“How much gas do you have in your car?”
Between the ages of three and seven, my brother Noah would make this inquiry of anyone and everyone. After the unsuspecting stranger mumbled a reply about the amount of petroleum in his gas tank, my brother would press the matter further: “Can I go see how much gas you have in your car?”
He was completely obsessed, and God forbid that the gas in my mother’s Suzuki ever dropped below half a tank. If Noah ever neglected his duties and such a tragedy occurred, he would incessantly ask about when we were going to the gas station until my mom caved and purchased a quarter of a tank to get him to be quiet.
And then there was the hand flapping, the inappropriate questions about people’s past relationships and the complete lack of social awareness.
My parents decided to have Noah tested for an autistic spectrum disorder when he was six years old. I got to skip school and accompany them to the KU facility where these types of tests were given. I remember watching my brother through a one way mirror as he struggled to identify the moods of people in various pictures. I listened to him avoid answering questions directly, even when they were as simple as, “What’s your favorite color?” As he avoided eye contact and flapped his hands excitedly on the other side of the glass, I began to fully realize the magnitude of difference that existed between him and his peers. That afternoon, some guy explained to us that they had diagnosed Noah with a mild form of Asperger’s syndrome.
Webmd.com lists a few common symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome:
- Problems with social skills: Children with Asperger’s syndrome generally have difficulty interacting with others and often are awkward in social situations. They generally do not make friends easily. They have difficulty initiating and maintaining conversation.
- Eccentric or repetitive behaviors: Children with this condition may develop odd, repetitive movements, such as hand wringing or finger twisting.
- Unusual preoccupations or rituals: A child with Asperger’s syndrome may develop rituals that he or she refuses to alter, such as getting dressed in a specific order.
- Communication difficulties: People with Asperger’s syndrome may not make eye contact when speaking with someone. They may have trouble using facial expressions and gestures, and understanding body language. They also tend to have problems understanding language in context and are very literal in their use of language.
- Limited range of interests: A child with Asperger’s syndrome may develop an intense, almost obsessive, interest in a few areas, such as sports schedules, weather, or maps.
- Coordination problems: The movements of children with Asperger’s syndrome may seem clumsy or awkward.
- Skilled or talented: Many children with Asperger’s syndrome are exceptionally talented or skilled in a particular area, such as music or math.
My brother had all of those symptoms. He only had two friends, he drummed his fingers and made loud noises, he refused to sit up with his knees under the table at dinner, he never looked me in the eyes, he was obsessed with the movie Cars, the amount of gas in peoples’ cars, superheroes and Hank the Cowdog books, his dancing gave a whole new meaning to “dancing like a white boy” and he was exceptionally talented at music, humming recognizable songs before he could talk or walk.
After my brother was diagnosed, nothing changed, really. He wasn’t any different than before his diagnosis, and life continued in its awkward rhythm, until this last summer.
I love Google. Google is beautiful. I ask it questions, and it gives me millions of answers in a fraction of a second. One fateful day in mid June, I was googling “How to tell if you’re autistic” because I like taking online quizzes and self diagnosing myself. Through this search and the others that followed, I discovered the AQ Test. Unlike the typical online quizzes that random unintelligent loons create, the Autism-Spectrum Quotient test was created by psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at Cambridge’s Autism Research Center. Baron-Cohen is basically the chief authority on the Autism Spectrum, so this test is legit. According the the test’s description, the average non-autistic person scores around a 16, and about 80 percent of those with a diagnosed disorder score a 32 or higher.
I took the test and scored a 27. I thought the test had to be a sham because there was no way that I was that weird, so I started making my friends take it. They all got 9s, or 10s or 11s. I took it again and got a 28. Then I took it a third time and got another 28. I took it a fourth time, really trying to get within normal range, and I got a 29. I had my brother Noah take it, and he also got a 29.
My brother with Asperger’s and I got the same freaking score on a test meant to measure how autistic we were. I continued to analyze the results’ implications. I realized I couldn’t count how many times I had become infatuated with random stuff like Rubik’s cubes, national anthems, hula hoops and more recently, newspaper class. I realized that I was socially awkward, and it was easier for me to formulate my thoughts when I wasn’t directly looking at the person with whom I was having a conversation. Then I realized that forcing everyone around me to take the AQ test was probably another indicator that I was borderline on the spectrum.
I think what distinguishes my brother from myself is that while we both have similar feelings toward social situations, I don’t come right out and tell everyone that I would rather be in my room reading a book, editing a story or typing up a blog post instead of going to a party.
Are you as autistic as me? Find out here . Also, take the poll below because I’m still obsessed with comparing my results to everyone else’s.