Recent autism diagnosis is no obstacle for animal shelter director
Providence Journal - 6/3/2019
FALL RIVER 2019--FALL RIVER -- Casey Fredette, an East Providence resident and director of the Forever Paws animal shelter, was diagnosed last year with autism.
That may be a blunt way to put it, but that's how Fredette, who placed in the high-functioning category of the autism spectrum, formerly known as Asperger's, would want it to be said.
"I feel like with coming out and saying it ... there's less stigma," Fredette said.
Seated in his small office as barking and meowing seeped through the closed door, Fredette admitted that he had autism and told his story.
He believes that people may have already spotted some of his characteristics -- being blunt, rigid in his thinking, having difficulty with gray areas -- or felt a victim of his emotional detachment, but they just didn't have a name to put to his personality.
"I don't think it'll be a surprise to them," he said.
Fredette decided it was time to come out of hiding -- and frankly, he's tired of the emotional disguise -- and asked The Herald News to help him tell his secret.
"This is who I am," Fredette said.
Fredette was diagnosed with autism at the age of 35, but he said he knew for a long time that he was different than most other people. Even in childhood, there were signs, but he didn't live with anyone long enough for them to pursue a diagnosis or treatment.
"I had a somewhat feral childhood," Fredette said. "I was raised by a lot of people."
With his parents having issues and being mostly out of the picture, Fredette, an only child, lived with relatives, sometimes distant relatives, and never stayed for long, getting shuffled along to the next family member.
"A lot of things got missed," he said. When she was around, Fredette's biological mother said he was "off."
Growing up, he felt he was "on the outside looking in. I felt broken."
Fredette said the feeling of "not fitting in or being in on the joke with everyone else can leave you feeling very in the dark and alone."
Fredette said he had, and has, some sensory issues, finds touch mainly intolerable and eye contact difficult, and is methodical, logical and emotionally detached.
Sharing emotions is "daunting," he said. "I've always felt wrong. It's always been a point of shame." And that goes for online, too. "I'm emoji illiterate."
But some of those characteristics benefit his position.
For example, Fredette "thinks in pictures" so can easily assess an animal on the mend from day to day with just a glance. He also rarely forgets where things are located. Being emotionally detached allows him to run through diagnosis, treatment and next steps when he deals with a rescued or injured animal, rather than act in panic or fear.
Fredette has been director of Forever Paws for three years. He was formerly the Hull, Massachusetts, animal control officer and a veterinary technician.
He genuinely loves helping animals, from rats to cats, and dogs to birds. He's even worked with manatees, his favorite, in Florida, and naturally gravitated toward a career in animal care.
"The animals don't judge. The animals don't care," Fredette said.
A husband and father of three, Fredette said his wife is "exceptional" in dealing with his characteristics. "Marriage is difficult enough" without living with autism. "I'm difficult enough." One of his main concerns is giving his wife and children the emotional support they need.
In going public with his diagnosis, Fredette said he hopes to show his children that they should embrace differences and that it's OK to be who they are.
Being diagnosed as an adult meant visiting several physicians, answering questions in writing and aloud, and speaking to a counselor. While a diagnosis may offer coping strategies, there is no cure.
Fredette would have been diagnosed with Asperger's disorder because of his less severe symptoms, but that term was abolished as a separate disorder from autism in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association, and is now included under the umbrella of the autism spectrum.
"There is no one autism," Fredette said.
Working at Forever Paws, Fredette said a diagnosis means he can be a role model for the many children with special needs who tour and volunteer at the shelter.
"Being a leader in the community and in a profession is still an option for them," Fredette said. "Fear is fueled by silence."
For years, Fredette said he has "mimicked and mirrored" what he thought he should do to seem "normal." But now, having a diagnosis and letting go of silence helps him embrace his differences and feel "comfortable" in his skin.
"It's not just a shortcoming," Fredette said. "I'm not just doing life wrong.
"My sincere hope is by being public about it, (people) will see that the stigma isn't justified. It's not an impediment."
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