I read with interest recently a June 2017 article I found in The Boston Globe, titled “Neurodiversity: When you’re not flawed, just mentally different.” I am a 34-year-old Portland woman, and was only diagnosed as an adult with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum condition. My anxiety, intense emotions and frequent sensory overload prevent me from working, but they don’t prevent me from having something useful and meaningful to offer the world around me — if only I were given the support to do so. Finding competent mental health services while being “neurodiverse” has been quite a challenge.

Unfortunately, I had to leave college six weeks before graduating, because of skyrocketing sensitivities and emotional challenges. I was put on numerous antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs, but I was not given access to therapy to process the extremely strong emotions and trauma that had caused me to need to leave college in the first place. Competent therapy should be a given for everyone with psychological symptoms, but many struggle to access it. Telemedicine is technically covered in Maine. However, no one I know knows anything about it or offers it. This would make mental health care more accessible to a lot of people in Maine.

Among other things, someone on the autism spectrum might be bothered by fluorescent lighting or strong smells in an office; or they might not be able to tolerate using public transportation to get there. Even the rules of social communication with a therapist can be a challenge to navigate with neurodiverse individuals. So many things that others consider “obvious” or “implied” can be completely missed, which can cause a lot of avoidable conflict. More training about how to work with people on the spectrum is needed.

I have had several years of therapists who would not actively engage with me when I spoke my experiences. I have had caseworkers who tell me they can’t possibly help me find a therapist, even though I have a commonly accepted insurance plan. I have also had many psychiatrists who only dispense medication and don’t try to match me with a therapist.

I’ve had people on the state crisis line tell me, “You don’t really want to talk about that, do you? It’ll just make you upset,” when I was desperately trying to reach out to someone to find a way to manage and talk through my emotions. This is the same line that handles calls for the national suicide hotline in the Portland area. Their response needs to include more empathy and less judgment, for the sake of all their callers. More volunteers should be utilized to increase availability and diversity of operators.

The state of Maine doesn’t think I’m autistic enough to receive support services for autism under Medicaid. My sensory overload symptoms have made it impossible for me to tolerate most indoor environments, including the one where I was supposed to receive eight hours of testing for a yet even more “official” diagnosis of autism to get services. The diagnosis from my psychiatrist and three previous therapists is apparently not enough for them.

That I tried mightily to sit for this evaluation but my sensory overload and anxiety — symptoms that are part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual definition of autism – prevented me from completing it is ironic, though it is not taken into consideration by the state. I have unfortunately seen people far higher functioning than I am receive services because they had the resources to jump through the hoops and complete the evaluations in the “right” way.

I love meeting new people and trying to help others with my limited resources. However, I’m 34, and it feels like the end of my life. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Paul LePage cut tens of thousands of people from receiving mental health services during his two terms as governor. I hope that his successor, Janet Mills, will not only restore these much needed mental health services, but also make them accessible to neurodiverse individuals like me, who might need a little more help than others in securing them. We have much to offer the world.

Kate Goldfield is a resident of Portland.

What’s in a Word: Asperger’s and the APA

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