I’ve been seeing my therapist, Jennifer*, for years. I love her. She’s helped me through a lot of hard times and she’s one of the first people I want to talk to when something big happens in my life.
However, there was one time she crossed the line between analyzing and annoying: the time she convinced me I had Asperger’s, a form of autism.
One beautiful summer day, I was talking to Jennifer about a guy I liked whose socially awkward behavior was bothering me.
“Why do you think he acts this way?” Jennifer asked.
“Because he’s a comedian,” I responded. “We’re an awkward bunch.”
Jennifer’s ears perked up. “This brings up a topic I’d like to get into,” she said, eyes full of concern. “I’m trying to think of the best way to put this without upsetting you.” She paused. “I have noticed that you sometimes struggle in social situations. This and a few other things have made me suspect … you may have Asperger’s Syndrome.”
Como se WHAT?! Asperger’s? Seriously? That’s the first time in my 33 years on Earth that someone had suggested my social awkwardness might be a linguistic or cognitive disorder.
“No,” I stuttered, “I mean … It’s just that … I do improv. We’re all like this.”
Jennifer gave me a look that said “the poor deluded thing” and continued, “I want to be clear that I am not qualified to diagnose you, but I just finished reading this wonderful book about people with Asperger’s and several of the stories reminded me of you.” I was thunderstruck at the suggestion there might be a whole new way of conceptualizing problems that I had been struggling with my entire life and I had just never been properly diagnosed. If your therapist thinks you have Asperger’s, you probably have Asperger’s … right?
But wait! I correctly identified the looks she was giving me and the emotions they were attached to — without flash cards! I couldn’t have Aspergers! I mentioned this to her and she told me there are different levels of Asperger’s and she suspected I was on the lower end of the scale. So I was on the lower end of the Asperger’s spectrum, which is on the lower end of the autism spectrum. Did that mean I was two percent autistic? What would that even mean?
I numbly left her office, Asperger’s book in hand, and went home to read it. And I’ll admit, some of the things the author talked about did sound like me. So I went online and took an Asperger’s quiz, just to be sure.
- Question #1: Are you clumsy? Yes.
- Question #2: Do you have a hard time in social situations? Yes.
- Question #3: Do you dislike making eye contact? (sigh) Yes.
I had Asperger’s for sure. I continued…
- Question #4: Do you find it hard to tell the age of people? Not really.
- Question #5: Have you been fascinated about making traps? …What?
- Question #6: Do you feel the urge to peel flakes off yourself and/or others? Okay, test over.
This wasn’t working. I had to go straight to an on-the-autism-spectrum source; I called my friend with Asperger’s, Anne**. I met Anne through improv (where all the awkward people go, apparently) and I noticed right away that there was a little something different about her. For example, ending a conversation with Anne was nearly impossible. I’d say, “Well, this has been fun…” or “Okay, I should probably go…” and she’d keep talking. I’d angle my body away from her and she wouldn’t take the hint. I’d finally have to say to her, “Good night, Anne,” and walk away with purpose before she’d stop. When she later told me she had Asperger’s, my first thought was, Well, of course you do.
“My therapist thinks I have Asperger’s,” I said to Anne, anxious to hear what she’d say.
“Well, you are kinda awkward.”
- Question #7: Do people think you are tactless?
So my therapist thought I had Asperger’s and someone with Asperger’s thought I had Asperger’s. There was only one thing left to do: call my parents.
“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard!” my father hollered. “Your therapist told you that? I can’t believe you actually pay this woman!” There was nothing like a little parental indignation to make me feel more confused.
I returned to the online quiz and at the end was deemed “neurotypical,” meaning I was not on the autism spectrum. I also finished the book Jennifer had given me about Asperberger’s and, while it was very informative, I found very little of it resonated with me.
My conclusion: I don’t have Asperger’s, I am just plain awkward.
At my session with my therapist the following week, I told her that I disagreed with her suggestion that I might be on the autism spectrum. As I broke out my case to her point by point I felt very sure of myself and a little proud of all the homework I’d done. When I finished, Jennifer smiled at me and said, “Maybe you don’t have all the signs of Asperger’s, but you have some of them and I think you should consider it’s a possibility.” She was rejecting my conclusion! Could she really do that?
I want to take this moment to say that I have always been really open to any past diagnoses Jennifer has given me; when she previously suggested I had attention deficit disorder, I read up on it and realized I completely do have ADD. (I have the attention span of a tween on speed.) But this time I did the research and I had neither the signs nor the symptoms. I didn’t have Asperger’s and that was that. However, judging by the look on Jennifer’s face that was not that.
“I don’t have Asperger’s, Jennifer.”
“Let’s not totally dismiss it.”
“But I don’t have it!”
“Why are you so resistant to the idea you have Asperger’s?”
I was confounded. It was like she had just told me, “You only THINK you exist.” Maybe she was inceptioning me? Well, my spinning top was the facts. I wouldn’t let this woman make me think I was something I was not.
I ignored the topic and tried to move on, but Jennifer would bring it up at every session. Soon my confidence began to waiver. How do you not listen to someone who knows everything about you? I mean, my parents have known me longer than anyone, but I wouldn’t tell them half the things I tell Jennifer. I finally had to beg her to stop talking about it.
“Jennifer, please. I do not have Asperger’s. I don’t want to discuss this anymore.”
“Maybe if you…”
“Okay,” she said with the chipper tone of one who doesn’t agree with you, but knows it’s not worth the fight. And that, at last, was that. We moved on to more important topics, like my mother, and she has not broached the subject since.
I’m pretty sure she still thinks I have Asperger’s, though.
*Not her real name.
**Not her real name either.
Lauren Capen is a pseudonym. If you would like to contact the author of this post, send an email to Jessica@TheFrisky.com and it will be forwarded along.