Monday, October 11, 2010

National Coming Out Day-- My Own "Coming Out" Story

For those of you not in the know, today is National Coming Out Day, or as I'll be abbreviating it for the purposes of brevity (REDUNDANT), NCOD.  The purpose of NCOD is to provide nation-wide love and support for anyone who has spent far too long living in fear of publicly identifying as LGBTQ.  There's a spirit of, "We're all in this together," whether you're just now coming out, have already come out, or identify as a straight ally.

Now, I don't want to underscore the LGBT community in any way, but I know I'm not alone in what I'd like to do today.  The Beautiful Kind used today as an opportunity to come out--as herself.  After four years of anonymous sex blogging, Kendra has revealed her real name as well as her beautiful face.  Kudos, Kendra!  You are inspiration to me and you make me feel comfortable doing what I am about to do.

Today, I am coming out.  My coming out has nothing to do with sexuality.  What I want to talk about is something a few people in my life know about, but I feel that today is the day that I can embrace it and let everyone know who I am.

Today, I am coming an autistic adult.

I have an autism-spectrum disorder called Asperger Syndrome.  Asperger Syndrome is characterized by:
  • Difficulties in social interactions
  • Repetitive patterns of behavior
  • Intensely obsessive interests/hobbies
  • Limited empathy
  • Body tics, such as hand flapping, or twisting
  • Sensitivity to excess stimuli (especially auditory)
I was always a "weird kid."  I was frighteningly smart, I didn't know how to relate to other kids my age, and, when excited or lost in thought, I was overcome by intense hand flapping.  (My hand flapping was actually so convulsive that my first grade teacher wondered if I had a form of epilepsy.)  I was never tested for an autism-spectrum disorder, so I spent twenty years of my life sitting on my hands, feeling confused and uncomfortable in group conversations, developing interests that none of my peers shared, and never telling my parents/family members that I loved them.

It wasn't until I was 21 and my mother read an article about Jenny McCarthy's son.  The part of the article that got to the both of us was that her son would play with his toys by lining them up and just looking at them excitedly.  I was catapulted back to my childhood.  I could see myself lining up small toys in a perfect line on my kitchen table.  After setting them up, I would sit back and imagine scenarios for them in my head, occasionally moving them slightly.  This is how I played.  What my parents saw was different.  They saw their daughter lining up toys perfectly and then staring at them, wildly flapping her hands.  The moving of the toys that I mentioned?  Each toy would make a quarter-turn before I would stop and continue the flapping.  Reading that article, my entire childhood made sense.  I never understood why I was the way I was; I just assumed I was weird.  But now there was a concrete cause for my awkwardness and weirdness.  There wasn't something wrong with me.  My peculiarities could be explained.  I cannot even describe the comfort and relief I have felt by being able to know that I am an Aspy.

Since my autism went unnoticed until adulthood, adolescence forced a lot of my quirks to be hidden.  I became aware of my hand flapping and made a conscious effort to hide it and control it when around others.  I got better at pretending I had social schools, mimicking what other girls my age did (to an extent).  I was still an abnormal kid, but I found a way to make it work for me.  A person who meets me now and learns of my condition is usually in disbelief.  I'm fairly high-functioning, so I understand that it can be a little hard to believe.

As high-functioning as I may be (going to school, living on my own for a time), I still have difficulties.  I have hid behind these difficulties, never telling people about them unless it was absolutely necessary.  Today, I'm gonna lay everything out here.

I still have intense difficulties with social interactions.  I second-guess everything I say.  I don't know how to engage in small talk or chit-chat.  Even though I can dole out sarcasm and teasing, I have difficulties seeing these things in others (I tend to take them seriously unless I am told that someone is joking).  Maintaining eye contact is incredibly uncomfortable for me.  My gaze can drift up or down or to the side while talking, all outside my control.  If I am overwhelmed or tired, I may not look someone in the eye at all.  I become extremely embarrassed if someone points out that my eye contact is wonky.

I have auditory sensitivity.  Squeaky or shrill noises make me physically uncomfortable.  Public places a variety of loud noises cause me to shut down socially and retreat into my own head.  Overstimulation can cause me to either become distant or have an actual panic attack.  Alone time is a necessity in my life.

My empathy has improved since I was a child.  I now give hugs to family members.  I cry when mourning a death.  I can attempt to understood other people's feelings if I can imagine myself in their situation.  However, sometimes I find it difficult to empathize with feelings I do not understand or rationalize.  The only family member I can say "I love you" to is my sister.

Change is really scary.  Like, "throw-my-entire-day-off" scary.  Before anything, a social outing, for example.  I plan and envision everything.  What time I will begin to get ready, where we will go, what we will do, how I will interact with people, etc.  If something small, like the location, changes,  I panic, cry, and have to start my planning all over again.  Because of this, I am rarely spontaneous. 

Despite my difficulties, I like to think that my Asperger Syndrome has some benefits.  Not having natural social skills, I spent most of my adolescence and college years studying others and how they communicate.  Because of this, I have been able to identify poor communication skills and can now avoid these behaviors.  My people-watching has actually provided me with mature communication skills that help me have healthier relationships than most of my peers.  I approach everything analytically, which I feel can help me in giving advice.  Instead of responding with emotions, I am able to give advice that is rooted in calm, rational logic.

Living with Asperger Syndrome is a daily struggle and at the end of a long, busy day, I am exhausted.  However, I am am grateful to be living like this.  Being an Aspy makes me a unique and interesting individual.  Despite my struggles, I enjoy looking at the world through a different kind of lens.

So today, I am done hiding behind autism.  I will no longer assume that a stigma will be attached to me or that people will treat me differently.  Autism is nothing to be ashamed of or afraid of.  By opening up about this, I hope to increase awareness, understanding, and education about autism-spectrum disorders and to remind people that autism doesn't look as "different" as one might think. 

If you want more information about autism, I would actually recommend visiting a bookstore rather than searching the internet.  Want to ask me a question about my experiences?  Feel free.



  1. Your bravery is beautiful and inspiring. <3

  2. Awesome to hear. We all have our struggles; rarely people actually reveal these tender parts of themselves. I think this step is absolutely important in creating a level of awareness regarding this disorder and acknowledging the bravery it takes, not only to accept yourself privately, but to do so publicly. I have an anxiety/ OCD spectrum disorder myself and really appreciate hearing you discuss your own struggles.

  3. You are amazing, Kaitlin. I would have never known in a million years. You are one of the most amazing girls I know. And very brave.
    --Jackie P.

  4. Wow I'm finally catching up with all my blog subscriptions so I'm pretty late on this one but.. wow. Such a brilliant and brave thing to write - it kind of challenges the general image of Aspergers. I wonder whether you would cope differently - perhaps even worse - if you had been 'diagnosed' earlier? How do you feel going undiagnosed for so long has impacted on your life?

  5. I definitely believe that I would not be as (relatively) well-adjusted had I been diagnosed at the first signs as a child. I feel like maybe having that diagnosis would have actually stunted my ability to grow and develop the way I did. With that label, I think there would have been a possibility that a label or stigma would have been placed on me causing people to treat me differently and give me too much wiggle room. I may not have had to work as hard as I did to survive and grow. A part of me I had been diagnosed earlier, but I'm okay with being diagnosed as a young adult. It was like a giant sigh of relief and it put my whole childhood into a comforting perspective.