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When My Autism Was Misdiagnosed as Anxiety

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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 I was quiet and withdrawn at times.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.

Originally published: June 20, 2018
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