I am a child of the 1980s. I watched the first season of Nickelodeon. I ate Kraft cheese and Oscar Meyer b-o-l-o-g-n-a on Wonder Bread sandwiches every day. I saw every Molly Ringwald movie. I saw New Kids on the Block when they were still opening for Tiffany. I was an innocent girl who suddenly walked into third grade and found she no longer had any friends because that’s the year the great divide between popular kids and the ones who got bullied appeared.
My mother always said “just ignore it.” But I couldn’t get her to tell me how. Apparently, I reacted differently than the other kids. So it was even more fun to taunt me. My mother got to the point where if I wanted to stay home from school, I had to be willing to call the doctor myself to make an appointment.
I would say inappropriate things or have inappropriate facial expressions. I would freak out at sounds and smells and touch that others took in stride; in fact, my “temper tantrums” have been referred to as “legendary.” I never got subtle humor, so there were misunderstandings aplenty. Friends were rarely better than acquaintances. As I got older, I couldn’t keep a boyfriend longer than three months.
I was smart. I was in the gifted and talented program from elementary school through high school. In ninth grade, I gave a speech before governors on Earth Day. I was a finalist in a national high school mathematics competition. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from a Big Ten university in three years with honors. I interned at National Geographic magazine. I was the woman for whom there were no rhetorical questions. I could figure anything out. But I couldn’t figure out how to get along with people.
The year I turned 25, my parents wanted me to move back home to the Midwest, but to me that was defeat. So I picked up and moved from one coast to the other to get away and “figure out” the solution to this problem, too. I had enough saved to last about three months, which was plenty of time to figure this out, right? Nope. Then, it got worse. The diagnosis turned into major depressive disorder. I couldn’t work. I went on disability. I only left my tiny one-room apartment to go to the grocery store or the doctor.
It wasn’t until my 20s were nearly behind me and I saw a Time magazine article about a little boy with autism that I finally figured it out. I showed it to my psychologist, and after a year-long battle to get it covered by insurance, I had an appointment to be evaluated.
January 7, 2016 marked 4,500 days since my autism diagnosis. I keep track in recognition of the day my life began again. I could finally understand why I couldn’t understand. I got services from the local regional autism center. I slowly transitioned back into the world. Now I’m married, and we own a home in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles. I work from home so I don’t have to remember to use the right facial expressions or deal with the cacophony of a cubicle farm. Every day, I work remotely with technology teams from Texas to India who take my ideas and bring them to life for a major corporation. I am the official “autism champion” for my global company in Southern California. I volunteer with a local charity to help my compatriots struggling to find their place in the world. I teach law enforcement about sensory issues to aid in dealing with those in crisis.
I am an adult with autism. I am autistic. No matter how you say it, my life is better with the diagnosis.
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