Andy Gainey

Self-discovery has been a focus of mine ever since I can remember. And over the three decades of my life thus far, I have indeed learned much about myself. Yet despite all my efforts and focus, and despite all of my progress, both major and incremental, it took until the thirty-second year of my life to make what might be the biggest single leap in self-understanding I’ll ever achieve.

My realization this summer was that I have Asperger’s syndrome, a psychological condition placing me on the autism spectrum. To be honest, I feel like I should have achieved this discovery eight years ago, when I had first somehow stumbled upon a description of the condition (I can’t remember how). Even then, after only some limited research on the internet, I strongly suspected that I had the condition, and that this knowledge could be of immense help to me in my ongoing efforts to improve myself as a person and to improve my quality of life. But then a string of stressful events struck, as is typical of life at times, and I was momentarily distracted from this potential insight. Although life moved on, and I successfully moved on with it, my distraction regrettably lasted nearly eight years. And despite still improving as a person and improving my quality of life over those eight years, I can see in retrospect that it wasn’t quite as efficient or productive as it could have been, had I researched more and reflected more deeply on the subject of autism.

Fortunately, the subject returned to my mind recently, and I’ve found myself in a much better position than before to recognize my need and opportunity, due both to more conducive work and home situations, as well as a greater wealth of life experiences and perhaps a touch of additional maturity, wisdom, and self-awareness. With the assistance of a counselor, books and internet resources, and lots of introspection, I’m beginning to feel that I have a much stronger understanding of my atypical mental processes. In particular, I now have a clearer context that I can use to interpret the various principles, habits, attitudes, and other coping strategies that I’ve adopted over the years. I wasn’t even aware of some of them, or didn’t have a good idea of where they came from or why I acquired them. Some of them are very useful for sure, but I can tell that others are far from ideal and could use some refinement or outright replacement. I could not have achieved this awareness and forward-looking direction without my research on Asperger’s and autism.

As for my decision to share this self-discovery publicly, I have a few different reasons: my own benefit, the benefit of others on the autism spectrum, and the benefit of those who might know someone else who is autistic. For myself, I suspect that it will be a therapeutic process. Just talking about the subject will likely release some mental energy and provide me with a healthy outlet for the anxiety that didn’t previously have any. Additionally, I expect that by writing the details down and editing them for consumption by others, I will be forced to really refine my thoughts, and thereby obtain an even deeper understanding of myself.

For other autistic people, I hope to provide some assistance both in terms of self-comprehension and in terms of self-mastery. I have found that it can be an incredibly difficult condition to recognize and comprehend, even for the person with the condition. It seems that a lot of the resources focus almost entirely on external symptoms: behaviors that are observable by other people around the autistic person. But there is such an immense variety of external symptoms, and few autistic people display all of them. Especially adults, who have had many years to develop often idiosyncratic ways to suppress, minimize, or avoid many of these symptoms.

I can appreciate the value of learning about external symptoms, especially for those who do not have autism, especially clinicians, teachers, family, and friends of those who are or might be autistic. But in my personal experience, I have benefited the most by learning about internal symptoms: the direct effects of an unconventionally wired brain on the autistic person’s perceptions and thought processes, the symptoms that are very real but accessible only to the one who is experiencing them. These internal symptoms have enabled me to make sense of my external symptoms, bringing them out of the land of mere nonsensical behavior. Thus the significance I attribute to them in my efforts toward a more thorough self-understanding.

Also, as stated earlier, recognizing and analyzing these internal symptoms has given me a richer insight into my coping strategies. I am fortunate enough to already have a reasonable collection of useful strategies, and now have a solid foundation for refining or replacing the less ideal ones. I do not know the degree to which my relative success in life is due to these coping strategies or is instead due to the wiring in my brain being close enough to normal to allow me to get by effectively. But on the assumption that my coping strategies at least deserve a non-negligible amount of credit, I would like to share that knowledge with others, in hopes that it could also serve a similar purpose in their lives. I’ve learned that there’s a tremendous amount of variety amongst the autistic community, so I can’t say for sure that what works for me will work for others. And there are already numerous blogs and other resources available providing similar information, making me question if I’ll just be redundant. But given how much I’ve benefited from the generous and diverse writings of others, it only makes sense to add my own voice to that diversity.

Finally, for those who are not autistic but are interested in better understanding any autistic people in their lives, I want to do my best to provide a comprehensible context for common autistic behavior. I do not wish for autism to ever be used as or perceived as an excuse. But it can definitely serve as an explanation. And in contrast to an excuse, which is generally presented without details and with a hope that the recipient will accept it at face value, an explanation does indeed require details, and open discussion should always be acceptable. Thus I feel a responsibility to be willing to explore the depths of such an explanation, share what I discover with others, and be open to any discussion, questions, or suggestions that arise. If you interact with me outside of this website, feel free to bring the subject up or ask any questions you have. I might not be inclined to raise the subject myself in most cases, out of a fear of being socially inappropriate, but would certainly welcome it if others wished to do so. I’ll trust your judgment of appropriateness over mine! :-)

So expect to see a trickle of posts from me in the future on this subject. I don’t have any particular schedule or order of topics I intend to cover, but I have been taking quite a few notes over the summer, and continue to take more as I read, think, and discuss. Plenty to talk about; I just need the time and motivation to organize, write, and edit it all, bit by bit. For the moment, you can take a look at the various resources that I’m collecting and organizing on my Autism page.

1,171 Comments

Comment by Terry — 2014/09/02 @ 15:21

Hey Andrew. I know we discussed some of this when last we spoke, but I do have to say that I’m proud of the fact that you have been doing more to achieve self-awareness. I look forward to hearing more (whether through the blog, email, or our discussion) about what you find in your own self-discovery as far as integrating this knowledge into your life. Of particular interest to me in my professional development would be of what you titled “internal symptoms.” Just let me know. Talk to you again soon brotha, and thank for sharing. Good luck as always in your endeavors.

Comment by Amanda2014/09/04 @ 08:06

That second to last paragraph, tho. Really, all of this post.

I so verily respect that your feel a responsibility to own your situation, to share your experiences when likely it would be easier not to, to be always working towards an optimal you. That is the hardest but most rewarding work of a lifetime, in my experience, but it is definitely work. So yeah, kudos. And good luck with the continuing journey! I look forward to reading more.

I’ve said it before but you, sir, are awesome.

Comment by Amanda2014/09/04 @ 08:08

Also, ignore my typo. I was so excited to comment I didn’t grammar so good. >.<

ALSO also, I'm digging the new website and lego pics. :D

Comment by againey — 2014/09/04 @ 10:49

Thanks all for the words of encouragement.

@Terry: I’m still working out how to talk about internal symptoms. Some of my thoughts are actually more concerned with what I perceive as the negative effects of focusing on the bullet point lists of external symptoms. But I do intend to work out how to describe the various internal symptoms I’ve experienced also. (What’s the point of criticizing formalized lists of external symptoms if I don’t contribute to a useful alternative?) It can be hard since these atypical thought processes tend to seem utterly ordinary to me (I’ve thought in such ways my whole life, after all, never having experienced a fully neurotypical version of these particular processes). For this very reason, I’ve often even been completely oblivious to them. It’s tempting to say that some of them might even be truly ineffable, but I’m too stubborn to claim that yet. :-)

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