The way I see it, my collective experience with health care clinicians has been a mixed bag. It has been my great fortune that I have remained medically healthy from the start, and so I have nothing remarkable to share with respect to my experiences with doctors. When it comes to behavioral health, a very different story, in part because of my autism spectrum profile.
A few of the behavioral health providers with whom I worked tried hard to help me move forward but to no avail. One of them went so far as to say hurtful things about me in spite of the fact that I came to her in a vulnerable state, needing help, not condescension or insults. Other clinicians were helpful to some extent. And, I managed to have landed a few clinicians who stand out from the crowd as having been absolute gems.
Thankfully, I learned to become an optimist in spite all of the challenges and adversity with which I have had to contend. As such, I am able to look past the sub-optimal therapeutic experiences and still see value in the help I received. Today, I am emotionally strong, my self-esteem is fully intact and I have come to embrace my profile, celebrating the benefits that it carries and accepting all of its associated baggage. I understand that had I rejected my profile, my sense of self would have suffered and I would not have found true happiness. My outlook on life could not possibly be what it is had it not been for the clinicians with whom I worked.
When I faced a late diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 40, I felt inclined to re-assess what my prior behavioral health experiences actually meant to me. I ended up questioning why the pre-diagnosis clinicians never suspected autism and therefore didn’t have me investigate the possibility of it. Not once did autism come up in our sessions. I wonder about that. How could they have completely overlooked it? I can only assume that I came off as being too “typical” such that they thought I was non-autistic. Therein lies the dilemma that those of us who are autistic and somehow cover it up well might face. We are viewed as being non-autistic and are therefore expected to conduct ourselves as if we are non-autistic, though we are not.
One of the clinicians who stood apart from the other pre-diagnosis clinicians was a talk therapist from whom I learned the true meaning of self-esteem. He helped set me on the path on which I could finally work on building a strong self of self and on carving out greater happiness for myself. Just prior to working with him, my emotionally turbulent sophomore year of college had wrapped up, during which many difficult truths about myself, of which I had been completely unaware, somehow surfaced, landing me in a relatively dark place. Consequently, it thankfully occurred to me to seek help which in turn led me to this therapist. He was able to convince me that I had lots to be proud of, that being eager to please and trying to satisfy everybody were losing strategies with respect to self-esteem building, and that in trying to be somebody other than myself, I was being dishonest toward others. Because of all that I accomplished during these therapy sessions, I am not critical of this clinician for having not suspected autism. After all, the year was 1990 and the rate at which autism was being diagnosed back then pales in comparison to that of more recent years.
The neuropsychologist who administered the neuropsychological evaluation that led to my Asperger’s diagnosis also stands out. My view of her as having been exceptional stems from the fact that she made a diagnosis which would be validated by all of the several post-diagnosis clinicians with whom I worked afterwards. Furthermore, she exposed the missing puzzle piece that had eluded me for 40 years, which finally addressed many lingering questions for which I had longed for answers up until then.
One more clinician, with whom I work to this day, is noteworthy. She is a speech language pathologist (SLP) affiliated with an organization called Social Thinking. The mission of Social Thinking is to assist people in the development of social competencies so that they may live better lives. It is a methodology that brings structure and logic to the rules that govern social interactions, making them easier to understand. In this regard, Social Thinking has been greatly beneficial to me, because my Asperger’s profile favors structure over that which is nebulous and difficult to pin down. The results have been nothing less than transformative: greater self-awareness and awareness of others, a significantly enhanced ability to consider other people’s perspectives, greater fluency with nonverbal communication, a better understanding of the connection between how others treat us and how we feel about ourselves, and the list could go on. The extent of my personal growth while working with my SLP and the Social Thinking methodology has been second to none relative to all of my other behavioral healthcare experiences.
All told, I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have been able to take advantage of the clinical opportunities that were afforded to me. I am considerably more adept at functioning as an autistic person in an essentially non-autistic world than I would be had it not been for these clinicians. To all of them, I express an impassioned “thank you!"
Sam Farmer wears many hats, among them father, husband, musician, computer consultant, and autism spectrum community contributor. Diagnosed later in life with Asperger’s Syndrome, he writes blogs, records coaching videos, and presents at conferences and support groups for the Asperger/Autism Network. In this fashion, Farmer aims to share stories, ideas and insights as to how one can achieve greater happiness and success in life despite the challenges and adversity which both autistic and non-autistic folks often face. His debut memoir, "A Long Walk Down a Winding Road: Small Steps, Challenges, & Triumphs Through an Autistic Lens" is now available.