AUTISM AND PTSD.

A few months ago, my father asked me to drive him to the mechanic to collect his car that he had taken for a service. In previous years, I would have struggled, but this time I was able to do it. The mechanic was right near my old high school, and my mother could not understand why I was not able to drive past there.

Unlike many movies, such as Fast Times At Ridgemont High, and even The Breakfast Club, for many of us, high school is not the best years of our lives. Yes, adolescence is a time where many want to cast off the cocoon of childhood and discover who they really are, and for some, that might mean experimenting with drugs (legal and illegal) and pushing parental boundaries. For those of us who just wanted to plod along, do our studies and not become involved in that scene, or even weren't invited to parties, school can be difficult. Yes, there are fights between rival gangs (gangs are not necessary criminal, but are a means of forming identity, based upon hobbies (such as skateboarding) styles of dressing, haircuts, and the rest) but some of those rival gangs bully people into conforming with what they want. For many of us in this boat, we emerge scathed by our experiences.

When one hears the term PTSD, one tends to think of war veterans, most commonly, Vietnam Veterans, as veterans of both World Wars were given heroes receptions upon their return, and in Australia, they are feted on the anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli Peninsula. One man noted in Eric Bogle's song, And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, And I looked at the place where my legs used to be, and later, Nobody cheered, They just stood there and stared, were expected, despite physical and mental trauma, to just pick themselves up by their bootstraps and carry on. To outward appearances, they may have, but there were doubtless many offspring of these veterans who copped beltings they didn't necessarily deserve and some of it was paternal anger not at transgressions but suppressed memories of wars. And needless to say, some drowned their sorrows with excessive quantities of alcohol.

Vietnam Veterans, however, would benefit from counselling that was offered, as the world had moved on, yet, this was belated in coming as many returned home, not to heroes receptions, but rotten fruit, animal dung, saliva and abuse from people who lined the streets.

I can remember, 20 years ago, when a former prisoner-of-war wanted to hold a convention at a golf club owned by a Japanese company. The following week, a former POW from Changi wrote a scathing letter saying that the thought of them hearing a Japanese voice would stress them. When I read it, I could not understand why they would react like that, and asked why didn't they realise that any Japanese they would see there, let's assume the drinks waiter is Japanese, the drinks waiter probably wasn't born at the time they were prisoners-of-war, and the drinks waiter was not responsible for their experiences.

I, myself, have heard and read stories of prisoners of war, and some of them were able to check any hatred they had out upon release, some bore no malice towards the former enemy and others changed over time, while some took their hatred and bitterness to the grave with them. Knowing what we know now, I am wondering if some of those former POWs were, in fact, on the autism spectrum.

One of the gifts of being on the autism spectrum can be a long memory, even being able to recall what one was doing on a set date, at a set time. Today, I saw something about differential diagnosis of PTSD and autism, and I thought, well, you probably can't say that a person doesn't have autism, but they have PTSD, instead, but there is overlap. In my case, I was diagnosed with PTSD at 30, but, at 35 was also diagnosed as autistic. The fact that I am autistic made me a target for bullies, and I have many memories of being abused that I can't easily shake. I know I become agitated when I hear excited sports commentary or people speaking with false American accents to try to sound cool. The reason for this is that when I was in Years 8 and 9 at school, I was tormented by a kid who would speak, at times, with a fake American accent to try to sound street smart and while I was trying to eat my lunch, he was deliberately and non-consensually bouncing a basketball on my head. I told him to stop, but he wouldn't, and I spelt out R-A-C-K-O-F-F, to which he replied, Ooh, rack off, and continued to speak like an excited sports commentator every time he landed it on my head.

I would say that autism can make you more vulnerable to developing PTSD, and acts as a co-morbidity, not a differential diagnosis, and let us not forget that many of us autistics also have co-morbid mental health concerns and unlike neuro-typical PTSD, autistic PTSD NEEDS to be handled differently.

Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.