We had moved for the fifth time in around six years, and I was floundering, yet again. I had always had trouble making and keeping friends. I tend to say all the wrong things, do the wrong things, and in my attempt to be more like everyone else, my quirky and repetitive behaviors come shining through.
In 36-years I have become the champion of hiding my symptoms. When I tell people about it, a lot of times, I get, “are you sure? I just don’t see it.”
Most people see autism and think that the only people who have autism are little boys, and those little boys never grow up. They don’t see that girls have autism, and they are the most under-diagnosed population in America with the condition. They are especially surprised that I’m married, have children, and seem “normal” in every sense of the word.
Everyone has their personal issues, right? Doesn't every military spouse feels the same as I do?
My journey to diagnosis started soon after my son was diagnosed on the spectrum. I had read a book called “The Out Of Sync” child. I realized that many of the symptoms that children with sensory processing disorder are similar symptoms I had had as a child.
I didn’t sleep well. There were fabrics I could not stand to wear, they would affect me so severely I would pick at my skin. Foods I can’t stand to eat because of their texture makes me gag. I was in constant motion. I would find ways to move. If I couldn’t move, my inability to concentrate would increase, and I would become moody and even mean. I would easily become over-stimulated in social situations. When that happened, I would go into my bedroom, shut the door and pace. As young as I could remember, any time I became over-stimulated, I would close my door to my bedroom, and pace for hours. Walking one way touching the wall, turning around and walking the opposite direction. I n the home I grew up in, the pacing was so severe, that my hand print is imprinted on the drywall.
Like Hank in the show “Parenthood,” the more I read about my son’s condition, the more I saw myself.
I started reaching out for help. I went to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Like just about every other military spouse I knew, I was put on anti-depressants.
The anti-depressants only made my symptoms worse -- I was unable to concentrate, I still couldn’t sleep, I started gaining weight, and the sexual side effects were more than I could take. I went off of them within the first two weeks of starting them. I figured I could handle my symptoms on my own. And I did, until we moved to Eglin Air Fore Base, Fla. My symptoms then became so apparent that my parents called an intervention and encouraged me to go see someone.
I saw a neuropsychologist in Destin, Fla. I was told our first session that I was most assuredly not depressed -- other than the depression that comes with 30 years of pretending to be something I am not.
I am not neuro-typical.
The diagnosis came like this, “have you ever thought about autism?”
I told the doctor, “I live, breath, eat, sleep autism. My son has it.”
"And you have it too,” he said.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. For the first time, I felt like I understood the "why" of me.
After reading so many blog posts and meeting other women like me I realized that I was not alone in my journey. There were other women who had experienced the same thing I have.
A few years after my formal diagnosis, celebrities started coming forward. First it was Darryl Hannah. She said in a People Magazine interview that she was diagnosed as a child. Then Britain’s Got Talent star, Susan Boyle, was diagnosed well into her 50s. Online, I met another autism mommy, and military spouse Rachel Kenyon, and we have been communicating about our journey for a year now.
Since I have come out of the autism closet, I still get a lot of negative comments. I have been told that I was irresponsible for having children. I have been told that I really don’t have autism, that I’m a really sick individual for claiming that I do have autism. I even lost a dear friend over my autism diagnosis.
Through this, I have learned a few very important lessons. Autism does not define who I am, but it does explain why I am the way I am. Still, I am solely responsible for my actions. I can help educate others that the face of autism grows-up, and that some children on the spectrum given the love and support of a great family and friends can thrive with a diagnosis.
Finally, by coming clean about my diagnosis and experience, I can maybe help one more person get diagnosed and the appropriate help.
Jodi Vetter is 37 (soon to be 38, shh don't tell anyone, her kids still think she's 21), a veteran and military spouse. She is the coordinating editor for American Military Autism Support blog, a semi-professional author, a mom to two children, an advocate for adults and children on the spectrum and an avid runner. In her spare time she sleeps and eats.