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How It Feels to Be an Autistic Savant

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I knew from a very young age that I was different. As young as 4 or 5. Besides the fact that I had to go to the doctor all the time, I was clumsy. All the other kids’ parents talked about me. They usually used the r-word.

In first grade, I started going to developmental disability services. I was in with all the rest of the kids that had intellectual disabilities. Again, those were not the words used at the time. I went to disability services for the rest of first and second grade.

I missed the whole of third grade in a large children’s hospital in a developmental disability ward. It was no surprise when I got my diagnosis as an autistic savant because I’d already been in with the other autistics in disability services.

This was 1978. It was still a couple of years before autism was introduced in the DSM-2. Most hospitals at the time were still using their own diagnostic codes. The DSM was still just a respected book. It wasn’t used in laws like it is today.

I am an autistic savant. Whereas other autistic people may or may not have intellectual or learning disabilities, a savant has both areas of unusually high ability and learning disabilities.

My learning disabilities are quite clear still to this day. I have motor dyspraxia and a social learning disability. I also was delayed emotionally. Because of the motor dyspraxia, I am very clumsy. My motor coordination is bad enough that it screws up my speech. It’s very noticeable in both my mannerisms and my words. The emotional delay was not on the paper as an intellectual disability. Again it was listed as “that word.”

My social learning disability is much more than a nonverbal learning disorder. It includes social abstract thinking as well as networking. I’ve had many years of training on body language but it has made no difference whatsoever. My social skills score is 56. They did it like an IQ score in the 70s. They don’t do it that way anymore.

Almost every day at the hospital, I learned about emotions. I had no clue what they were. It’s not that I didn’t have them. I didn’t know I was having them. I didn’t know that I was acting the way I was because of them. I didn’t know that other people have them. Therefore I was unable to have empathy at that time. My diagnosis was based on a lack of empathy. It would later turn out to be that I have hyperempathy. Learning my emotions was the biggest reason I was there for the 8 1/2 months.

I am about 12 to 15 years behind in emotional maturity. Around 7 years old, I just stopped maturing emotionally. I started again around 21 or 22 years old. Throughout my 20s, I matured more and more. Still, I was not fully mature until my mid-30s when I finally became an adult emotionally. Throughout my life, I have made much more progress cognitively. Even still to this day at 50 years old, I am not even close to mature for my age. My own emotions can still overstimulate me enough to cause a meltdown.

When I joined a 12-step program, Grow, I matured the most. Grow is a program of growth to maturity. It is when I grew up. Although not everybody knows what they’re looking at, people still notice that I am behind. Most people assume that I’m slow. Some people are shocked that I’m smart enough to talk. I still get called that word to this day.

My emotions are still not mature for my age. Although I’ve come a long way cognitively, I believe I will never be fully mature emotionally.

Getty image by Grandfailure.

Originally published: July 5, 2021
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