Depression is indeed a mood disorder, but is more than feeling “down” and can develop into a serious medical condition. Treatment in the form of medication and therapy is necessary. Symptoms can include feelings of emptiness, loss of interests, abuse of alcohol and/or drugs, thoughts of suicide, change in cognitive abilities and sleep patterns, physical health problems.
Causes can include childhood trauma, family history, brain structure, low self-esteem, other mental conditions, and stress.
Lars has a major depression, for me it’s a consequence of my ASD.
What exactly is ASD?
ASD stands for Autism Spectrum Disorder and affects about 1% of the global population. It is basically a neurological disorder for which there is no cure. Because the nerve cells of the brain are organized in a different way, people on the spectrum experience the world in a unique way.
What used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome now also falls under the name ASD. An aspie basically processes information entering the brain differently; they see, smell, taste, hear, touch, and think unlike persons who are not on the spectrum. Each aspie is unique, since there are no fixed symptoms.
How does ASD affect me?
These are the symptoms I suffer from. There are traits that I share with other aspies and others that are unusual:
- Hyperfocus: a very common symptom. It’s a very intense form of concentration usually on a limited number of subjects, which differ from one aspie to another. I hyperfocuse on movies, travel, art, and photography and will (try to) direct any conversation to these themes. Like other aspies, I don’t like small talk and find it hard to talk about other subjects.
- Problems with social interactions: one of the most common traits. I find it hard to “read” people (interpreting body language) and seem to be unaware of social conventions and therefore disregard them. Greeting people and making appointments for example can be very difficult for me, since I don’t know what to say and/or how to behave. Moreover, I avoid telephone calls whenever possible. Finally, I cannot keep eye contact for a long time.
Remark: I tend to understand things literally and therefore sometimes struggle with sarcasm and jokes. Things that are implied are not always clear for me. “It’s hot here” is a remark about the temperature, not a request to open a window or put the heating down.
- Hypersensitivity: also a common symptom. I am hypersensitive to touch and sound. Being touched by an unknown person (like at a hair salon or in a hospital) is torture for me. And I cannot stand loud noises, from a balloon popping to firecrackers. Loud people talking is also a challenge. When a person who is not on the spectrum goes to a pub, he will be able to “push” most noises to the background and be able to concentrate on the conversation he is having. I cannot do that and will be overwhelmed by everything that I hear.
- Repetitive behavior/routines: because of my problems in social situations and my hypersensitivity, the world tends to be a chaotic place. Routines help me to cope with this. Everything is a routine: the way I organize my day, do my stuff in the bathroom, eat a pizza, … EVERYTHING. In case something disturbs this behavior, I can suffer from a breakdown.
- Other quirks: I am obsessed with letters and combinations of letters, such as in number plates. Abstract concepts such as philosophy are a challenge for me. Finally, like many other aspies, I find it easier to deal with pets than with humans…
Things not to say or do in the presence of an aspie
- So, you are like Rain Man? Everything depends on where you find yourself on the spectrum. People like the aforementioned character have a low to average IQ, others an average to high one. Nevertheless, I share a couple of traits with “Rain Man”, like an aversion to change.
- You don’t look autistic: There is no such thing as an autistic look! Everybody on the spectrum will see this as an insult. Autistic people experience reality in another way and behave differently, and that’s it.
- Why do you behave like this? Nobody chooses to be autistic! They behave and/or communicate in a certain way because that is how their brain works. Again, it’s a neurological (not a medical one!) disorder for which there is NO cure.
- Are you stupid? Same reaction. Besides, I have an IQ of 124, am a polyglot and own more than 1 university degree. And yes, I am aware that I am different.
- Don’t overreact! Really? After all this explanation, you still don’t understand that the world can be a very intense place for people on the spectrum?
- Are you high-functioning autistic? Nope, nope, nope! Then, you also suggest that there is also something like low-functioning autism. Do you really think that people on the spectrum like this label? Besides, since there is no fixed set of symptoms, you cannot compare them.
But please do this!
- Listen! I and many others on the spectrum are more than willing to explain what ASD is and how you can help us when facing certain challenges.
- Be calm and patient. Since the world can be overwhelming to us, we need some time to process everything.
- Be proactive! Let us know a couple of days beforehand when you want to see/visit/… somebody who is on the spectrum. Our brain then can get used to the change that is coming. I like to go out as well and make excursions and travel, just like anybody else. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this travel website!
- Inform yourself: Let’s face it, it’s a sign that you care about someone on the spectrum! Moreover, I know from personal experience that even a lot of doctors and nurses are unaware of what ASD exactly entails.
And an NT is… ?
Lars is an NT. Although his mind can be chaotic, he is still an NT!
Anyway, a lot of aspies refer to people who are not on the spectrum as NT’s, which stands for NeuroTypical. People whose brains work in the “normal” way. Yes, “normal” way, because I think that normal is just a relative term. And also because what is “weird” for you is “normal” for an aspie. And vice versa!
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