I have a diagnosis of autism and atypical schizophrenia. I have been dealing with my illness for as long as I can remember and my autism since I was born. These are some things I have discovered along my mental health journey which may assist others.
1. It can be common for people on the autism spectrum to also experience mental health issues. Mental illness may present differently in a person on the autism spectrum than in others. If you have a mental illness and autism spectrum condition, it is important that you, those who care for you, and your treating doctor and other health workers understand how your mental illness impacts you and how they can help.
2. Many people on the autism spectrum have something called alexithymia (also known as “emotion blindness”). This means they can struggle to contact the emotions they are experiencing. They might be extremely depressed and not realize it, instead thinking they feel “bad” but being unable to pinpoint how serious their low mood is.
3. As a person with mental illness and other issues, I’ve learned it is important to take responsibility for your own future. Nobody else can change your life for you. I’ve found positive change can only happen from the moment at which you decide to make it. You really can be the CEO of your own life. You are in charge of the decisions you make and the direction your life takes.
4. You are not alone — many other people will be experiencing similar things to you. You can meet others with similar experiences through getting involved in the autism and/or mental health communities. This can help you to value and respect yourself as a person with autism and a person with mental illness, in addition to connecting you with like-minded people. There are many groups on social media which may be of assistance.
5. Make use of difficult experiences by viewing them as teachable moments. This doesn’t mean to minimize or discount your negative experiences. Instead it means to reflect on any difficulties you have had and then ascertain what you have learned from them. This is a good way of building your resilience.
6. Independence does not mean doing everything by yourself. You can access support and be independent. Everyone needs help with something.
7. When life was very difficult, I reminded myself that “this too will pass.” I’ve found this is a helpful attitude and can be used when you are experiencing a mental health crisis.
8. Recognize that people with autism and people without autism tend to communicate differently. This does not mean that one or other style is “right.” Each style is valid. But be aware of this when dealing with non-autistic mental health clinicians, as they may be misinterpreting what you say. It can help to discuss this issue with your doctor or other mental health professional.
9. If you use a psychologist or psychotherapist, you may need to shop around to find one that works well for you. Understand there are different therapy models and some will be more effective than others. The relationship between you and your therapist is often more important than the kind of therapy model they use. Try to find a therapist who has some knowledge about autism and/or is willing and able to learn.
10. You may be prescribed medication for mental health issues. Remember that medication is not “one size fits all.” It may take a few attempts to find the medication that works for you. Be patient, because getting the right can one usually provide some good results. Record any side effects or anything else you notice that concerns you while taking medication and report back to the doctor who prescribed it. Even if you think you know best, discuss any changes you want to make to your medication with your doctor before acting on them.
11. Do what works for you. Find strategies to address the different challenges your illness and/or your autism present. It can take a while to develop effective strategies for everything you experience. See it as an ongoing learning process. You will build wisdom by using each method or strategy.
12. Finally, remember that you are amazing. You are strong and have been through some of the most difficult situations with a 100 percent success rate. Acknowledge your efforts and reward yourself for good progress.
Editor’s note: This is based on one person’s experiences and should not be taken as medical advice. Consult a doctor or medical professional for any questions or concerns you have.
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