Life on the Spectrum

Autistic people are usually divided into “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” with nothing in-between. Some children are considered low-functioning and then, after therapy and intervention, they are considered high-functioning. No one is ever described as “moderate-functioning” or “medium-functioning.” A person who can’t talk, even if he or she can care for themselves, would be considered low-functioning.

I am considered high-functioning. I have a job. I live by myself. I pay my rent and my bills. I go to work every day. I care for two cats.l have a boyfriend. I can navigate my way around town on the bus. I can even go out of town on the bus.

On the other hand, I can’t clean my apartment. I have great intentions of cleaning my apartment, but somehow I just don’t do it. I need supervision to keep me from sitting down and surfing the internet or the TV channels or getting sidetracked by an interesting piece of paper.

I am very reluctant to move outside my comfort zone. I never try anything new. I seldom go anywhere I’ve never been before, at least not by myself. I can’t handle loud noises. I have meltdowns if I have to endure the sound of my next-door neighbour’s stereo coming through my wall. I cannot tolerate noise, and I get agitated very easily.

I suffer from anxiety, especially when it comes to telephones. I get such terrible anxiety that I cannot use the phone to make an appointment with my doctor.

I have a processing problem, and I don’t always process instructions very quickly. With verbal instructions, I usually have to have them repeated. Sometimes when I have printed instructions I have to reread them several times before I understand them, but I’m better with written instructions than with verbal ones. I work best when someone shows me how to do something. I would never do well on a game show because I cannot process the answer to a question quickly. I might know the answer, but it will take me a while to retrieve it from my memory banks.

I get stuck. For the last three days I’ve been telling myself I am going to take a couple of bags of returnable cans and bottles to the recycling depot to get some money back for them. I’ve told myself I’m going to go to the mall and buy a lightbulb for the lamp in my front room that takes a very unusual and specific type of lightbulb that isn’t available in very many places. I’ve told myself I’m going to go to the vet’s office and buy another bag of food for my cats. Yet I’ve done none of these things because I simply do not want to leave my apartment. It’s not due to anxiety; I don’t have agorophobia. I just can’t be bothered to get off my rear end and motivate myself.

I lose things constantly. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been searching for a couple of receipts that I need for my taxes, and I have no idea what I did with them. I don’t put things in safe places — either that, or I don’t remember where those “safe places” are.

I do have friends, but I’ve become so gun-shy after being rejected so many times by people I thought were friends that I seldom make the first move, and I wait for other people to make it. I’m flattered when they do, but I worry that they will stop if I don’t reciprocate.

I have a short temper. I get frustrated easily, and I do not deal well with frustration. Frustration is something that can cause me to blow up more often than anything else.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I am classified as high-functioning. Fortunately, I can take care of myself; unfortunately, that means that I don’t get any help with these problems. They are not considered serious enough for me to receive any assistance. There is medication for anxiety, but of the ones I’ve tried, I can’t deal with the side effects. Therapy is not covered by my medical insurance, and I can’t afford to both take time off work to go to therapy as well as pay for the therapy itself.

Could I pay for someone to clean house for me? My kind of cleaning isn’t the kind that is normally done by housekeepers. When it comes to vacuuming and mopping floors and wiping off countertops, I can do that. What I have trouble with is making space on the floors and the counters so that they can be washed; garbage, unwashed dishes, and un-put-away food packages litter every surface in my kitchen. In my bedroom, clothes are everywhere. In my living room, it’s books and DVDs. Paper is everywhere. Yesterday I took out a full bag of paper to the recycle bin, and I have another bag wating to go. I’m physically capable of doing the work, but it seems as if there is a switch in my brain that is currently set to the “off” position.

Can therapy help with these kinds of problems? I don’t know, because I’ve never tried it. There is no therapy offered for autistic adults where I live unless you can pay $100 an hour for it.

Really, “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” are not very well defined. A person might not be able to talk and yet able to clean an apartment. I can talk just fine, but I can’t clean my apartment. I think that when it comes to autistic people, there are some deficits we all have in common, such as social and communication deficits, but otherwise, we are all different from each other and have abilities and disabilities in different areas.

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