Asperger’s: “It’s as if there’s a volcano inside of me…”

By Colin McGregor

A young woman from France who lives in Montreal, working in an intellectual, cultural job, wasn’t diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome until she had come to Quebec as an adult. She was diagnosed in the private sector by a doctor who still recognized Asperger as an “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD).” Here are a few of her observations:

Do you thing that Asperger’s Syndrome is less well understood and less tolerated in France than over here?

Sure, there’s no real understanding of what that is in France, and of neurodivergence in general, which served to stereotype me. I could never suspect my ASD diagnosis with such an approach. Because of this, things were always complicated at school.

I didn’t understand the principle of “hierarchy.” I often spoke up if I thought that the teacher had said something absurd. I was told i was “talking back,” I was “insolent,” without really understanding why.

I am so logical that if you tell me something that is illogical, I will reply to you in the same manner. I had a lot of problems with authority because of that.

In France there’s a certain contempt for children who are a little different. You’re often singled out as someone who is not normal, without thinking that there might be some explanation.

Neirodiversity is an uncommon theoretical domain, one which we don’t talk about . A diagnosis can be seen as a “bunch of excuses” that “make everything okay” for the individual concerned, as if they’re looking to absolve themselves from all responsibility, when they’re just looking to understand what’s going on and acquire the proper tools to navigate society.

I am absolutely certain that Quebecers are more accepting of neurodiversity than are the French.

There are some adults with Asperger’s who say it was a relief for them when they were finally properly diagnosed. Would you like to have been diagnosed before adulthood?

I certainly would have liked to have been diagnosed with Asperger’s sooner in life. With a greater understanding of my mental condition I would not have put myself in the same situations. I know what I can handle and what I can’t handle.

Since you’re communicating from another angle, you’re going to approach things from another angle, so there’s perpetual misunderstanding…

How are you different from others in your thoughts and your reactions?

With someone who’s neurotypical, emotion builds gradually. But with me, emotionally I can go from 0 to 100 in a flash. It’s as if there’s a volcano inside me. In my daily life there are so many absurd things that you can’t always highlight, but that you have to live with. You have to learn to express yourself within a framework that people will accept.

During the three years of COVID I experienced a lot of anger. Every day I was faced with the imbecilities of the rules and of the “masses.” I had a lot of trouble adapting to such large social uphevals, many of which seemed unjustified. It really tired me out.

In my circle of friends and family no one seemed to react in the same way. During those three years I strongly noted how my way of reasoning and my behavior, as well as my reactions, could be different from those of other people.

What sets off such a tantrum for you?

A lot of built-up things can touch off a crisis; especially, important transistions and big changes.

It’s rare to find someone autistic who doesn’t have temper tantrums.

Every time you walk into a room, it’s you who have to adapt. You end up doing it, but at a price. It’s very exhausting to have to navigate through a structure that’s not made for you.

These days I navigate through society pretty well, but it’s not without a cost. Everything is accompanied by a sort of fatigue, and occasionnaly, periods of temper or “depressive” periods.

I’m hypersensitive to cold and hot, to textures, and to sounds. Textures are really important when it comes to clothes and food. For example I don’t like to eat fruit except for bananas, which are agreeable to my senses (no seeds, no juice, easy to peel) and more predictable (less risk of worms or bruises).

Commercial soups are very velvety, and I like them for just that reason. But when I was young my mother’s soups weren’t mixed very well. They were very stringy and I couldn’t eat them, not because of their taste, but because of their texture.

I go out into society and I spend two or three days socializing, navigating through everything well enough. Then I spend three days in bed. It’s a space I feel comfortable in, perfect for my delicate senses. Everything is known, controlled. I eat in bed, I do all sorts of daily activities in bed. Only that after two or three days in bed my body is sort of “rusty,” and I’m in pain in several places because of my bad posture for so long.

How else does your mental state manifest itself in your everyday existence?

In all situations I see people react with a certain resilience. But I often have to say something. Once my mother and I went to Vancouver. We arrived at the airport at dawn, because the flight was leaving at 7 a.m. The agent announced the flight’s cancellation, and said the next flight to the same destination would leave at 10 p.m. Everyone accepted the situation except me. I felt tremendous anger. I said: “How can you do this without trying to find another solution? Without even calling customer service?”

I went on the internet and found out that they didn’t have the right to do that without paying us an indemnity and/or for a taxi to take us back home so we could spend the day there, for example.

I went to see the ticket agent, in a very bad temper. I have less control over myself early in the morning, which didn’t help. I feel more vulnerable. I stood up for my rights with insistence. The agent who “can’t do anything for you, ma’am” ended up putting us on a flight to Vancouver that left two hours after our first flight was supposed to take off.   

The other passengers got nothing. My temper tantrums bring me a lot of problems and social invalidation, but on the other hand, thanks to them, I intensively protect my rights and my rapport with the world.

I would love to have a partner I could stay with all the time. But with my tantrums, because I sometimes feel worn out when something’s not in its habitual order, I end up wearing out the other person, who becomes unable to tolerate the situation.  

Shutdown and Meltdown

Shutdown and meltdown are two manifestations of very different sorts of sensorial overstimulation.

During a shutdown, one feels tired, confused, lost. We no longer understand what is expected of us, our efforts to concentrate come to naught, and our ability to concentrate is reduced. Everything seems difficult and complex: reading, speaking, understanding an instruction, finding an object in a bag… Our capacity for reflection and for decision making are reduced, and even simple tasks seem insurmountable and incomprehensible.

A person in meltdown can appear physically or verbally violent. They can shout, debate, do themselves harm, try to flee. They can cry uncontrollably, and take things out on their environment or on those around them at the time. A meltdown is often very impressive, not in a good way, for those who witness it.

For further information: read this blog

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