How a diagnosis can make a difference

November 26, 2018

The diagnosis, when it finally came two years ago for Elroy Liddington confirmed what he already knew but the professional who conveyed it wondered why being told having autism would make any difference at all. Elroy explains why he thinks it does.

I WAS A TYPICAL computer geek and it was when I was an active member of a New Zealand based online gaming forum, and one of the members had just been diagnosed as being on the spectrum, that I began to wonder.

This was the first time I had entertained the thought that I might be on the spectrum as well.

I quickly dismissed this idea, as I did not fit the social identity that society has of autism although my entire life I’ve felt different to everyone else, felt defective, and that’s kind-of been the core message I’ve had reinforced to me by society my entire life.

I’ve been continually receiving messages like “you need to try harder, you need to apply yourself more, you’re lazy, you’ve got to work faster, try harder, stop thinking about things, just do it” all my life.

I think it’s hardly surprising that I’ve had ongoing mental health issues (mainly depression) – I’m pretty sure anyone in the same situation would experience the same issues.

A younger Elroy Liddington

My wife and I were going down the diagnosis route for my oldest son, when we started noticing similarities between some of my past behaviour, and that of what we were researching. It went something like this: “Hey, I do that, and I’ve done that too – also I do this, and that… and…oh…OHHH!”

In 2016, after yet another issue with being able to maintain employment (in retrospect, I’ve always had issues with this), I needed to find out why my life was so different to everyone else, why I didn’t seem to succeed (or even have moderate successes) at life.

With the help of a Health and Disability Commission advocate (free service, by the way) I pursued a diagnosis through the public health system.
When I got the diagnosis I went through a grieving process.

My whole life I had been trying to become an electrician, and to have finally reached my goal after 20 years, and then coming to the realisation that it’s not really suited to me … let’s just say I did some thinking.

In the beginning stages of seeking a diagnosis the psychiatrist said to me: “What use is a diagnosis to you?”

He, like a lot of other medical professionals, did not understand the significance of what having a diagnosis meant to me. It confirms to me I am not defective.

The whole diagnosis to me was proof that the way my life has been was not my fault, nor a core failing on my part. The way that this changed my internal perspective of myself was huge.

In school, all the way up to fourth form, I was really good at English, reading, writing and spelling but in the fifth form, it all changed. Then it started to relate to characters and books which I had no clue about.

We had all these assignments to do, I would do these the best I could but I would bomb out and the teacher would get frustrated.

Towards the end of the year, he got so frustrated with me and said: “Elroy, why don’t you understand, I want you to relate your life to the characters in the book” and I said “why didn’t you tell me that a year ago?!?!?!?”

If I had known I was autistic then maybe school would have been different for me.

I’d always wanted to be an electrician so I moved to Hamilton to study at Wintec.

It was during this time that I crashed and burned depression wise.

I spent the next six years in a pretty bad way. I was on antidepressants for the first couple of years (1999-onwards) – turns out the type I was on didn’t work that well for me because I was a zombie, slept 20 hours a day. I couldn’t work.

Depression is not always just an entity in itself; it can also be a symptom of being autistic, due to how much effort it takes to put into masking, and to try and interact with everyone and everything in this world.

It’s really frustrated me that someone didn’t at least ask the question (was I autistic) when I did seek help.

I think any person presenting with any symptoms of depression, the first thing the professional should do, whether it be a GP, counsellor, mental health professional or whoever, should get them to take the Wired AQ-10 test to rule out depression being a symptom of potentially something else, e.g. autism.
It’s a fairly simple one by psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen which first got published on The Wired website in 2001.

I score a consistent 38 to 41 on this test – the best thing about it is that only takes about five minutes to complete, and fits on one sheet of paper, so there is no excuse for this not to be done.

Back to my diagnosis (don’t you love tangents – I’m great at them, but not mathematics 🙂 ):

I ended up going through Adult Mental Health to get it.

People wonder why autistic people have mental health issues – if you could imagine being bullied your entire life, you’re told you’re lazy, that you can’t work fast. What sort of common theme do you think that’s going to have in terms of an impact on someone?

Do those missed opportunities for an earlier diagnosis bug me?

Yes, it does, because my life could have been a lot better but then I don’t know really. I’m still quite angry about that. Then on the other hand, if I had been diagnosed earlier in life, I could quite well have potentially not ended up where I am in life now.

In retrospect, it is the life journey that I have walked, despite all the rocks along the way, that has made me the person I am today – if things had turned out differently (i.e. diagnosed earlier), I may not have even written this article, let alone what I’m trying to achieve.

I’ve heard some of the stories about autistic people growing up with a diagnosis.

To me, it could potentially help someone so much (from my point of view, in terms of the direction in life that I would have taken if I could have identified, or had help to identify, what paths and life direction would not have been suited to me, it could potentially have saved me an awful lot of grief) and take pressure off our health-care system – but this will not happen in isolation – this needs to be a joint effort (from all Government departments, from everybody) to ensure that people that need support get support.

My wife and I married 10 years ago. We have two boys aged seven and nine.

Our nine year old has recently been diagnosed as being on the spectrum. We’ve known that he was since he was three, but medical professionals couldn’t see it at the time.

It helps that I’m also on the spectrum to be able to relate to what he’s going through. The anxiety stuff I’m going through can help him via passing on my coping skills which I’ve needed support to develop.

My wife (really she did, but I’ll take some credit 😉 ) and I came to the conclusion, after I received my diagnosis, that being an electrician in this world is not suited to my way of being in the world.

It is not in my own space and time – tōku/tōna anō takiwā – Takiwatanga, that’s so me.

I want to provide peer support for other autistic individuals and in order to do that it would be nice to have some sort of qualification behind me.

That’s why I’ve recently started a Bachelor of Social Health and Wellbeing. It’s going to take me a while to complete.

In November last year I decided that through meeting and talking to some autistic people, there are so many, particularly younger people, who appear to be struggling in life, just like I did when I was their age.

Not long ago I realised that I have a not-insignificant amount of skills I have acquired in my lifetime, and a continual theme I’ve had (and never really paid much attention to) is people telling me I’m apparently really good at explaining things to others, which leads onto my next point:

I don’t want autistic people growing up the way I did.

There are a lot of autistic people out there who have ongoing issues like I do with under-employment and unemployment, but want to do something meaningful.

My long term goal is I want to have somewhere safe and secure to work in, in an environment that suits me.
Somewhere I can go and do some work and have other autistic individuals alongside me so I can pass on my skills, teach them what I know at a pace that suits both of us.

I have recently been accepted onto the Enabling Good Lives programme which is going to be able to offer me some support around self-management/organisation (this is one spot where I struggle quite a bit – I have issues with some of my executive functioning skills), and hopefully allow me to achieve more in life, and indirectly help other autistic individuals as well.

If I did not have my diagnosis, I would be unable to access any support.

Hopefully in 2020, the System Transformation project will be rolled out nationwide, where other autistic individuals can also access the support they need to enable them to have a good life.

  • Elroy Liddington is a fully qualified electrician but struggles to find work because he has aspergers syndrome.
  • This article appeared in Altogether Autism, Issue 3 2018


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