• Kacen Callender

WIP: Autism? Maybe

My current YA draft has a main character who is questioning whether their ADHD is misdiagnosed and they're actually autistic. My characters are always built from pieces of me, and while I don't know if I'm autistic for sure, the plethora of information that's been coming out now, especially about Black, AFAB autistic people being underdiagnosed and misdiagnosed, has… definitely made more than a few pieces click into place.

Diagnosed with ADHD, but also had severe clinical depression and anxiety? Check.

"Highly sensitive"/"feels too much"? Oh, yes.

"Feels too much" but struggles to express and communicate those feelings, or know what those feelings are? When I know I'll be in a social situation that expect certain reactions, I practice those emotional reactions beforehand, because if I could do what I would like to without being judged, or my expressions weren't meant to mean something in particular, more often than not I'd rather not react at all; and to this day, I still can't put a name to most of the emotions I have.

Struggles to understand social cues/communication? I used to carry around a notebook to write down observations of other people in my class to figure out how to socialize. It was cute. And, in retrospect, creepy.

Struggles to connect with others? Sigh. Story of my life.

Plus a bunch of other bits: tendency to overshare (haha, I liked that one—you know, seeing that I… always overshare…), directness that makes others uncomfortable, can't take loud noise, used to wander off everywhere (and would be yelled at for it), severely bullied, had "obsessions", and, well… I don't know if there's any point to being officially diagnosed as an adult, but it does help me feel like so much of my life and who I am makes a lot more sense. It's helped me feel like I'm not "broken" for having so much trouble in understanding other humans, in not feeling connected to other humans, for being bullied and feeling isolated for most of my life. It's been freeing in a way. (Maybe a part of me is afraid to go in for diagnosing because if someone tells me I'm not autistic, then I would go back to wondering why I've struggled with so much/subconsciously thinking something must be wrong with me.)

I only started to think that I might be autistic because other Black queer folks online have been sharing that they were misdiagnosed, or that they were told they weren't autistic because they didn't act a certain way (and likely because they weren't white, too), so a part of me wants to share what's been going on with me, and this questioning, this wondering.

I'm only on the first draft of my YA, so the thread of the main character questioning if they're autistic might be cut from the book altogether… but it's felt good to examine the main character's feelings and confusion and desire to put an accurate name to their neurodivergence. In a way, it reminds me of my search for my gender identity: knowing that trans guy and nonbinary weren't quite right, and feeling relief when I found the term demiboy. It's starting to feel like ADHD isn't quite right either, but autism might make a little more sense.

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