Adults and Autism

Adults and Autism

I was recently diagnosed with autism. It surprised me at first, and I was pretty emotional. But after a few days I felt like myself again. I realized that this new information didn’t necessarily change anything. It absolutely didn’t change me as a person. But it does give me a new light to see my life and my behaviors.

There’s lot of information and experience available to people like me who are diagnosed with autism as adults. But it’s a pretty new field. The Centers for Disease Control didn’t release information about adults and autism until 2020. They estimated that just over 2% of adults in the United States have autism. I also learned that autism was “officially” classified as a mental disorder in the U.S. in 1980, but only as something that affected kids. I was a kid in 1980. I thought my problem was anxiety and hyperactivity.

Now that I have this diagnosis, I can see a lot of my behaviors – like difficulty communicating with people, missing cues, and fixating on things – all showed signs of autism.

Autism could also be one of the reasons why I have always liked to take apart and fix cars, watches, computers, and anything electronic. I can absolutely relate to the experience of an electronics engineer who received a late autism diagnosis. His name is Karl, and he said, “I’ve been interested in anything mechanical, electrical and especially electronic since very early childhood. That is now recognized as an autistic special interest, but back then, barely anyone knew anything about autism.”

People who are diagnosed as adults also talk about feeling out of place socially for their entire lives. Again, I can definitely relate. When I worked as a mechanic in the shop, I never felt like I truly belonged with the group. There are several reasons for this, but I wonder if one of them is autism.

This feeling out of place was a big motivator for me to find my own career path and start Lemon Squad.

Autism played an important part in why and how I built the company. I like building things, seeing how they fit together, and that applies to business, too. (I talk a lot more about it in my memoir, Born to Build.) I think autism also gave me the ability to focus really well on certain things, even to the point of perseverating. This kind of thinking, along with my anxiety, meant I worked my tail off. Again, really helpful in building a successful business.

As a business owner, I sometimes struggled to communicate with customers and inspectors. Autism could have played a role in this, too. Over time I learned better interpersonal skills, but it was intentional. I burned a lot of bridges, though, and have begun trying to right some of those wrongs.

The good news is that, instead of blaming myself, I can accept that this is just how my mind works. I can take responsibility for my actions in a whole new way. 

And Regan can understand there's a real reason my laundry skills are not up to par. (I get a free pass on life for now – I’ll take it for as long as I can!)

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