There Might be Something Wrong with Me

When I was in elementary school, my parents wanted to know what was wrong with me. Well, maybe that’s a bad way of phrasing it. They didn’t think I was broken, yet they knew I wasn’t normal. So they did what any parents raising kids in the late 80s would do in their situation: they took me to a psychologist to determine why I’m weird. I walked out of the psych office with an ADHD diagnosis and a learning disability that affects the way I read.
in an absence of available pictures of me from 1987, please accept this substitute courtesy of Amblin Entertainment - disclaimer: I was never that cool

One of the tests the doctor asked me to perform was an exercise where I tapped my thumb to each individual fingertip. Starting with the index finder, then the middle, ring, pinky, then reverse to ring/middle/pointer. He explained kids with ADHD struggle with this task while other kids can do it without thinking. I had to concentrate to do complete the test - and even with total focus I still came close to screwing it up a couple times.

These days I can tap thumb to subsequent fingers back and forth at a rapid pace nearly instinctually. It’s a nervous habit for me, a tick I do whenever I’m anxious. If the same shrink who evaluated me over 30 years ago saw me again today, I’m not sure if he’d reaffirm my ADHD diagnosis because I would ace the finger tapping test with unquestionable perfection.

Neurotypical people would describe my compulsive finger taps as fidgeting. For those of us on the autism spectrum, it’s called stimming - or self stimulating. And yes, I said “us” because I have autism too. If my parents wanted to know why I was so quirky, this is why. Perhaps if Reagan era psychology had a better understanding of autism, I would have been given a proper diagnosis. (That’s not to say I don’t have ADHD. ADHD and ASD are frequent co-occurring disorders.)

Stimming helps people with autism regulate themselves. It is great for me in the moment; unfortunately, it is only beneficial while I’m doing it. If I’m unable to reel in my nerves while repetitively thumb tapping my fingers, my nervousness returns as soon as I cease my anxious habit.

I often wonder how different my life would be if the doctors of yesteryear had correctly identified they way my brain worked when my parents took me in to be evaluated. Would I have found adequate support at Pinewood? Would middle school have been more bearable? Would I have been bullied less? Would I have found helpful coping mechanisms in junior high? Would I have fit in with my peers? Would I have been a better student at MPHS? Would I have completed college and garnered a higher paying job? Would I still be who I am now?

My life followed the rough path to here – now grown with the pressures of adult responsibility causing havoc inside my autistic brain. Between parenting three teenagers, a daughter biologically born from a worthless man, and a baby quickly becoming a toddler, my time is often consumed with kids. Then I have a full time dead end job, weekend DJ gigs, a farm requiring daily work, all while trying to maintain this blog and write my first novel. House chores, errands, bills, car repairs, date nights with my wife, maintaining friendships, support groups, doctor appointments, attempting to eat a healthy diet, and manage some semblance of exercise. It frequently feels like it’s all overwhelming.

Much like Elton John, I’m still standing better than I ever did. Fueled by coffee or anxiety, I keep going, looking like a true survivor and feeling like a quirky little hyperactive kid.

Yes, I know I’m weird. It’s not easy being an adult – a thing even more complicated when you’re on the spectrum. I won’t complain though. Autism makes me a better DJ and provides me a unique perspective as a neurodivergent writer. I’m not Ok but it’s OK. There might be something wrong with me but I’m doing fine.

Still, if you see me tapping my fingers, I wouldn’t object to hearing an encouraging remark.