This is my 9th interview in my series Interviewing Late-Identified Autistics. Clark Wade is a late-identified autistic. My questions are in bold and Clark's responses follow in regular typeface.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This interview candidly discusses the experience of sexual assault. I appreciate Clark's willingness to share on this topic. We need spaces where we can discuss the realities of our lived experiences. Furthermore, the rates of sexual violence are extremely high for autistics, and our collective stories can bring this topic to the forefront.
How old were you when you learned you were autistic?
61 years old.
How did you learn you are autistic?
A friend from Purdue discovered her autism and said I was autistic too. I was stunned and immediately life started making more sense. The more I learned the more I knew she was totally right.
How did you decide whether to self-identify or diagnose?
Self diagnose. My counselor at the time seemed to not be interested in my new understanding. I have changed to a new counselor. I read in Devon Price’s writings that it was just as valid to self diagnose. No one I have mentioned my diagnosis to that is not autistic seems to care whether I am or not, except that they seem to not believe me.
How did you feel when you learned you were autistic?
I thought it was a very freeing thing. I now look on it as a godsend. I understand me better. I felt so bad about myself so long and now I don’t have to hate myself.
What is your gender? How do you feel this impacted your journey as an autistic individual?
I am male, I was born and identified as male at birth. I had no exposure to the LGBTQIA world until Purdue and all of the new friends that I made were part if the community. I find no issues with anyone that identifies as any gender or sexual orientation at all. I actually am surprised that I identify as heterosexual since my first sexual experience was being raped by my brother. It has mostly just caused me issues with having sex and being sexual with my late wife. I think (memories are lacking still) that being autistic may have led me be loving toward him in hopes he would quit hating me more than anything else.
How did any other of your identities (ex. race, religion, sexuality, etc.) impact your late identification as autistic?
I was not exposed to religon until my friends at Purdue took me to church. I think that I have a clear understanding of God because I don’t have all of the shades of grey in my understanding of God. I also do not think he worries about sexual orientation like churches teach. I no longer go to any denominational churches as they are not open to my understanding of God and his being so much more loving than they teach.
How did your friends and family respond when you told them you are autistic?
My family is mostly dead and I stopped having a relationship with my oldest brother many years ago. My other brother is not interested in my life at all.
Did you seek out therapy, coaching, or other forms of structured support for autism?
No. I am in therapy to deal with my rape as an 8 year old. I have found great support in the autistic community. I have great support from my friend from Purdue and also in AA and Al-Anon for my family of origin issues and my alcoholism that I developed to deal with feeling terrible about myself. I think my Dad was autistic and he drank to deal with his low self esteem. He was a dentist and was very well liked in the community as he was very outgoing and friendly.
How has learning you are autistic impacted your life?
I learned that I was masking 100% all of my life. I was trained to hide my autism and there was no exception to this growing up. My parents were nice people and did what they could to help me. I think they were trying to prevent me from being hurt and also my Mom was concerned about me being put in an instituton and taken away from her. Her Dad spent most of his life in TB hospitals so she feared I might suffer the same fate I think. We never talked about it that I can remember. I live the role that they taught me.
I experienced an event at 3 years old that shaped my life – I was told in anger by my Dad, “Get up off the floor you worthless piece of shit” when I was having a meltdown. My Dad was treated terribly when he was growing up so I imagine he had been told that or worse when he was a kid. I also bear in mind that my Dad had suffered hepatitis B and nearly died from it around this same time so he may have been having a really bad day when this happened. Anyway my life was filtered against that standard and I never felt I was better than a piece of shit until the memory resurfaced during the grieving process of my wife’s death when I was 59. Much of my childhood memories are something I have not allowed myself to access yet, so I think it was not happy for me due to being in an alcoholic family and my oldest brother hating me.
I do remember being paddled many times in school until 5th grade when I think I just “broke” and became compliant. This would be after I was raped by my 16 year old brother. My brother who is 1 year older than me would disputes all of this as he thinks we were just a normal family and never had much going on by his memory.
How have you modified or adapted your life since learning you’re autistic?
I make more allowances to rest now. I have always been exhausted when finishing work. I have not been able to change my masking as much as I thought I could. When I am in certain situations like dealing with a lot of grief I often cannot fully mask (cannot make eye contact anymore). I give myself a lot more grace now as well and realize I am doing my best and I do not beat myself up over my behavior. I never meltdown, I still shutdown at times.
In what ways does being autistic enhance your life?
I can evaluate a situation at work and determine a solution quickly – I never lack the ability to make a decision like my co-workers. My opinion is not at stake in deciding, just the facts.
What are some topics or activities you’re passionate about?
Some of the areas are history, Science Fiction, the creation of atomic weapons during the 40’s and 50’s. I also like many of the detective shows created by the BBC. I identify with loner and workaholic characters. I read a lot about God and recovery now.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I start my day very early and I need alone time praying and reading devotionals and listening to praise music. I can listen to certain songs hundreds of times in a row.
If you work, what do you do for work?
I was trained to be an Aeronautical Engineer, but I have been doing IT for most of my career. I wrote a lot of software and I now support systems for engineering analysis work.
Is there anyone else in your family who is autistic?
I think my Dad was, but he died in 2013.
What are some of the challenges you face in being autistic?
Mostly that some people just do not like me from they first time they meet me. I often work until I just can’t keep my eyes open and crash. I have almost no friendships. Male friends are kept at a very superficial level. My only close friend is a female who is autistic. I usually overshare and drive people away. I live a very open life and hate lying.
What helps you prevent or cope with moments of overwhelm?
If I stim I listen to certain songs at a loud volume over and over.
What skills or strategies have helped you to work with your autistic mind?
I am still figuring me out. I really do not have much figured out yet. I am still shedding my forced roles from earlier in life. I think of my early life as being brainwashed.
How does your autistic identity impact your friendships?
As I said I really don’t have many. I am very friendly and outgoing to make people like me. I try to treat everyone as nicely and kindly as I can.
How does your autistic identity impact your romantic relationships?
My marriage was OK, I mostly did what my wife wanted always as at that time I did not think that I mattered, nor did it matter if I ceased to exist.
What is your experience with medical systems? Are there ways you feel they can be improved for autistic individuals?
I have not had much help from most of the medical system. I think I have a counselor now that is helpful, but she does not do insurance. I think that the whole system is hung up on the disease model and that is not a good system. They just want to sell pills. It is hard to find good providers.
How did being an undiagnosed autistic child impact your childhood?
I did not have a happy childhood. Most memories are missing as a result. I lived in my own world of reading and alone a lot.
What ways did you camouflage or mask?
I just learned to people please and not have needs and stay in the background and not get noticed. I alway felt inferior or not valuable. I was only useful if I was helpful. So I always helped anyone to be liked. I would befriend anyone that was a reject. I learned others interests to make them like me. I tried to not let people find out my secret that I was different and not worth anything.
How has your identification as autistic changed how you view your childhood or earlier periods of adulthood?
I understand my childhood now and it has been very healing for me.
How did being an undiagnosed autistic impact romantic relationships?
I never did well and I only have been with one woman sexually (my wife). She suffered a terrible childhood and we helped each other work through life.
Talking to Others About Autism
How do you describe autism to people who are not familiar with it?
I have mentioned that I have it and most people show no interest in it at all. Most dismiss my ideas. So I really don’t. I think it makes life simple – things are very clear to me, no grey, just truth and false. I read people for protection so I study people alot.
What do you wish others knew about autism?
I wish people would understand that it is not just non-verbal children and like it is presented on TV.
What is your advice for someone who thinks they might be autistic?
Read some good books on it: A field Guide to Earthlings, Devon Price and others.
Are there any resources (books, articles, videos, etc.) you would recommend for people who just learned they’re autistic?
Much of what I have read on Medium is wonderful and helpful. It is a great resource. Anything Devon Price writes, Nick Walker, Judy Singer. I follow a number of people on YouTube or on Instagram too.
Are there any autistic characters in books, tv, or movies that accurately reflect autism?
I have not really found any examples.
If someone would like to connect with you, how can they reach you?
They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for reading. If you are a late-identified autistic, I would love to have you participate in this series. Please email me at email@example.com if you are interested.