Adult Onset 'Autism' ?

© Donna Williams

All kinds of adult people can for various reasons suddenly develop even extreme challenges with:

  • obsessive compulsive behaviours
  • behavioural tics
  • attention problems
  • phobias
  • acute impulsivity
  • extreme withdrawal or mental preoccupation
  • sensory heightening
  • emotional hypersensitivity
  • Exposure Anxiety
  • the visual perceptual challenge of Scotopic
  • Sensitivity
  • reduced ability to process receptive visual or
  • auditory language
  • reduced ability to simultaneously keep up with a
  • sense of self and other
  • increased anti-motivation countering the voluntary
  • use of verbal language
  • progressive social withdrawal
  • shutdowns in left brain or right brain processing
  • immune dysfunction
  • gut dysfunction
  • nutrient deficiencies
  • clumsiness
  • disorganisation
  • memory differences

Conditions such as substance abuse, head injury, stroke, breakdown, chronic stress, epilepsy, severe viral infection, bipolar disorder, depression, OCD, Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalitis, Tourette's, Alzheimer's, eating disorders, MPD, Schizoid Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia even an extreme 'Spiritual Awakening' might potentially bring on SOME of the experiences which can also occur in Autism. Furthermore conditions like Munchausen's or some personality disorders might well lead some people to identify with all kinds of experiences which occur in autism whether they in fact have these or not.

What's more, someone with autism could also have or later develop any one of these other conditions or none of them. As a well known person in the field, I've heard from all kinds of people who have had autism-like experiences in adulthood and I've had some of these people come to see me because the strategies some people with autism use to manage their issues have also helped others who have never had autism.

When a person has a range of conditions amounting to the same challenges seen in Autism this is sort of like an adult onset 'Autism'. The major difference is that when you have a range of conditions in early infancy compounding to cause the developmental condition of Autism, you don't know any other world and the impact on development of communication (both receptively and expressively) can be extreme so it's so hard for the world to 'get in'. You take your stuff as 'normal'. It IS your normality. Unless it is an uncomfortable place (and some aspects can be very uncomfortable and imprisoning and others wonderful, mesmerising, and an altered reality) you don't find any reason to fight it or change it and many people with autism both fight the prison and defend the sanctuary of their autism. So the psychological impact on sense of self and perspective on the world is very different to those who are suddenly 'visiting'. For the person with autism who leaves much of their old world behind, there can be great loss (as well as gain) in becoming 'less autistic'. So the emotional reality is also different. For the person with autism taking on the world of interpretive meaning and directly confrontational interpersonal interaction can be like a second language, foreign and whilst now 'part of the mainstream world' perhaps never 'at home'.

My challenges began in infancy (first hospitalised at age 2 1/2) or before that but I had moved into the interpretive world around the age of nine and as much as I was curious about the new world of interpretation I also mourned for my old world of pure sensing. By the age of thirteen I could speak in litanies (drove people nuts) and, in spite of being still so behaviourally effected I was thought disturbed (and still often thought deaf because of the meaning deafness- I had by then progressed to understand 50% of incoming words), I felt I was now equally part of the world as in my own world. Having come from a background modelling alcoholism I soon discovered that alcohol could take me back to where I'd come from (until I learned better by the age of seventeen). By the age of twenty-five, after a life time of constant bugs, I had made a lot of progress in managing much of my behaviour and communication when my health broke down into what was by one clinic called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and another M.E and this severe physiological breakdown brought back so much of the severity of the earlier sensory perceptual and information processing problems. So I have seen autism from many angles.

Being open to the stories of people with all kinds of conditions, we better understand ourselves. Autism has relevance in understanding not just the aliens who have it, but those visitors, the Gadoodleborgers, the bridge keepers, who encounter some of its component parts.