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Jillian Enright

Things That Made Me Go “Duh!”

Realizations I put together to conclude I am Autistic as well as ADHD

Written by Jillian Enright, CYW, BA Psych.

My son and I were each formally diagnosed with ADHD in 2019, and since then, I have been hyper-focused on learning every thing I possibly can about the subject.

Over the past year I started to suspect we may both be Autistic as well, and I’ve had a couple of people hint at it when discussing my son.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time over the past three months researching and writing about conditions that commonly co-occur with ADHD, referred to as comorbidities.

While doing this, I came across more and more similarities between being Autistic and ADHD, and found myself increasingly identifying with Autistic traits.

It’s funny when you take a step back to try to evaluate yourself as objectively as possible (of course it’s impossible to be fully objective, but I find it good practice to try).

There were aspects of myself I previously viewed as just part of who I am, so much so that I rarely noticed them anymore.

There were others that have always been a significant struggle for me, but I first chalked them up as character flaws, then later attributed them to ADHD.

The Final Five

Without further ado, I give you the final five Autistic traits that sealed the deal for me:

  1. Abnormal gait
  2. Prosopagnosia (colloquially called “face blindness”)
  3. Insistence on routine
  4. Autistic meltdowns
  5. Nonconformity

To be clear, I offer descriptions of my personal experiences, as well as information from peer-reviewed academic sources, to explain my understanding of myself.

Autistic people are not homogenous, we are individuals, and everyone’s experience will be different. This is descriptive and not prescriptive.

Abnormal Gait

I have flat feet and walk pigeon-toed (called in-toeing, when you walk with your toes pointed inward). So do a lot of people who aren’t Autistic.

This is definitely not diagnostic by itself.

On its own, it’s just a minor inconvenience for me. I wear orthotics and have been able to play soccer and hockey my entire life, and luckily it hasn’t been much of an issue.

I also have hyper-mobility in my tendons, particularly my ankles, which I roll and sprain on a very regular basis, especially during soccer season. I had no idea that this was also a common comorbidity with Autism.

Again, on its own, this can have a number of different causes and is not diagnostic.

Prosopagnosia

I have a mild form of prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness. I can recognize very familiar faces, those of close friends, family, or teammates I see regularly. However, I even get faces of familiar acquaintances or teammates mixed up if they look similar.

If I’ve only met a person once or twice, I will not recognize their face, and will need context in order to remember it. I may also mix them up with another acquaintance if they have similar features or mannerisms.

I remember once in my teens, I had changed schools and was in a brand new environment, surrounded by new faces. One day early in the school year, I made friends with a short red-headed teen, and we spent a lot of that day hanging out in between classes.

The next day, there was a somewhat tall red-headed teen with a locker near mine, and I started talking to her as if we had spent the previous day together. I was both embarrassed and completely thrown off when she acted like she didn’t know me.

Come to find out, I had mixed her up with another red-head, I just didn’t remember her face, or apparently her height.

Again, something that could easily happen on a rare occasion, especially when meeting a lot of new people and being stressed about starting a new school. In itself, not at all diagnostic.

There are two women on my hockey team — a team I’ve been on for the past three years. Our goalie and another teammate are both blonde, talkative, friendly young moms. I have gotten them mixed up on more than one occasion, despite seeing them every week for the past three years (aside from covid cancellations, of course).

Prosopagnosia is a symptom that has been shown to not overlap between Autism and ADHD. People with ADHD struggle with working memory, but this is very different from struggling to recognize a person by their facial features.

Insistence on routine

I dislike change. My ADHD brain gets bored with routine, but my Autistic brain gets very anxious with disruptions in that routine, or with unexpected changes. I really do not like unexpected changes.

I’m not talking about experiencing minor annoyance at a slight inconvenience, I’m referring to feeling completely blindsided and unable to process what is going on. It takes me a while to mentally prepare for things and if there is a sudden change it can really throw me off.

ADHD and Autistic people may both struggle with transitions and cognitive rigidity, however cognitive inflexibility is found to be significantly greater in Autistic individuals, and to cause greater anxiety in Autistic people.

Which leads me to my next point…

Autistic meltdowns

People with ADHD often struggle with emotional dysregulation, but an Autistic meltdown is different from someone losing their temper or experiencing intense emotions.

I’m speaking from my own experience, but this is what it feels like for me.

I get so overwhelmed that I feel completely out of control. My emotions, my behaviour, everything in my brain reverts completely to survival mode. Depending on the situation, I may be yelling and crying, or withdrawing and isolating.

A temper tantrum may look like yelling, stomping away, and slamming a door, then taking a bit of time to cool off and coming back to apologize a short while later.

A meltdown may last for hours and it can take a very long time to recover. Post-meltdown feels like having a hangover without drinking any alcohol, I usually have a headache and feel completely exhausted.

To be clear, a meltdown is not the same as a temper tantrum, and Autistic people aren’t the only ones who might experience this. A meltdown is not simply someone losing their temper. Some meltdowns don’t involve anger at all.

Sometimes we experience sensory overload (too loud, too busy, too hot, too everything), and if we can’t escape before we’re completely overwhelmed, we go into shut-down mode. It is self-protective and much of it can be outside of our control.

Nonconformity

I’ve always had very strong opinions and strong feelings. I’ve been willing to express my opinion, even when most others disagreed with me, maybe especially then.

I wrote previously about being a “Justice Warrior”, having a black-and-white perspective, and being a stickler for rules. In a more recent piece about Neuroqueering, I wrote about coming out as bisexual and identifying with she/them pronouns, rather than she/her.

In recent years, research has shown that Autistic people are more likely to have gender-diverse preferences, mannerisms, and appearances that fall outside of traditional gender norms.

Growing up I was frequently called a “tomboy” (an out-dated and sexist expression, but I digress). I’ve always loved sports, I’ve always dressed more androgynous than feminine, despite being teased for my appearance growing up. I’ve never had any interest in following trends.

So there you have it. If what I’ve learned over the past few months, in addition to my years of research on ADHD, isn’t enough to out me as proudly Autistic… the fact that I put together the research and wrote an entire article on the subject probably seals the deal.

© Jillian Enright

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References

Baeza-Velasco, C., Cohen, D., Hamonet, C., Vlamynck E., Diaz L., Cravero C., Cappe E., Guinchat V. (2018). Autism, Joint Hypermobility-Related Disorders and Pain. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9, 656. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00656

Gong, L, Liu, Y., Yi, L., Fang, J., Yang, Y., Wei, K. (2020). Abnormal Gait Patterns in Autism Spectrum Disorder and Their Correlations with Social Impairments. Autism Research, 13(7), 1215–1226. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.2302

Kallitsounaki, A., Williams, D.M. & Lind, S.E. (2021). Links Between Autistic Traits, Feelings of Gender Dysphoria, and Mentalising Ability: Replication and Extension of Previous Findings from the General Population. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 51, 1458–1465. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04626-w

Lawson, R. A., Papadakis, A. A., Higginson, C. I., Barnett, J. E., Wills, M. C., Strang, J. F., Wallace, G. L., Kenworthy, L. (2015). Everyday executive function impairments predict comorbid psychopathology in autism spectrum and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Neuropsychology, 29(3), 445–453. https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/2014-43030-001

Suri, K., Lewis, M., Minar, N. et al. (2021). Face Memory Deficits in Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment 43, 108–118. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10862-020-09840-5

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Neurodivergent. 20+ years social work and psychology experience. I write about mental health, neurodiversity, advocacy, education, and parenting. Founder of ADHD 2e MB. CYW, BA Psychology.

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