When My Autism Was Misdiagnosed as Anxiety


Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Four things happened in my life when I was 19 years old, all in rapid succession. My mother died of lung cancer. I got pneumonia and was hospitalized for three days. I had epileptic seizures, the first and only (knock on wood) seizures of my adult life. And just after my time in the hospital, I was referred to a psychiatrist and misdiagnosed. I saw him for all of about 15 minutes, and he diagnosed me with social anxiety disorder and gave me a prescription.

So there I was, on the edge of childhood, given a drug I was not prepared for. I’m not going to say I didn’t have anxiety problems. I did. I was quiet and withdrawn at times. I didn’t have a lot of friends. I could talk endlessly about a few subjects that interested me, but there were many things I didn’t know how to talk about very well and I missed some social cues. I didn’t know then what I know now. That psychiatrist I saw for 15 minutes could have tested me for autism. He could have looked at my medical history and seen I had childhood epilepsy and that I was born when my mother was over 40. Both of those things sometimes tend to correlate with autism. But he didn’t test me. He gave me a drug.

I’m not against prescription drugs. But it didn’t help me. What it did was make me no longer myself. I almost failed out of college because I didn’t care. I didn’t feel like going to class, so I just didn’t go. I also became an aggressive hugger. Now hugs are great, I like hugs. I’m not talking about hugging a friend. I started giving great big hugs to strangers, especially women I just met. And sharing all sorts of inappropriate things I won’t go into here. I consider myself lucky that nothing bad happened to me.

The point is that the pills didn’t make me less anxious. They just sort of messed me up. I stopped taking them after a few months, not because I realized what was happening; I didn’t realize it until later. I stopped taking them because my insurance didn’t cover them and they were expensive. I don’t know what that doctor was thinking, but the fact that we autistics can be misdiagnosed so easily scares me a little.

What can we do?

Spread the word. Let people know we’re out there. Sometimes autism looks like other things and misdiagnosis can be problematic.

Getty image by Ivan Balvan.


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