LEXINGTON — Debbie Mack, 55, felt like an outsider growing up.
Despite her efforts to interact with others, she never felt like she fit in.
“What it felt like is you’re on the outside looking in. You never fit in. You could be in a group and look like you are the life of the party, having fun, but you never feel like it,” the Cleveland-area native and current Lexington resident said.
Socializing didn’t come naturally for her.
“I was forced to talk to people, and I was forced to pretend that I was OK,” she said. “It was a nightmare. It just never felt right.”
For years, she thought of herself as a “total freak,” not understanding why she felt so disconnected from others.
It wasn’t until 2012 she finally had her answer: she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a developmental disorder affecting one’s ability to effectively socialize and communicate.
In 2013, Asperger’s became part of one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5, according to Autism Speaks.
How the diagnosis came about, Mack said, was a “total fluke.” She happened to work with someone with Asperger’s, and after hearing about Asperger syndrome symptoms, Mack decided to get herself screened.
“It would have been much better if someone would have diagnosed me younger. My life would have been a lot easier,” she said. “If I would have known what my diagnosis was, I could have made better decisions and understood why I did what I did.”
After years of adapting to social norms, Mack said you might not even guess she has Asperger’s — although her diagnosis is not something she’s ashamed of or afraid to talk about.
In fact, Mack stood up at an Autism Speaks conference and received a standing ovation after affirming the potential of those with autism, saying there are many who are accomplished, degreed professionals.
Mack is among those who has excelled academically and professionally.
She graduated from high school a year early with a 4.0 GPA. She then worked her way through college (working mostly full-time). She earned a bachelor of arts in business administration from Baldwin Wallace University, a juris doctor degree from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, and a master of business administration from Ashland University.
Mack began practicing law in 1996, working predominantly in Mansfield until two years ago when she moved her practice to Lexington. She deals primarily with consumer bankruptcy, foreclosure defense, financial planning, and offer in compromise.
Mack said she likes taking on challenging and complex cases.
“That’s my forte — I’ll take somebody with a multitude of issues and chart out and diagram what people need to do to get through it,” she said.
“I’ll take people with like $118,000 owed to the IRS and I’ll settle it for $18,500,” she said as an example.
On top of Asperger’s, she’s navigated her way through difficulties posed by ADHD, a diagnosis she received in 2009. ADHD is a chronic condition characterized by attention difficulty, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.
“I thought there was something wrong with me, and I just didn’t realize that ADHD symptoms would be affecting my life so much,” she said.
Mack said she’s learned to cope with ADHD challenges, namely organizational issues.
“In my case, I learned how to organize, so I use color-coding for many, many things,” she said. She also keeps a master calendar and makes use of lists.
“Personally, I’ve always believed that God would get me through and He always has,” she said.
Now that she knows about her diagnoses, she believes, “It’s just part of who I am.”
“We need all types of people to complete our world, and sometimes those more impaired people with autism are the sweetest people you will ever meet, and sometimes you’re going to find people who are on the upper end of the spectrum that are highly-degreed professionals that we also need,” she said.
“Just because we’re different doesn’t mean that we deserve any less respect. We just need people to be a little bit more patient with us.”
Kitrina and Steven Creasey’s child, Steven Jr., was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was about two years old.