This “In Their Own Words” essay is written by Kate Marts, an adult who has Asperger Syndrome.
Living with Asperger Syndrome and peripheral neuropathy isn’t easy; however, I somehow naturally deal with it. When I was eight years old, I was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). At that time, “Asperger Syndrome” was not even translated into English; as a result my diagnosis was ADHD. Post treatment, I was the social kid who was a bit awkward functioning wise who had a love for people. I was an innocent 10 year old just like every other kid; however the fact that I had ALL would back me up in life time and time again. How my life would play out the next 20 years, no one could ever fathom.
I found out what it’s like to be a fighter at a young age. I didn’t like treatment but I understood it was keeping me alive. The chemotherapy left me with lasting side effects later in life. By age 10, I was a full blown fighter. More so than when I was diagnosed. I had fought two years of treatment, and stares from other kids; I attempted to remain a member of my sports teams (softball and tennis), and changed schools from public to private. I also became impulsive and was a walking chatterbox. I was so hyper I don’t know how my teachers managed to keep me in my desk. I look back and it seems like I was born to get knocked around in the ring.
I spent most of my childhood playing in the neighborhood, chasing bugs and snakes, and hitting home runs. One could never know what I had been through. Not even the savviest doctors throughout my life could pick up on any lasting effects. I rolled through junior high and high school still not letting an ounce of what happened in my childhood faze me, despite the fact that I had very few friends who were loyal to me. After junior high, we moved to eastern Nassau County, Long Island and shortly after, more “social” symptoms started to show. I became more awkward and random, in addition to the fact I just didn’t quite get how to socialize with teenagers. To make matters more difficult, my motor skills started to deteriorate, thus I forgot how to play sports. Sports kept me out of trouble. I hung out with the mischievous kids who were your typical 90’s teens. We got into trouble but never anything significant. When the millennium came and it was time for me to graduate high school, I wasn’t even excited.
Years passed after high school. Life had completely changed. My social symptoms were getting worse and I was beginning to get sensory symptoms that would paralyze me. I had a million bad habits to ease the sensory issues and restlessness. All the while, I had no idea what was going on. I was unable to finish my classes and subsequently had to fold my endeavors in college. I returned home to Long Island after spending a few years in Providence. I spent some time working at the Huntington Townhouse before landing a job as a CSR in an insurance agency. It was my lucky break. I learned how to use the traits I had from having Asperger Syndrome to my advantage. High attention to detail was very important in the type of position I held. Sadly, I was only able to work there for a year due to my father’s retirement. New York was too expensive to live on my own; against my desires I moved to Georgia for a bit until I finally decided to return to New York a few months later.
My job, a CSR in a small insurance agency, lasted six months. The stock and housing markets crashed, both of which my industry depended on. I searched for a new job but ultimately failed. My symptoms from Asperger Syndrome were worsening, in addition to the fact that I started getting electric shocks. My whole body was attacking me and I couldn’t communicate to anyone what was wrong. I landed in a hospital for two weeks with exhaustion, and ultimately moved back to Georgia upon discharge. I lived on for another year. I finally got a “break” – one of my legs I had broken in New York the year before suddenly became paralyzed. I had a strange case with spasticity and tremors in addition to everything else. As a result I had to be patient. After two years of social symptoms accompanied with sensory symptoms and neuropathic pain, I finally had answers I had been searching for, for so long. That November I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. In addition to the fact, I was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy a year to the date my leg became paralyzed.
I’m fortunate enough that the fighter in me never left; she just became dormant in a disease that I nearly lost my life to. I even learned a few things along the way while living in New York. The first thing I learned was from “A Bronx Tale” – “The saddest thing in the world is wasted talent.” The next thing I picked up is the tenacity that New Yorkers’ have. We never give up and we give everything our all. Sounds like a famous New Yorker who just passed recently, George Steinbrenner. The third thing I learned, from a former boss,was to be realistic. The final thing I naturally picked up on – everything happens for a rhyme or reason and often things fall into place.
I realize now a combination of a few things kept me alive, my trials in New York and my tribulations in Atlanta. With that, my personality kept me going all these years. Today, I am far from the person I was two years ago. I could barely keep my head up straight and was going through daily episodes. I take a cocktail of meds that relax my muscles for my peripheral neuropathy. With hard work I was able to reverse most of the symptoms from both conditions.
I still have more challenges than most to overcome; however, I am proud to say I am a tale of two cities.
“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.