In the Public Interest

Personal Story on Autism

todayDecember 3, 2013 44 1

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Josh Mar
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    Personal Story on Autism Ila Mar

It’s pitch black and cold until his eyes begin to flicker. He remembers he’s at home in his bed, and realizes it’s early morning. He sits up and recuperates in his surroundings. It’s time to start the day, although, his day isn’t the same as everyone else’s. 30-year-old, Joshua Mar has a high functioning case of autism, and everyday is a new learning experience of how to handle his disorder.         

According to the Executive Director of the Texas State University Autism Clinic, Russel Lang, it is common to misinterpret what Autism really is.

“Well, sometimes disorders like autism are classified as a mental illness or as a developmental disability. Autism is a developmental disability. But it usually involves delays in development that aren’t necessarily present in a mental illness, but lots of individuals with autism do also have a mental illness,” explained Dr. Lang.

“So, the rates of things like anxiety, or even ADHD and things like that, do tend to be higher in the autism population than they do in the population of people without autism.”
– Dr. Russel Lang

Josh didn’t find out about his disorder until his early 20’s, but he and his family knew something was off from the beginning. He always wandered off at family functions, never made friends easily in grade school, and had tendencies unlike other people. However, he had an impeccable talent for mathematics that many people just simply couldn’t comprehend.

It wasn’t until Josh joined the United States Navy that he officially discovered his autism. The Navy ended up sending him home directly after boot camp and requesting that he see a counselor to diagnose his disorder, and when he did, he was told that he suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, which in other words…is the high functioning side of Autism. However, earlier this year, the entire autism spectrum, including Asperger’s Syndrome, merged into a single classification called the Autism Spectrum Disorder. Regardless of the name, this was finally an answer to his,…and his family’s lifelong question. Why was Josh always so different?

Autism research and technology is constantly rising, but diagnosing autism isn’t always easy, even for Dr. Lang.

“With autism, it’s not like there’s a blood test or something like this, it’s just simply that a certain set of behaviors tend to co-occur together.”
– Dr. Russel Lang

“So, Autism is diagnosed when somebody has a sufficient amount of social impairment, a sufficient amount of language delay or communication impairment, and a presence of unusual ritualistic, or what we sometimes call stereotyped behaviors. And it’s not that Asperger’s Syndrome disappeared, it’s that autism itself was redefined as a spectrum and so now, many of the people who had Asperger’s disorder diagnosis, still have a diagnosis, it’s just Autism Spectrum Disorder,” said Dr. Lang.

Now, Josh is 30 years old and lives a very simplistic lifestyle. He just began living alone in his parent’s old house in Corpus Christi, Texas. His mother moved out at the beginning of the summer, and Josh is still learning how to live by himself. Some typical things people do when they live alone, like cooking and cleaning, are difficult for him to do. So, his schedule usually just consists of waking up every morning, getting ready for the day, stopping at a nearby taco stand for breakfast, and taking the bus to his job at Goodwill Industries. This hasn’t been an easy path for him.

“It takes me anywhere from an hour and a half to two and a half hours. Just get ready and make sure everything is washed and dried, make sure that I’ve, like I said, shaved and I’ve combed my hair, and you know, brushed my teeth and everything, and then I make sure all my belongings are together and then I make sure I’m dressed and then just head on out.”
– Josh Mar

However, Josh’s typical morning routine is often interrupted by his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which Dr. Lang says, many people suffer from when they have Autism.

“With individuals with Asperger’s that stereotyped or ritualistic kinds of behavior might present like OCD. You may find people insisting upon sameness. I want to do the same thing, in the same way everyday and if we deviate from that, it causes me tremendous problems or something,” said Dr. Lang.

In Josh’s case, simple routines that he follows each day, like washing his hair, has to have certain rules.

“I’ll usually go over it once, and then I’ll go over it again, and then I’ll go over it again.”
– Josh Mar

“It depends on how long it’s been. I usually say one day is just enough for one time, but if I’m two or three, then it’s maybe two times or three times, depending on how many days I missed showering,” said Josh.

When he is finished getting ready for his day after completing his morning routine, he begins walking to the nearest bus stop.

This is his way of getting around town and to work. What would normally be a 30 minute drive to work in a regular vehicle, the city bus can take up to 3 hours. Thankfully, Josh has been able to work with the city busses and arrive to work on time in order to keep his job at Goodwill.

Josh has had a difficult time finding work in the past, but Goodwill is known for providing work for people with disabilities, and has welcomed him into their staff.

After his day at work is over, he continues his long trek back home. Josh works around the bus schedule and transfers his way back to the last bus stop, which is close enough for him to walk the rest of the way.

Unfortunately, Josh always feels uneasy when he rides the city bus.

“I feel kind of weird because I’m around a whole bunch of, I feel like a whole bunch of street people or addicts, or stuff like that. If they see me trying to take care of my life or trying to read a big book or something like that, they find me trying to do something healthy for myself, then they’re all going to be looking like, ‘Why are you doing that?’ That’s the way I see it,” explained Josh.

“I just don’t trust people on the bus. I don’t know where they come from, who they are, what they are. I don’t.”
– Josh Mar

Josh also realizes that he has a tendency to want people’s acceptance and acknowledgments, even if he doesn’t know the person. A perfect example is when he takes the bus with people he’s never met before.

“[A smile is] To know I’m okay, to know I’m safe, to know that they don’t dislike me or something else.”
– Josh Mar

Not long ago, Josh encountered people who recognized his disorder, and in return….they took advantage of his differences.

According to Dr. Lang, it’s harder for people with Autism to read the intentions of others.

“If you have a social skills impairment in some way, where the social behaviors of others is always mysterious, the subtle distinction between a con man and an actual person that you may want to trust or develop a relationship with can be really hard for  many people to tell. And you add on top of that a social delay or impairment in some way, and I think they do become much more likely to be victimized,” interpreted Dr. Lang.

“I think they do become much more likely to be victimized.”
– Dr. Russel Lang

Over the summer, Josh ended a relationship with a person he had met on Facebook. This person influenced him to begin buying and using methamphetamines from mutual friends, but his addiction to the drugs only grew with their relationship. When their relationship ended, his addiction reached its peak.

“It wasn’t until she had stopped, like, she had broken up with me and then I got into her friends for getting “stuff”, but then I overdosed on drugs, methamphetamines. The first time it led me into a high fever but then the second time I overdosed, I think I probably did have a high fever, but I’m also going to say that that was part of the reason that I ended up with seizures as well,” confessed Josh.

Josh had a seizure at a bus stop, and was rushed to the hospital. He was released from the hospital that afternoon, with advice to begin seeking rehabilitation treatment. He was beginning to see the damage he had been doing to himself. However, when he arrived at his home that night, he came home to a very unpleasant surprise.

“And then also, the robbery that happened the day of the seizures as well, that literally… I quit trusting.”
– Josh Mar

Every important document like social security cards and birth certificates were missing. Thanks to eyewitness accounts from neighbors, Josh believes it was the same group of people who sold him the drugs that broke into his home.

This is a lot of stress on someone with autism. Often times, autism comes with many disorders on the side. Disorders such as OCD, Anxiety, and Depression can all co-occur in someone with autism. In Josh’s case, all three are apparent, and he was led to feel as though it was his fault for getting into these difficult situations.

However, Dr. Lang doesn’t think that it is the case for someone with autism to intentionally get themselves into situations like Josh’s.

“Well, I don’t think they’re getting themselves into these bad situations. I think other people are seeking him out disproportionately because he looks like a vulnerable target.”
– Dr. Russel Lang

“So, not only is he less likely to be able to protect himself or recover, but he’s also perhaps more likely to have to do it more often. That confluence of variables is just a tough package for anyone’s life,” said Dr. Lang.

With all of this stress weighing him down, Josh’s depression skyrocketed after these events. He became suicidal and wound up in a behavioral hospital twice before the summer was over.

“I was beating myself and I was feeling really depressed that I even let the robbery happen. I couldn’t really handle situations and I started cutting myself, or at least making big scrapes on my arm,” disclosed Josh.

After spending several weeks in a behavioral hospital, he then entered a state-facilitated, rehabilitation program to help with his methamphetamine addiction.  While he was in rehab, he met many new people who were in similar situations as him, and he began to create an essential support group while he learned new ways of dealing with his addiction.

Finally, one month after his rehabilitating struggle, he was able to return to work as a sober man. And once again, he was able to get his life back to his kind of normal.

As a man who has Autism, severe depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, high anxiety, and who is overcoming a strong methamphetamine addiction, Josh still struggles. But he is living proof that living with so many disorders isn’t impossible. With the right support system, anything is do-able for him.

“I don’t really notice how I’m different, but I know other people notice that I’m different by not handling sarcasm well, needing acceptance by everyone around me, sometimes how people looking at me but really may not be looking at me, some things like that,” said Josh.

Today, Josh still has a hard time making good friends, but these days he’s more focused on family life. His mother helps him out the most. She makes her way across town to pick him up and take him to the grocery store or pick him up from work so he doesn’t have to catch the bus. She is his rock, and she helps him make goals for the future.

“At this point just being around the right people and the right things, maybe having a job or something, and I’m not sure at this point really, other than that.”
– Josh Mar

Josh has now been sober for 90 days and he is currently working his way back up at Goodwill. He hopes to be out of his parent’s old house and in an apartment with a roommate within the next six months.

Ila Mar, KTSW News.

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