Sometimes autism doesn’t flap arms or drone on forever on the infinitesimal details of one particular topic. Sometimes Autism can look like a friendly kid who calls his friends over and is the instigator of group play. Autism can be wearing the exact same outfit every single day because your clothes are part of who you are and you don’t feel like yourself in different clothes. Often this means duplicates of clothes. Autism can be standing in a group full of people who are all talking and laughing, wanting to be part of it, but they only talk about things you don’t care about. Autism can be refusing to go into the lunch room because it is too loud and ending up sitting in a hallway off by yourself feeling lonely. Autism can be feeling certain that you made an agreement with another person only to discover that they understood what you said completely differently from how you meant it. Autism can be being unable to do an assignment because you can’t wrap your head around how to begin. Then everyone gets angry with you because it looks simple to them. Autism can look like stubbornness and laziness.
OCD does not always flip light switches, count posts, or line things up in rows. Sometimes OCD is becoming actively uncomfortable and antsy if someone else is sitting in the spot where you expected to sit. This discomfort may cause you to lash out in anger. Then you have to face the consequences of your angry outburst. OCD can be carrying all of your books and school papers in your arms because that is the only way you can constantly be sure you have everything. OCD can be not throwing away any school papers and carrying them all in the ever-growing stack because it would be terrible to not be prepared should the teacher ask students to pull out an old assignment from three months ago. OCD can be wrapping every thought with a cloud of tangential and descriptive information which obscures the thing you want to tell other people. Only you can’t skip any of the information because it is all connected. And if anyone tries to interrupt the thing you’re saying, you get angry, because you weren’t finished, and the thing you were saying is important and must be completed. OCD can be correcting the pronunciations of the people around you because if a word is said wrong, your brain can not let go of that word until it is spoken correctly. One of these things is a quirk. All of these things together is a disorder that affects pretty much every hour of every day and every relationship in your life. OCD can look like disobedient defiance, rudeness, and disrespect.
Anxiety does not always worry about things. Sometimes anxiety is a heart that races and palpitates even though there is nothing going on and the person feels calm. Anxiety can be feeling antsy and agitated, like post-adrenaline shakes, even though nothing happened. Anxiety can be imagining a dozen possible futures and making plans to be prepared for all of them. Anxiety can be hyper-organization that other people praise, and which is actually useful, except that it never allows rest, vacation, or breaks. Preparation that never switches off. Anxiety can be needing to leave an event because there are too many people moving around and talking, making you unable to track everything. And you have to track everything, because if something goes wrong, you must be ready for it. Anxiety can be skipping work opportunities because they require face-to-face interaction. Anxiety can be checking up on other people’s work until they get annoyed with you, but you can’t not check because you have to be prepared if they didn’t do their job. Anxiety can look like a nagging and controlling personality.
ADHD is not always easily distracted. ADHD can be so focused on a project that suddenly you realize that people are standing over you angry because they’ve been trying to get your attention. ADHD can be the sound of pencils scratching on paper overpowering the thoughts in your head. ADHD can be deciding that today you will REALLY pay attention and make sure you get all your assignments, only to realize that you missed hearing an assignment because you were busy planning how not to miss assignments. ADHD is being lost in the thoughts in your head. ADHD can mean always feeling lost or out of step because everyone else knows what is going on, but you haven’t any idea what the instructions were. ADHD can be a jittery leg, all your pencils chewed to bits, and fingers that twist and play with whatever they touch, all without you intending to do any of it. ADHD can be lost items and missed appointments because at the important moment your thoughts were on something else. ADHD can look like chronic disorganization, negligence, and a person who doesn’t care enough to get things done.
Depression does not always stay at home lying in bed feeling in a pit of despair. It is not always dramatic or suicidal. Depression can be doing all the tasks that are required of you, but enjoying none of them. Depression can be feeling like things will never be better than they are now. Depression can be binge watching television shows on Netflix, because then you don’t have to listen to your own thoughts. Depression can be playing endless games of solitaire to fill the spaces between required activities. Depression can be deciding to stay home rather than go out with friends because being social sounds too exhausting. Depression can be having friends drift away because you’re not the person you used to be and you don’t have emotional energy to maintain the friendships. Depression can be crying at seemingly random times over things which wouldn’t normally cause tears, like a happy song playing, or the store being out of the cereal you like. Depression can be a messy house because you only have so much energy to do things and laundry didn’t make the list this week. Depression can be not bothering to brush your hair or change clothes because it is too much work. Depression can look like a person who is standoffish, slovenly, and unfriendly.
So if you have to deal with a person and they are awkward, rude, nagging, standoffish,or negligent, pause a moment before you condemn them. It may be that they do have the character flaw you perceive in them. Or it may be that the person is fighting a daily battle you can’t see, and they need your compassion instead of your anger.