- Samantha Antekeier, 22, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in April 2022.
- She said that, looking back, there were early signs of her autism that she didn’t see at the time.
- She hopes more people who don’t have stereotypical autistic behaviors will get diagnosed, she said.
Samantha Antekeier, who goes by Sam, said that even as a kid she has felt different from other people. She struggled early on with mental health issues like anxiety, she said.
“Every time I was in class we’d have these worksheets and if I made one mistake, I wouldn’t erase it, I’d ask for a whole new worksheet,” she said.
Antekeier, now 22 and a psychobiology major at UCLA, was officially diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in April of 2022. She said, looking back on her mental health journey, she believes there were early signs of her autism that went unnoticed by her and her doctors.
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental and neurological condition that impacts a person’s behavior, communication, and sensory experience, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
While common signs of autism are typically listed as difficulty with social interactions, repetitive behaviors, and trouble communicating, most research is done on boys and men. Women often have overlooked signs, researchers believe. And autism is diagnosed on a spectrum, so symptoms and their severity will differ for each person.
Antekeier spoke to Insider about some of her difficulties in adolescence and early adulthood that she now understands as signs of ASD.
Sign 1: Difficulty keeping friends and meltdowns
As a kid, Antekeier said she constantly struggled to understand other people and their emotions. While she found she could make friends, she said, maintaining friendships was more difficult.
She also experienced what she now understands as autistic meltdowns, where she would scream and cry for hours. These meltdowns particularly scared her parents, she said, who brought her to psychiatrist when she was around 10. She was officially diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and was prescribed medication that she has been on forever since.
Antekeier said that, since her diagnosis, her doctors have told her trouble socializing, meltdowns, and depression are all common in autistic people, though she saw these as separate behaviors at the time.
Sign 2: ADHD-like behavior
While she did well in school, Antekeier said that she has always had difficulty focusing. Growing up, she said often she would run around the house doing handstands and spoke incredibly fast.
However, she said she also had intense interests in specific subjects that she could focus on for hours. When she was younger this interest was in gymnastics.
“I would know all the gymnasts’ names. I would do gymnastics myself, I know all the names of all the moves. I’d know the scoring systems, I’d watch it all the time, I’d buy multiple leotards. But I wasn’t even that good at gymnastics, I was just obsessed with it,” Antekeier said.
These days, she said she has developed what she would call an obsession with genetics and medicine. It calms her whenever she reads about it.
A psychiatrist diagnosed Antekeier with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) in middle school and suspected that she was autistic as well, she said. ADHD and autism can look very similar, and those with ASD can often shown signs of ADHD, according to WebMD.
Antekeier said that the ADHD medication that she takes has helped her immensely in school and with socializing, and accepts it now as a part of her autism. In her bio on TikTok, where she posts advocacy and information about her diagnosis, she self-describes as having “audhd.”
Sign 3: Masking social interactions
The most difficult part about seeing herself as having autism, Antekeier said, was the introverted, shy image she had of someone with ASD. Even though she struggled with friendships, she had always been an extroverted, social person.
Looking back, she believes a lot of that extroversion was learned behaviour. Her parents got her social skills classes in high school, suspecting that she may have autism. She said her ADHD medication also gave her enough focus to generate social interactions.
“I got really, really good at faking things. So I ended up making a ton of friends after that. Not necessarily keeping them, but being able to make them and fake it to the point where even now I don’t really have to think about social interaction anymore,” she said.
In the autistic community, this is called masking: people with autism mimic social behaviors and push through sensory discomforts in order to fit in.
An official diagnosis opened the door to a community and feeling less shame
While she has identified as autistic for the past few years, Sam said that recent struggles with depression pushed her to get officially diagnosed. Although there things she finds incredibly frustrating about her condition, she said that the community she’s found has been incredibly fulfilling and has helped her feel less shame about who she is.
She said she hopes more people will seek out an ASD diagnosis, especially those who are not normally thought of as having the condition.
“You don’t necessarily have to meet all these check boxes. You don’t have to play with trains, you don’t have to be a boy, you don’t have to be super nerdy to be autistic. A lot of people, you would see them in everyday life and you would have no idea,” she said.