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Why I'm Thankful for My Autism Diagnosis

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Of the many things in life I have to be thankful for, one that will always stand out is my autism diagnosis.

Imagine you’ve spent your entire life being a little different from the rest. You try to click with others at a young age, but something just doesn’t gel. You spend your teen years watching everyone else suddenly change and develop different interests, and you can’t wrap your head around it. You spend your 20s learning about yourself, and yet there is still a missing piece.

Then you stumble upon autism. Not for the first time, when you think you know what autism means. But several years later, when autism has a whole new meaning for you, and it describes so many of the things you’ve experienced throughout your life. It sounds like you.

You do a lot of research, only to find the more you delve into the topic, the more of yourself you see in it all. After a few years, you schedule that fateful appointment. You’re almost positive you’re autistic, but there’s still that tiny glimmer of a doubt: What if it isn’t autism, after all? You’ve incorporated it as part of your identity by this point.

Next come the appointments, the questionnaires and the interview with the psychologist. Finally, the day arrives – the day that decides whether or not everything you’ve learned about yourself is on point. You brace yourself for the answer. Are you autistic, or not? Your psychologist reviews the information, and finally… He tells you that you present as someone on the autism spectrum!

You feel a sense of validation. Your suspicions have been confirmed. Everything you’ve come to know as a part of who you are has indeed been a part of you all along. Congratulations! You’re autistic, and now you have an explanation for your differences and unique operating system.

Two years ago, this happened to me. For that I will be forever thankful.

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5 Things I’m Thankful for as a Parent of a Child on the Autism Spectrum

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With Thanksgiving here, I want to take a minute to ponder what I feel thankful for as a mom, a teacher and a wife. Although there are sometimes challenges, I can always feel thankful for what I have. It’s in this spirit I write this list.

1. True love: I felt true love for the first time when I met my husband. But with the birth of my son, I felt love on a completely new level. Though some days can have challenges, I am always grateful to have him in my life.

2. Appreciation for the little things: If anyone knows how to express thankfulness, it’s my son. He expresses gratitude for the little things in life. His eyes light up with joy at the smallest of gestures. I wish I could be more like him, seeing the wonderment in the everyday joys of life.

3. Honesty: OK, so maybe the truth can hurt sometimes. But he tells me when I’ve upset him, when I’ve made him happy, and when he likes my clothes. I’ve rarely known him to tell a lie.

4. Repeated compliments: My son must tell me a hundred times a day that I’m “the best mom ever” and that he loves me. He tells me I’m beautiful. He tells others they’re handsome or pretty. While he also sometimes repeats things I wish he wouldn’t, he’s always good at giving someone an ego boost through his compliments.

5. Hugs and kisses: I love how my son doesn’t shy away from affection. His kisses tell me he feels fondness toward me, and his hugs are some of the best in the world.

I know I’m not the only parent who feels thankful for all the small things that can come with raising a child. There’s a unique gratification that comes from raising children. As I watch mine grow up learning to be great young men, I am thankful for all that comes with parenting them. I hope one day my son will read this and know the love I feel for him is unconditional and without bounds.

What do you feel thankful for? Share what you’re thankful for in the comments!

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A Letter to High School Special Education Teachers

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To all high school special education teachers,

Based on my experience in high school, I hope you will keep some things in mind when it comes to your students. 

I hope you will treat your students well. And if you work with other kids outside your classes in extracurricular activities, I hope you will treat them well. 

I hope you won’t yell at your students if they have problems but instead try to understand first what they may be going through in their lives. If they have behavior challenges, calmly talk to them about their behaviors. 

I hope you will prepare your students for college by giving them the proper courses needed for that. 

I hope you have an understanding of what it takes to be a special education teacher. I hope you will stick up for your students if they are being bullied by other students or even other teachers or school staff. 

Most of all, I hope you will help them enjoy their high school experience, and hopefully they will not be miserable in high school like I was. Help them enjoy their high school experience.

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When a Meltdown Strikes in the Workplace

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The woman on the phone was not listening. I had called her for help and quickly realized she would not be able to help me.

I told her, “Nevermind. I’ve made a mistake. I’m going to let you go.” She kept asking questions. To every question she asked I said, “I don’t know. I don’t have any more information. I am going to let you go.”

She kept asking. I told her again, “I need to let you go. You cannot help me.” Her overly helpful insistence that I not hang up the phone was about to make me blow up.

Finally, in a harsh tone I told her, “Look — I was trying to be nice, but I am hanging up now, because there is nothing you can do for me.”

I slammed down the phone and ran quickly out of our office in a panic. My heart was beating fast and my mind was racing. Everything was a blur. I wanted to scream, cry and hit someone. More than anything, I wanted to get away and be alone.

Run. Run. Escape. Escape

Bursting into the hallway, I frantically looked both ways. I wanted to go someplace without people. The bathroom? Elevator? Emergency stairwell!

Hyperventilating, I burst into the stairwell. It was dark and quiet, as most people take the elevator. I ran up and down the stairs until finally I collapsed exhausted on the bottom floor.

I sat for a moment, curled in a ball, rocking. Grateful for the moment alone, I sat breathing in and listening to my breaths.

Coming back to reality and feeling much better after my tiny explosion (this was a very small meltdown), I realized I had left my key card in the desk as I ran out in a panic, so I exited the stairwell and took the elevator back to my floor.

Back at my desk, I sat down like nothing ever happened — as if I hadn’t just had a meltdown at work.

When an autistic person is having a meltdown, they are often unable to think clearly. The fight or flight response is triggered, so forcing them to engage with you may actually cause more stress.

We are all unique individuals, but I like to be alone during a meltdown. If I get up and run away, don’t chase me — this is flight, and if you corner me my brain can switch to fight. I’m on autopilot, and running has become the way I protect myself (and those around me).

If I’m having a meltdown, please do not touch me. My senses are whirling out of proportion, and I am not thinking clearly. I may become unable to communicate other than one-word answers, and trying to communicate makes me feel worse — so don’t ask me to explain what’s happening. If you are in the room with an autistic person having a meltdown, I’d recommend turning off the lights and getting them a blanket or pillow and some space. A favorite stim toy might also be a good thing to offer.

You can stay in the room if the person you are with does not mind, but give some space and sit quietly. Accept that they can’t control what is happening to them. Sometimes we feel the meltdown coming, but other times it can hit without warning.

Once started, the meltdown has to run its course. Just wait; let me meltdown and don’t try to stop it. We may feel tired after a meltdown, but sometimes we can feel relief, as the pressure may have been building for quite some time.

Remember, as hard as watching a meltdown can be for you, having a meltdown is horrible for an autistic person. The pain is mental and physical. Autistic people having meltdowns are in crisis mode, and our brains are lashing out at us. We don’t mean to be out of control and are often embarrassed after having a meltdown.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Anna Kendrick’s Response When I Told Her I Was on the Autism Spectrum

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Over the years as a motivational speaker and autism advocate, I’ve been able to meet some truly amazing celebrities. Two of my favorite experiences have been chatting with Luke Bryan and talking fashion with Tommy Hilfiger. The celebrity I met who truly blew me away, though, was none other than the multitalented Anna Kendrick.

I’ve been a fan of hers for as long as I can remember. I can relate to her quirkiness, love of theater and her passion for music. Music and theater were two of my biggest passions growing up on the autism spectrum. Because of that, when I heard she was coming to New York City for a book signing for her new book, “Scrappy Little Nobody,” I knew I had to be there.

Weeks became days, and before I knew it, the day had finally arrived when I was going to meet her. I showed up to Club Monaco about an hour and a half early to make sure I could be one of the first people to meet her. It was absolutely freezing that night, and my friend came down with laryngitis, so I was flying solo. As the time arrived to meet her, I was shaking, and I couldn’t decide if it was because of nerves or the cold. I found out when entering the store that we were not only getting a signed copy of her book but a photo of her, too!

When it was my time to meet her, she gave me a giant hug and a big smile. I told her about my several jobs and about my life growing up on the autism spectrum.

After hearing that she said, “OMG, you are awesome! I’m so glad you get to do what you do,” and then she clapped her hands and did a small jump to show her excitement.

Her response almost left me in tears.

With my mouth half open, I wished her well and left to get my photo from the photographer. I’m pretty sure I blacked out at that moment, because I can’t remember any more details from that night until I was on my train home and reading the first chapter of her book.

It wasn’t anything extraordinary that she did, but it was just her telling me what we do is making a difference that made me overjoyed with gratitude. For someone who grew up being a victim of bullying, having emotional challenges and never considering myself “awesome,” having someone so talented tell me that will be something I’m always grateful for.

If she ever reads this, I would just like to tell her thank you. Her genuineness and energy is something that I think left a mark on every single person she met that night and will continue to do so in the future.

We need more people out there who show kindness to others, so if I ever need an example of someone who embodies that, Anna Kendrick will be the one I mention. For those reading this, I say lead by her example, and remember to tell the people in your lives how awesome they are. Lift them up when you can. Trust me. It can make a world of difference. I know it did for me.

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A version of this post originally appeared on KerryMagro.com.

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