In the very nice flurry of responses on Twitter to my previous posts, I was asked what were the indicators that led my wife and daughter-in-law to conclude that I might be autistic?
This is a question that really leads on to the re-evaluation of my life experience. So I will try to answer the question directly, but also use it as the starting-point for what will be a series of retrospective posts.
When I ask them how they arrived at this conclusion, there is no single dramatic answer. Rather it is an accumulation of small signs and patterns. Seen from my post-diagnosis position, these read a like a checklist of autistic traits. But none of them, taken in isolation, is necessarily autistic: sensory issues (loads of them), fondness for routines and repetitive behaviours, certain social difficulties, intense focus on specific interests, stimming, organising things, food brand obsessions, unusual anxieties, and just difference. It was the accumulation of these that added up to a strong indication.
My wife tells me that she would not have put all this together had it not been for 'The Big Bang Theory'. Now, I am well aware of the problematic aspects of that programme! But media representations of autism have been few. My wife and I have been together for 25 years and she has been aware of all the traits described above for that time. It would never have occurred to her, let alone me, to link them to autism until recently.
When BBT started, we would watch it together and laugh at/identify with Sheldon Cooper. Every episode there are several moments when she would exclaim: "that's you!" She even started jokingly calling me "Sheldon". We both know Sheldon is a stereotypical caricature, but we still enjoy watching it. I treat it as wallpaper TV for relaxation. Of course, Sheldon is never called autistic, but for my wife the idea that someone could be a successful academic and at the same time struggle was a revelation which led to the indicators of autism.
I remember my daughter-in-law saying to my wife: "he's a bit starey". What she meant by that is that I tend to stare at a person for a bit too long. I've always done it (or so people have told me) but I never thought much of it. I would just say "I'm thinking" (which I always am) and leave it at that. But now, of course, I realise what is going on. As a child I wanted to avoid eye contact. My father (who was a stern disciplinarian) would endlessly repeat "look at me!" and back it up with corporal punishment when I did not. So I learned to fake eye contact. Either I look at the bridge of a person's nose or, if I feel I must, I will stare straight into their eyes but not 'see' them, if that makes sense. But to this day I cannot figure out the optimum duration for such a look. So I just guess and hope it's ok. I don't realise I'm doing it, but it seems to work most of the time.