Well not, really autism, but a condition that is called Aspergers, or some like to refer to it as Autism-Lite. I am not like Raymond in Rainman, I don’t have the innate ability to read cards and cheat in Las Vegas. I’m not like Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, I’m not overly smart, nor am I a scientist. I am not what very many people consider as a classic case of autism.
I can talk, quite a lot about varying topics such as Star Wars, running, the weather, and what ever topic strikes my fancy at this very moment.
I am social.
I have children.
So, what makes me autistic and why am I sharing this with you?
I have a set of symptoms that according to the DSM-IV qualify me as autistic (though the votes out with the DSM-V, but I’m going with the DSM-IV diagnosis made a few years ago).
First of all, I have listening comprehension issues. At random times and intervals I cannot control, I will tune out of conversations, this doesn’t just include when people are talking to me, but it even happens when I watch movies and television. I will often watch television shows over and over again to understand completely what happened and what is going on.
I will also “tune out” sometimes when I’m speaking. This tuning out is what prompted me to go “get help” in the first place. I tend to tune out more during times of extreme stress. When my husband was on an extended TDY, we started having issues with my son’s school, and one day my mother told me that for about half of my phone calls I didn’t make sense. I will just stop mid-sentence, and move on to another topic.
I also have extreme sensory issues. There are certain fabrics I cannot wear, because they pick at me. I can’t go on rides because of the lack of control. I don’t like being touched or hugged except by very few people, in very limited circumstances (sometimes even my kids make my skin crawl when they touch me).
Two years ago, I went to a neuro-psychologist and got a formal diagnosis. When I went, I thought that maybe I would be diagnosed with depression (again), or ADD, or even ADHD. But the neuro-psychologist confirmed the Aspergers diagnosis.
This diagnosis has brought me some sense of freedom, but it has also caused a lot of issues. I lost friends when I told them of my newly found diagnosis. Many of the friends I lost, think that the neuro-psychologist is wrong, that there is no way I could have autism. I have many of the same symptoms as depressive disorder. Well, there’s a problem with that is that I’m lacking a really big symptom—sadness. I don’t feel sad at all.
Right now, I’m going through a particularly bad deployment, and a LOT of stuff has happened the last 180-days, but even so, I don’t feel depressed, down, or even remotely negative. Not saying that it is not hard, this is incredibly difficult, but in general I have a positive attitude about the whole thing. Many friends that have left me have children with autism, and they think that I’m lying, or over-stating my symptoms.
For a time, even my mom thought it was a mistake. She moved in with me after she retired and has since said, “yes, you are autistic.”
Now, you may ask, why do I make this very private part of my life public? I have opened myself up to a lot of criticism, specifically in regards to having children. Why would someone who is genetically predisposed to autism have children? I found out I had autism after I had my children, it was a little bit too late to take that one back. Furthermore, I’m perfectly capable of taking care of my children, I have learned how to adapt to my condition, I have been adapting to it for 37-years.
The reason I have come out of the proverbial closet is there are more of “us” than you realize. The “us” I refer to is women in our 20s, 30s, and 40s, who have worked, gotten married, and have children. People with autism are not the stereotypical men mentioned earlier in the article, who are barely able to function in social circumstances. What’s even more alarming is that there are quite a few of us married to military personnel. There are quite a few of us women diagnosed with conditions like autism, ADD, and ADHD.
Some of us are navigating the military health care system with children on the spectrum. I’m amazed by the behavioral, occupational therapies our children receive, yet there is nothing for us. When I first started trying to get help for my symptoms, I was diagnosed with post-partum depression. The second time, I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, and after that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was given anti-depressant after anti-depressant without having the hallmark symptoms of any of these conditions! There are behavioral treatments and therapies not available to adults with autism. Drugs like Ritalin and Clonidine that help our children, could also benefit us. Doctors are not afraid to diagnose our children with autism, yet they hesitant to diagnose us.
So I ask you, are you a military spouse with spectrum disorder, like autism or ADHD or ADD, and not being treated appropriately for such a condition, please comment below. Maybe if we unite and come at Tricare with one voice, we could get necessary services for us to function in society.
Jodi Vetter is a veteran and military spouse. She has been married 16 years and has two wonderful children. In 2011, Jodi was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. Her son, Ryan (9), also has autism. She has made it her life’s work to advocate for adults and children on the autism spectrum. She is currently working on a memoir documenting her experiences as a veteran, military spouse, and woman with autism. She is also published in Chicken Soup For Soul: Raising Kids On The Spectrum and her poetry has been published in different magazines and college publications. In her spare time she enjoys running marathons, half marathons, and other endurance sports, stand up paddleboarding, and Crossfit. Read more of her work on her blog!