11/17/2015 03:49 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2016

I Can't Fake It Until I Make It -- I'm Autistic

I actually announced that I was diagnosed with autism on Facebook a year ago. It wasn't my style to covertly share something of this nature with a few intimate contacts behind closed doors. I had turned 41 and I wanted the world to know and feel sorry for me or take note of my achievements in spite of seemingly unfavorable odds and a turbulent professional and personal life history. 

I certainly had mixed feelings about the diagnosis, but if anything I was angry. I was angry with family and friends for not recognizing that my apparent quirkiness was a pathology or a difference rooted in biology. I was angry that so many professionals missed what a few others could see so clearly.  I was angry that a condition, which is commonly discussed among lay people and the medical community went undetected for over 40 years.

I was, however, relieved to learn that my idiosyncrasies were things that could be attributed to factors outside of my control.  As a consequence, a diagnosis took some of the responsibility off my shoulders and it relieved me of the compulsion to conform. It's not that I didn't or don't want to conform, but with the diagnosis I accepted that I can't.

Following my announcement, some people were probably surprised and for the more astute, my declaration may have reaffirmed suspicions. Not one person commented publicly. Some who were surprised sent me private messages.

I had been treated for Attention Deficit Disorder after enrolling in graduate and professional school programs.  But my ability to competently interact with people was probably always in doubt.  

In retrospect, it took a lot of energy for me to put on an act, and I didn't do it very well.  Neurologically typical people simply have to show up to a social encounter, whereas autistics have to consciously think about what they are going to do and say moment-by-moment. Social interactions can be very stressful and exhausting and for some on the autism spectrum, they may never go according to plan.  Of course, as in my case, there are moments where social engagements leave me feeling like I can fit in, but undoubtedly there will be challenges both professionally and personally where I wont.   

Unfortunately, people don't come up and hand you a critique of your emotional or social intelligence.  They, including friends and family, talk about your lack of etiquette behind your back. They will tell you they don't, but they do. It is human nature.  

With limited ability to read nonverbal cues, you retrospectively pick up on the fact that something isn't right. As in my case, and in the case of many with high functioning autism you go through life not really understanding why there seems to be so many hurdles when you have some gifts and are otherwise poised to contribute to society.  But you do realize that you somehow don't fit in. 

A lot of people dismiss labels, including many parents of autistic kids and autistic adults, themselves.  I guess if you were diagnosed at a young age and have spent your life assimilating, you might be offended by a label. But when you are diagnosed as an adult, having been unable to explain a roller coaster ride of a life, you very much appreciate the label.

Regardless of where you lie on the autism spectrum, you lack empathy. You may have all the compassion in the world, but you can't understand another person's experience from their perspective.  Being unable to read nonverbal cues is just a symptom of this lack of empathy.

Noted clinician and autism expert Dr. Kathy Marshack said, "Empathy explains it all when it comes to Asperger's Syndrome. Regardless of where an individual falls on the autism spectrum, lack of empathy is the defining characteristic. Empathy is that ineffable skill of reading between the lines, knowing where the other person is coming from, sizing up the context and speaking in a way that respectfully cares for the feelings of others.  Without empathy the autistic person is left in an isolated and disconnected world. They may feel compassion, sympathy and love without a clear way to express it to others with a few simple words or a look.  "High Functioning Autism" is such a misnomer.  What good is it to be brilliant, talented, well-educated or good looking, if you can't connect with others in a way that makes them feel acknowledged and cared for... and want to love you back?"