Living On The Spectrum

Living On The Spectrum
Dane La Born

Dane La Born

When I was 19 years old, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. This was before they had decided to umbrella all autism-related things under the broad term “Spectrum Disorder.”

For those of you that aren’t aware, Asperger’s is a very mild, high-functioning form of autism. Someone with Asperger’s will exhibit a lot of the signs of autism without fully withdrawing into themselves. Inability to make eye contact, honing in on one or two interests and basically making it an extension of yourself, trouble reading social cues or facial expressions — all of these are typical traits of Asperger’s.

When I was younger, Spectrum Disorders weren’t really widely known. As a result, I spent most of my childhood diagnosed as ADHD and on the drugs meant to combat that. My Mom asked the doctor if my attention span was my main problem, why was I capable of sitting in front of the television for hours on end and memorize the show? They didn’t have an answer for that, but they did have ritalin, which they wanted me to take three times a day. They essentially gave me speed. You can imagine how terrible I was.

One of the big issues that a lot of people living on the spectrum deal with are things we call meltdowns. For lack of a better descriptor, a meltdown is essentially a tantrum. At the same time, though, there’s a lot more going on. Meltdowns happen when things get to be too much. When there’s a stress or information overload and it builds and builds and builds until you just explode. There’s nothing violent that comes out of it, just screaming and yelling and freaking out for no reason other than not being able to express what you are wanting to express in a calm, normal manner.

As a kid, and even as a teenager, this happened a lot. My Mom just thought I was growing up to be a less-than-stellar person, because remember, we didn’t have any kind of diagnosis. Without the knowledge that one of the big factors in my behavior problems and my problems making and maintaining friends was Asperger’s, it was impossible to try and do anything to help myself. Mom couldn’t take living with that anymore, as she was getting sicker, and I was getting angrier. My meltdowns were a weekly thing during my senior year of high school. Hindsight being 20/20, I know now that the combined stress of my Mom’s declining health, my own failure at school, as well as a handful of other things, contributed in large to the melting down becoming a pattern, though it’s no excuse.

A year passed and the girlfriend I had had broken up with me. I was living with a few of her friends, and things were getting worse than they ever had been. I was combatting the depression from the breakup by using drugs, and once again, the stress and overwhelming nature of my life at that point caused me to explode. The difference was, this time it wasn’t at anyone in my family, it was at people I barely knew. I moved out of the house the same day that happened, ashamed and mortified at my own behavior.

It was at this point I finally started trying to find an answer. I knew it had to be out there, I wasn’t just an abusive person— was I? I was terrified that the answer would end up being that, that I was just like my father, just like my stepfather, just another in a long line of violent, fucked-up men. So I went to a psychologist and I laid it all out. He administered a test and soon after, I had a whopper of a puzzle piece fall into place in my life. Asperger’s.

I need to be very clear here that this is no an excuse. Meltdowns may be a fact of the disorder, but that doesn’t make me devoid of any responsibility in them. There’s a moment, every time it has happened there is a moment in my head where a part of me says “Do you really want to do this? You are supposed to be an adult!” — and when I finally got the diagnosis, that was a part of myself that I began to hear more and more.

However, I am still human, and even when I do everything I can to grow up and make myself better, I make mistakes. When I had a meltdown recently, my friend and roommate decided to move out. This was beyond the dumbest thing I’d ever done, and there is no scenario where my friend deserved the kind of thing he got that day, especially not over the TV show we were arguing about. When I walked away, cooled of, then came back to apologize, he was already packing his things. I was told he didn’t even really believe that I have Asperger’s at all, because I don’t act autistic most of the time, meaning I don’t fit the Rain Man/Abed diagram of autism. But autism is a spectrum, and a wide one at that, and you’d be hard pressed to find very many that match up to what the television has shown you.

That’s the reality of living on the spectrum for me. People say they understand it while it’s all fun and games and comic-book knowledge, but the moment something not-fun happens, they walk away. At the same time, it’s not right for me to expect them to be understanding about my disorder when the thing they are walking away from is essentially a 27-year-old man throwing a temper tantrum. A meltdown means information overload, and while they can be helped most of the time, eventually things will get to be too much, and an explosion will happen. It’s part of the person.

In the end, it’s not the people that walked away that matter though. It’s the people that stick around. It’s the people that see that, that see the ugliest side of you, and still say “You are my friend and I love you.” Thank God my life is filled with those people.

I may have Asperger’s. I may be on the spectrum. But I will never be my disorder alone. I am me, and I do the best I can to be a good person. I suppose that’s really all anyone can do.


Early Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary from one child to the next, but in general, they fall into two areas:

• Social impairment, including difficulties with social communication

• Repetitive and stereotyped behaviors.

Children with ASD do not follow typical patterns when developing social and communication skills. Parents are usually the first to notice unusual behaviors in their child. Often, certain behaviors become more noticeable when comparing children of the same age.

Social impairment

Most children with ASD have trouble engaging in everyday social interactions. For example, some children with ASD may:

• Make little eye contact

• Tend to look and listen less to people in their environment or fail to respond to other people

• Rarely seek to share their enjoyment of toys or activities by pointing or showing things to others

• Respond unusually when others show anger, distress, or affection.

Communication issues

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ developmental milestones, by the first birthday, typical toddlers can say one or two words, turn when they hear their name, and point when they want a toy. When offered something they do not want, toddlers make it clear with words, gestures, or facial expressions that the answer is “no.”

For children with ASD, reaching such milestones may not be so straightforward. For example, some children with autism may:

• Fail or be slow to respond to their name or other verbal attempts to gain their attention

• Fail or be slow to develop gestures, such as pointing and showing things to others

• Coo and babble in the first year of life, but then stop doing so

• Develop language at a delayed pace

• Learn to communicate using pictures or their own sign language

• Speak only in single words or repeat certain phrases over and over, seeming unable to combine words into meaningful sentences

• Repeat words or phrases that they hear, a condition called echolalia

• Use words that seem odd, out of place, or have a special meaning known only to those familiar with the child’s way of communicating.

Even children with ASD who have relatively good language skills often have difficulties with the back and forth of conversations.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis is often a two-stage process. The first stage involves general developmental screening during well-child checkups with a pediatrician or an early childhood health care provider. Children who show some developmental problems are referred for additional evaluation. The second stage involves a thorough evaluation by a team of doctors and other health professionals with a wide range of specialties. At this stage, a child may be diagnosed as having ASD or another developmental disorder.

Children with ASD can usually be reliably diagnosed by age 2, though research suggests that some screening tests can be helpful at 18 months or even younger. Many people—including pediatricians, family doctors, teachers, and parents—may minimize signs of ASD at first, believing that children will “catch up” with their peers. While you may be concerned about labeling your young child with ASD, the earlier the disorder is diagnosed, the sooner specific interventions may begin. Early intervention can reduce or prevent the more severe disabilities associated with ASD. Early intervention may also improve your child’s IQ, language, and everyday functional skills, also called adaptive behavior.

— National Institute of Mental Health

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