprised.” I, however, was.
“What?” I asked. “You thought I had Asperger’s?”
“You’re just always pretty blunt and straight-forward,” Anna replied, and then added, “It’s not a bad thing, though!” And she was right. It wasn’t a bad thing. In spite of having Asperger’s, I managed to form a bond with Anna that has survived even long-distance. I’m a good friend, with or without Asperger’s. I’m a good person, with or without Asperger’s. Being diagnosed with Asperger’s gave me much-needed validation. It gave me perspective. What it didn’t do is change who I am.
My name is Ariel Gold, and I have Asperger’s. I am talkative, outgoing, and intelligent–and happen to be on the autism spectrum, too.
Ariel Gold is a college student living in New York City. In her spare time, Ariel likes to volunteer with young adults on the autism spectrum and she hopes to eventually become a special education teacher.