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When My Husband Was Diagnosed With Asperger's At Age 34

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Editor's Note

This story has been published with permission from the author’s husband.

My husband sits on the edge of our bed, inside-out sock in his hand. He is picking all the fuzzies and pills from the foot of a white sock, dandruffing the brown carpet underneath him. I’ve never known anyone who takes this long to put on socks and shoes.

This is something Jared has always done — since he can remember — but now we know why. In October 2016, when Jared was 34 years old, we found out he has Asperger’s syndrome.

According to his mother, Jared was always a finicky child, even from the time he was a baby. The “bumps in his socks” was a common joke amongst his family, because no one really understood why something so simple and seemingly insignificant could be debilitating enough to keep him from going to school. I mean, it’s irrational; it just doesn’t make sense.

But this was, and is, Jared’s reality.

As a middle schooler, Jared was diagnosed with ADD, which was the closest explanation of his difficulties in the mid-1990s. While ASD and ADD have some similarities, the wrong symptoms were being addressed, so Jared and his family never learned how to care for his true needs. However, even from a young age, he realized he was different from other children and felt like there was something “wrong” with him.

Jared learned to be social because being himself made others feel uncomfortable; his differences were never embraced. This led to him bottling everything up — overstimulation, feeling out of place, pain — and trying to control his environment. When he felt too much pressure or out of control, he would explode with anger. The problem was, we never knew when that would happen or what would set it off.

Most of Jared’s jobs have been construction or mechanics-based, both of which are mathematical and detail-oriented, as well as physically demanding. It makes sense that Jared was drawn to these professional fields because of his eye for detail and his ability to laser focus. He can see all the steps of a project in his brain, from start to finish. When he works on a project (at his job, working on his 1967 Firebird, building something), he struggles to change his focus without becoming frustrated, like when I interrupt him to talk about my day at work. When he’s in his zone, he can work for hours and hours at a time without even stopping to eat. Sometimes I wish I had a bit of this focus!

His ability to micro-focus can be both a blessing and a curse. Jared has always worked hard to provide for his family, and was willing to take on extra work outside of his normal job so I could finish college or when we needed extra money. I am so grateful. But sometimes he seems unapproachable or unavailable when he’s working, so we’ve had to find a balance and learn to communicate.

Jared also has a disconnect from his body; he doesn’t interpret sensory information — light, sound, pain — like most people. Since all his senses “hurt” him, his true pain from hard labor and legitimate injury were swept under the rug. After years of overworking his body, his brain and his emotions, my husband learned he isn’t invincible. A decade plus of this overwork led to a breaking point, and not just physically.

In the spring/summer of 2016, Jared was working on a home remodel project for a friend. He would work upwards of 18 hours per day, hardly eat, and when he was home, he couldn’t even participate as part of the family. He was unstable, but trying to push past it like he always had. Jared knew he wasn’t healthy; he knew something wasn’t right, so we looked for help.

Jared had had an inkling about Asperger’s after reading about it and watching the TV show “Parenthood,” and wanted to start there. We sought a counselor specializing in adult ASD and made an appointment. After several interviews, assessments and questionnaires, he received a diagnosis. I remember Jared getting particularly frustrated with the questions. They seemed vague to him and he has a hard time remembering details of situations when it relates to feelings and emotions. Those questions were hard for him to get through, probably because he has Asperger’s.

What followed the diagnosis was one of the most stressful, confusing and emotionally demanding periods of our lives. From my perspective, we had an answer, and that’s good! We’ll figure this out and be fine in a few weeks.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

To me, a neurotypical person, Asperger’s is just a word that means someone thinks and experiences their world differently. However, a bump in my sock doesn’t feel like stepping on thumbtacks. To Jared, Asperger’s is definitive of his whole life, which was still a mystery to him at 34 years old.

Suddenly Jared had an answer, a reason, as to why he always felt different — why he seemed to overreact in certain situations, why he “needed” five pacifiers as a baby, why he can’t register what the pain from a broken rib indicates, but the tick of a clock feels like “ice picks being jammed into his ears.” Even though there was an explanation, there still wasn’t much clarity. A discovery like this can be a lot for any person to process, but, as I said, Jared was already so unhealthy from overwork and years of bottling everything up that my rehabilitation time-frame of “weeks” was laughable.

We’ve spent many days, nights, weeks and months working through this and figuring things out. Life had to go on the back burner. Our family needed to focus on Jared’s health, and had he not been forced into it, I worry how far he would have pushed himself. He was so overwhelmed that he was in near-constant meltdowns. In the first few months, I sometimes wouldn’t see him for days because he just couldn’t handle anything, and I mean that quite literally.

He has made astounding progress in two years, and I am so proud of him. He still doesn’t have it all figured out, but now I don’t worry so much about the smell of my hairspray sending him into a three-day meltdown.

There is still a lot for Jared, myself and our children to learn about Asperger’s and how to live among it, but we are getting closer to normal every day — whatever that means.

Originally published: April 22, 2019
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