This is initially meant as a Facebook comment. Then it starts to sprawl uncontrollably.
I have more than half the traits she was explaining - and I don't self-identify as autistic or an 'Aspie' either. I have been - and still am - highly imaginative, with obsessions to certain shapes, colours, and numbers, I have regular mood-swings and I do have those 'I see red' moments when the only thing that matters is, figuratively, driving something through a wall. Sometimes I really did. I have partial synesthesia, and I do attach sentient characteristics to objects.
My brain is on overdrive most of the time - taking note of every detail around, with running commentaries about all sorts of things related, it is hard to focus, hence my almost pathological inability to remember driving routes. I am not joking when I said I got lost in the ward - I do. My observation is usually qualitative, not quantitative, so I am not a prodigy with maths and numbers, but at least above-average with words, imagery and descriptions.
My social skills is something I actively developed - I learn how to behave in social situations, to act and react, to 'read' social cues, and subsequently to win public approval (just so that it makes my life easier), pretty much the way one learns Science or to play netball. By observing, understanding the rules, and play according to them, so that one gains the upper hand. My verbal-linguistics and expressive gifts further complete the illusion that I am the ultimate extrovert. I still lost out where the rules aren't very clear, or where I have little experience in. Hence I despise parties, weddings, family gatherings where young ladies are supposed to act all modest, sweet, quiet, and when we talk, we are supposed to make small women talk. I loved my parents and siblings. They have accepted that "Kak Long is weird, a bit strange." ... and they are able to communicate with me the way I need, especially my father and one of my younger sisters, the second daughter in the family, but the rest of the extended fellowship, not so. I was laughed at by my cousins, made fun of as a child, (and I still took it as an offence) because instead of playing or sitting quietly like a good girl, I would head to the nearest stack of books/papers and drown in them.
As a primary-school student, my intelligence was interpreted as cute, I amaze and impress teachers regularly, and I was actually popular despite my immature social skills. As a secondary-school student, I was the typical flawlessly-clever girl with no real friends. My girlfriends celebrate each other's birthdays, gossip, change boyfriends (?!) with finesse, and most of the time I am passively observing, if not outright ignored. There was a time I assumed (perhaps wrongly) that the main reason people were befriending me at all was so that I will help with their work. And bullying, oh yes I was a victim of bullying in junior college. A mixture of wrongly interpreted social cues, my emotional insensitivity and over-reaction - both in inappropriate places, throw in another girl's jealousy, you have a brilliant but socially awkward girl, pounced upon by half of her class, who then wept into four am in the morning, her views of human interaction shattered, determined to learn the rules to win over the cruel world. It takes years before she finally learns to trust people again, and even then, she doesn't really.
Men (and women) who fail to excite me intellectually just fail to gain my interest - at all, and I am most caustic when I think less of a person's intelligence, I find social niceties a waste of time, and being patient with unnecessary talk is a real chore, making me a poor mentor to juniors, and giving me a poor prognosis in relationships. Certain mistakes disgusted me. I get very annoyed with wrong spellings I see everywhere, these horrible grammar even specialists use in the hospital, wrong tajweed by reciters of the Qur'an, among other things. I drove people away unintentionally, even those I am moderately interested in, by this attitude. These shortcomings are what I learnt to overcome, to actively suppress and mould to present myself as a more likeable person - because I was taught that a Muslim should always be likeable, bringing peace and happiness wherever she/he is. The reconstruction of identity is a necessity, bringing me to self-identify with the Sanguine-Melancholy contradiction. I am a Perfect Melancholy who conditioned herself to be the Popular Sanguine - to survive, and to feel like she's doing it right. I might be overdoing it - I even learn how to flirt, to gossip, and talk about boys, telling myself that it is 'survival skills'.
I am still prone to unbecoming outbursts in response to pressure, and those difficult- to-explain 'bubbling volcano' moments when every single thing around irritates me, and I will start talking in a monotonous voice meant to project a facade of calm.
My favourite self, the one I am most comfortable with, is the one who sits alone in the cafe, reading, sometimes pleasantly distracted by the television overhead, and is otherwise oblivious to her surroundings. The other favourite self is the spiritual one in her prayer-corner, who finds solace by talking to God, literally talking, telling Him all sorts of stories and worries and concerns and finding in Him the One Listener who will never misunderstand.
I do not believe that I suffer from a disorder, I am merely on one of the standard deviations of normal. The deviations are something one learns to control, to harness and ride for one's excellence. For instance, I am immensely proud and thankful of my creativity, personality, observation, and sure-footed confidence. The confidence that is actually a product of indifference, practised performance, and faith in a Divine hand.
I believe that I am inherently kind and empathetic, in my own way, as everybody does things in their own specific ways. These jaded outlooks of mine hasn't affected my ability to love, when I choose to. To serve others, to be gentle, to be a good daughter to my parents, a good sister, a good friend, a good doctor. There are certain aspects I need to actively learn, as I had mentioned earlier - such as withholding my judgment, shaping my words more delicately so as not to offend others, and to realize that intelligence and good grammar is not everything - but on the whole, I am happy with my current position. I am not emotionless - to the contrary, I have high emotional
output and demand. It is just that when it comes to social situations, I
find the need to put more effort, in order to express myself and relate
to others in more acceptable ways. I lost my balance from time to time, but there is always room and chance for redemption, for more learning to take place. A human being is, after all, a very fallible being.
I have finally managed to conquer my OCD which almost drove me to non-functionality for years - and I hope it will never return, Allah helps. Going through my periods of 'agnosticism' and the torture it puts me in would be beyond the scope of this writing.
Autism as a diagnosis only appear in 1946, and after DSM-IV criteria to diagnose it was modified in 1986, the number of children labeled with the spectrum increased dramatically. Is it an actual clinical spectrum, or is it more possible that children with psychological and behavioural traits that are actually standard deviations from normal are unwittingly included and medicalized, despite being wedged at the 'high-functioning' end? I would opt for the latter.
update : addendum from the comment section
I know I wasn't autistic, not even nearing it.
If I need a psychiatric diagnosis, bipolar or manic-depressive would be more likely! That's the thing with psychiatry, sometimes it is a one-size-fits-all thing. Yes, there are proper diagnostic criteria for such-and-such, and I did multiple psychiatry placements as a medical student (one of my unforgettable moment was that of a patient digging his nose and patting my shoulder with his snotty finger...ouch), but the mind is a much more abstract item than the body, and its illnesses, moreso.
I remember a psychiatry clinician once telling me, something to this effect,
"Not everybody may agree with me, the textbooks may say the contrary, but I tend to believe that mental illness is a spectrum of multiple symptoms. When you have several diagnoses of mental illnesses, a bit of each symptom may be present in each, but the diagnoses are by no means mutually exclusive. We are merely trying to compartmentalize them into boxes as an attempt of understanding, and henceforth, treating, them, with varying degrees of success."
He has at least one person who agrees with him - me.
I have always known that I was not 'typical'. Weird, maybe. (But I hope that I am pleasantly, interestingly weird, in the company of people I am happy to be with). Being able to read at age three, write at the age of five, go through Yusuf al-Qardhawi and Ashaari Muhammad's books (and other not-meant-for-kids literature) and discuss philosophy at the age of six, if my parents were the fuss-making type, I might've been on TV on 1990s.
I battled with obsessive-compulsive disorder presenting itself as 'penyakit waswas' I was once convinced I'd never be able to lead a normal life, let alone go to boarding schools and study overseas, so preoccupied with matters of washing and aqidah and all that comes. It is only these past few years I'm fairly content with my degree of control over it - which comes with a deeper, and less conventional, understanding of the Deen and the Deity.
My response came about actually because I was just a bit miffed with my perception that Rosie King sounds perfectly normal, how she described herself sounds not far from normal, but she claims that she is not. Autism as a diagnosis was my subject of study as a second-year medical student, and I secured a nice little honours on it (unnecessary mention? hehe). I have worked with developmentally-challenged kids as a college and university student, and I am not belittling the challenges they and their families went through.
I was only questioning, are we as a society over-medicalizing the variations of normal, leading to normal people self-identifying as abnormal, which itself brings multiple ramifications?