Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Assessment

Today was assessment day!

...I'm not sure why I wrote that in such an enthusiastic way. Up until this morning I was having second thoughts about going for the assessment - I went to bed fairly early last night, couldn't sleep, went back downstairs to talk to Cat about my worries about being assessed, then went back to bed and had a very restless night. Finally it was morning: I aimed to leave the house at 8.30am to be there for my 10am appointment, so I got up at 8, had breakfast, then chatted to Cat for a bit before leaving at 8.40. I hopped on a bus, mistakenly got off one stop too early, but still arrived with about 25 minutes to spare. So I kept walking, then turned back and went into the centre 10 minutes early.

The psychologist met me at reception when I entered (I was surprised that I didn't have to wait at all), and once I'd signed in and had been offered tea, we went to a small conference room. There she asked me if I was feeling nervous at all, I truthfully said that I was a little, she asked if it was due to the uncertainty of the assessment, I said that yes it was. Then she started talking me through what we'd be doing: as a psychology student, it was quite interesting. We started off by talking about how I'd be taking the WAIS test for intelligence, which would rate me in terms of separate areas. She said that people with Asperger's tend to be great in some areas but markedly low in others, which should be picked up on. She said that research suggests that the corpus callosum - the part of the brain which connects the two hemispheres - doesn't work as well in people with Asperger's as with the general population, sometimes resulting in a difference in skill levels. She also gave an interesting analogy for Asperger's: she described it as having the same hardware as a typical person, but different software, resulting in different functioning. I wonder more if it's the other way round: that having Asperger's is like trying to run the same software but having different hardware, so it doesn't always work properly and sometimes results in errors. I only thought about this when I got home, though, so wasn't able to share this thought with her.

The first task was block design: I was shown a picture, and had to recreate it with blocks which had all-white faces, all-red faces, and half-white-half-red faces. I used to enjoy playing with tangrams when I was younger, and found this quite easy. After that, I was given two words and asked to say how they were similar, e.g. 'apple' and 'banana'. They got more difficult, and soon I was struggling - I knew there was a difference, but couldn't get it into words very easily. After that I was shown a sequence, and asked to pick the picture that would complete the sequence, e.g. red square-white square-red square-what next? At the end of that task I was told I'd got them all correct, that made me smile. Then I was told to repeat back a string of numbers, from two digits up to nine digits, then to repeat the digits backwards, then to repeat them in numerical order (e.g. 1-2-3). For the next task, I was shown two pictures, and had to indicate if either of them appeared in a sequence of objects: the idea was to see how many of these I could get through in two minutes. Then I was asked to define words - again I had trouble with this, even though I almost always understood what the word meant. Then I was shown a picture of a shape, and asked to pick three smaller shapes (out of six options) that would make up the larger shape when put together. I was then shown a key where the numbers 1-9 related to a picture, and I had to draw the corresponding picture underneath a string of digits - again this was to see how many I could complete in two minutes. After that I was asked some mental maths questions - they were fairly easy - and finally I was asked some general knowledge questions. There were only two of which I had no idea: I hadn't known before that it takes 8 minutes for sunlight to reach the Earth's surface, or that the circumference of the Earth is just shy of 25,000 miles. You live and learn.

After that I filled in a sensory questionnaire, asking me to rate statements relating to my senses from 'almost never' to 'almost always', e.g. 'I enjoy wearing bright-coloured clothing'. I'm quite noise- and touch-sensitive, I'm less overly-taste-sensitive than I was before university, otherwise I think my senses are relatively normal.

Mum and Dad arrived for the second part of the assessment just as I'd finished the sensory questionnaire: we moved to a larger room so that there was enough room for the three of us and the psychologist. Mum had brought the papers from my previous assessments as a 2 and 10 year old, and the first part of the interview was Mum telling the psychologist my history up to this point, with Dad adding details. Then they were both asked specific questions about my behaviour and relationships as a child, as a teenager, and I was asked about my behaviours and perceptions now, with Mum and Dad giving more details and examples. I think this took about an hour and a half or so: it was quite difficult for me to hear what I'd been like when I was younger - I was a very difficult toddler, a difficult and inappropriately-behaved child, and an overly difficult-to-talk-to teenager. I like to think that now I'm a nice person, but it's taken a lot of work to get to this point. Still, as Mum later said, there are times to gloss over the details and say that they don't matter now, and there are times - like during assessments - when the painful (to me) truth needs to be said. What's most difficult is hearing my parents talk about the difficulties I have now: even though I really, really do try to overcome these, part of that involves acknowledging that I have difficulties with some things. My parents worry that because of the way I am, I could be taken advantage of: to be honest the same thought occurs to me, which worries me.

On an interesting note, at one point I was asked what my hobbies were, I included computer gaming. When asked what my favourite game was, I truthfully said The Sims: interestingly, the psychologist said that she'd have bet money that I'd say that. She explained that in the years she's worked with diagnostic services, most of the teenagers and young adults she's met have claimed The Sims to be their favourite game - much like young children claim Thomas the Tank Engine to be their favourite programme. I'd known about young children with Thomas (I for one would insist on watching the same episodes of Thomas over and over, and collected the little model trains and wanted nothing but models of Annie and Clarabel the coaches for my first-day-of-school present), but had never heard anything about young adults with The Sims - that intrigued me. I enjoy The Sims because to me, it's a socially acceptable dolls' house, and I absolutely loved acting out scenarios with my dolls.

At the end of the interview, the psychologist said that she'd support a diagnosis of mild Asperger's: she said that my intelligence has enabled me to find coping strategies, so I should and would be successful in life, and can clearly live independently, although in some areas I will probably need support. She said that she'd write up the report in the next few days and send it to me, and that with it she'd include a detailed report of my strengths and weaknesses based on the interviews and the tests, and also - this I like - a letter to be given to employers/lecturers/support services/etc, saying that I have Asperger's, that these are my strengths and weaknesses, and could they take these into consideration. Mum said that this is what she'd wanted most for me - that I'd have something to show employers, since I'll most likely have some sort of difficulty in the workplace with coworkers or understanding instructions, to say that there's a reason for my oddities. I think it could be useful to take to university, to show that there's a reason that I can't always express my thoughts too well in my work. Dad was impressed at how thorough the assessment was. I'm glad most of all that I got a result, and that it was the result I was, in a way, hoping for.

So... now I just have to wait for the report to come through: I'm curious to read it. Mum gave me photocopies of the papers from my earlier assessments: I'd read the one from when I was 2 before, but this was the first time I'd seen the one from when I was 10. I read through them this afternoon: to be honest, if there'd been the understanding of Asperger's back then that there is now, I probably would have been diagnosed at 10, given the descriptions of what I've said, done, and the scores I gained on tests. It was interesting to read, it brought back a few memories of that time, and clarified some things I'd wondered about back then.

I'm happy. I really am. I'm not a 'borderline Aspie' anymore: to change the words of Pinocchio, "I'm a real Aspie!"

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