Am I Autistic?

Reader’s Question

I have been trying to read up about autism because one of my exes asked me if I’d ever been tested for it. I’m not entirely sure what to write here, but some of the things that I do make me see why she asked. I have a somewhat difficult time in social situations, often being what some would consider a little too honest about things, saying what others wouldn’t. I am very good at mimicry, and that’s about the only way I’ve managed to have much of a social life at all. When I hear something that I find particularly amusing or witty, I remember it so I can use it later. I often find myself analyzing conversations from the past to find ways that I could’ve better handled them. I find myself planning future conversations with people so I have a plan of how to respond if they say specific things. I do have friends, and they often tell me that I’m too nice and that I let people walk all over me, apparently because I don’t know that they’re taking advantage of me until it’s too late.

I have a very hard time falling asleep and wake up often once I do. Sometimes I will lie in bed for 2+ hours staring at the clock while my mind runs through anything and everything it possibly can. I despise uncertainty. In my current job as a cook, I have been shown various ways to cook just about everything that we make, and it infuriates me that I don’t have one standard way to do each thing; thus I am never sure what I should do. I often find myself looking for patterns and symmetry in just about everything, and when I see that symmetry is possible, I find myself re-arranging things to make it so.

Also I have a compulsion with anything shiny. I am a somewhat untidy person at the best of times, but when I see a metal or glass ornament with smudges or fingerprints on it, I can’t help polishing it until they’re gone. I am also what most people would call a math person rather than an English person, as numbers make a lot more sense to me than words do. I enjoy music but find it difficult to really like a song until I’ve heard it many times, and I find myself listening to songs I like repeatedly until I know every word. I can’t really think of any other bizarre personality traits to mention so I shall leave it at that.

Please let me know if this is something that I’m just worrying about or if I should seek real help in this matter.

Psychologist’s Reply

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Are you autistic? No. Can these traits be related to something similar to autism? Possibly. Your description leads in the direction of Asperger’s Disorder (AD). Individuals with AD exhibit a significant impairment in social interaction and as you describe, can’t understand social cues/hints, have problems with body posturing when talking, have difficulty maintaining age-level relationships, and typically don’t seek the types of interactions commonly found in their age group. As you describe, ADs have problems with social and emotional reciprocity — engaging in an interaction that requires social and feeling exchanges. With AD, individuals are often seen as abrupt, rude, socially inappropriate, hurtful, and even odd. Emotionally, individuals with AD are often viewed as detached, disconnected, and inappropriate.

As you also describe, individuals with AD may have a variety of fixations and obsessions. They are upset by uncertainly and often engage in routines and behaviors that have no productive purpose. Their interests can be very restricted, and they may have extensive yet boring knowledge in selective areas yet ignore interests common in their peers or family. They may have unusual physical mannerisms.

These symptoms combine to create difficulties in social and personal functioning. Your requirement to find patterns and sameness is common in AD, as well as the obsession to polish and shine. AD individuals often can’t see a “big picture” in situations and — like your preoccupation with music words — become fixated on learning the music rather than enjoying it.

I’d recommend reading about and studying Asperger’s Disorder. You might also consider a consultation with a psychologist to clarify my impression. The Internet has many support sites and discussion groups for individuals with Asperger’s Disorder. Many options are available to help improve your social interactions and understand your situation.

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