"There were numerous indications that [he] is occasionally losing contact, failing to maintain his attention."
"Though he was quite friendly and talkative, the message of his spontaneous conversation was not always clear."
"He has a history of panic attacks with hyperventilation, hand flapping, screaming [...] His sleep pattern is quite erratic and changes from night to night."
"Since his infancy he was a very rigid child that never liked to be cuddled and be close to others."
"He has a history of flapping, rocking, spinning, staring into the mirror and talking with his own picture."
"[H]e got really upset; this escalated to the point where he went to the corner of the room behind his study carrel and cried, putting his head down on his knees, wrapping arms around his legs."
"[H]is temper tantrums are getting increasingly worse and more frequent."
"[H]is mood changed as a dark cloud suddenly covers the sunlight."
I Hear Something
Give me a minute, I need to find the button to turn off the ominous music...
It can be a frightening experience, delving into behavioral files. Even more frightening when they're your own. My first intention in going back over them was to find the psychologist's report that finally mentioned Asperger's Syndrome. In the process, while I got a few chills at the incident reports and worries of the doctors, I found something else. Let me show you...
"[He] is a delightful young man of excellent intellectual potential whose neurophysical profile highlights difficulties involving modulation of attentional processes, language formulation, and graphomotor output." Translation: "A pleasant, smart boy. Easily distracted, weakness in speaking, and his handwriting needs much improvement." Basically the doctor is explaining that I can go places with my smarts, though I have to overcome some problems getting words to come out of my mouth, onto a handwritten note, or keeping my -- SQUIRREL!!!
"Tim enjoyed chorus. He gets along well with these students." The magic behind music, someone once said, is that the rhythm simulates a heartbeat. Slow music soothes you, and fast music invigorates you, because your mind imagines your heart beating at the same pace. That makes sense. Not that I think that's all there is in music; lyrics in songs, the particular instrument chosen (after all, you can scrape a rake on a chalkboard with rhythm, it's still not music), the mood of the listener, the mood of the artist, all combine.
Remember those temper tantrums, the ones from the quotes above? School tried time-outs, and would not let me leave to the next class, to go home, until I was calm. In other words, they interrupted my daily schedule. My mother used a different type of time-out, sitting me down in the master bedroom (away from toys and television) and playing Mitch Miller. I was still interrupted from my routine, but in school I had silence and boredom in which to brood. The music, at home, distracted me just enough. As a Star Trek fan, I could allude to the episode, "Dagger of the Mind" as an example, albeit (considering the villain's fate) a rather dark one.
Singing and listening to music are a great release for me. I love the lyrics and the poetic imagery, I enjoy the instrumentals for their own values, and I have a very wide range of musicians in my playlist. New age, classic rock, metal, electronica... put my iPod on shuffle, and you could hear Enya segue into Ozzy who leads into The Dubliners. Enya was my first real collection; I try to collect all of her music. That led to me sampling other new age artists, including Yanni and Lorena McKennitt. When I started to seriously commute, though, new age stations were in short supply. I started to take on classic rock, Bruce Springsteen and Meatloaf dominating my albums.
Music, on top of inspiring a lot of my writing (Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf, and A Night With the Jersey Devil by Springsteen inspired the overall plot of my current project), has been a release for me. It's also introspective. Chances are you've heard at least a selection from Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and, no doubt know where I'm going. Yes, it could be about self-imposed imprisonment brought on by drug use, but then the beauty of music and poetry is that someone could see something hidden in the words that speaks to them.
Music, though I don't sing professionally, has helped me to relax, to be creative, to look into myself. To be brave, even. I'm the one who was crazy enough in college to get up on stage each time there was a karaoke night even if it was just to do my signature piece. And what was that? Oh, just a little Billy Joel.
"Tim was chosen to be part of the spelling bee." Why is this special to me? Yeah, obviously. Writing. Well, then there's the fact that for that moment, I was in front of peers, and doing something that I was good at, something that I was cheered on for. I came in second place that time, and still was thrilled as ever to have been given the chance.
"Tim spoke in a fluent, coherent, goal directed voice. There was little modulation of his mood and affect." Of all situations, by the way, what made me look at my tone of voice was a point when I was describing a scene from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (I made it the featured quote). My mother, listening in, heard the re-telling fall short and advised me to stress: "He? I thought you came in with a she." That still pops up in my head whenever I think about my tone of voice, which I -- unlike many -- consciously do.
And last: "Very clearly, Tim demonstrates a life history that is most consistent with the autistic/pervasive developmental disorder perspective. What is atypical about him in his presentation is his relatively high intelligence. Most autistic or pervasive developmental disorders have below normal intellectual functioning." This evaluation comes from early 1994, two years after AS was added to WHO's diagnostic manual and the same year that it was added to the DSM-IV. I was thirteen at the time, two years older than the average age of diagnosis. Parents have noted that they had seen signs in their children from just under three years old (30 months) and on. Before the schools had been told at separate times that they were dealing with schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder (not specifying hyperactivity), childhood/teenage depression, or obsessive compulsive disorder. Some of the diagnoses my parents accepted as possible. One doctor who said I was depressed went merely by the fact that my mother mentioned my anxieties focused on death (the preoccupation itself -- either in fear or curiosity -- has been identified in other AS cases). I was given different medications but rarely stayed with them more than a year. Teachers tried methods tailored to the conditions they were told I had, but they fell flat.
Even after the diagnosis, the concept was alien to so many school officials; they expected more severe, more identifiable symptoms. Where was the flapping? Where was the reptition? I grew out of the first, the second was subtle. I was not what someone was used to seeing when they heard "Autism." And yet, the diagnosis was almost exactly as old as Kanner's "autistic aloneness." How could they help this boy?
To find out, let's look at the journey of the first pioneers, Hans Asperger, and Leo Kanner...
Studying the Barrier: Leo Kanner and Autism