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To me, being diagnosed with autism (originally Asperger’s) was the best thing in the world. If I could have had the diagnosis sooner, like around the age of 7 when my learning disabilities began to affect me, that would have been better. But since I cannot change that, the time the diagnosis did happen was at the right time in my life.

I was 18 years old and had just graduated high school. I was in and out of psychiatric hospitals during my senior year of high school because I didn’t want to be alive anymore. If I didn’t give myself a chance and ask to go into a hospital, I would have never found out why I am the way I am, and that is because I am autistic.

I look back at when I was contemplating suicide because I hated who I was and could never understand myself. I look back at my home life where I hated to be. What did I have? I felt like I had nothing I wanted to live for. But I knew I was born to help others, and I knew there had to be a reason I am who I was all my life. After two psychiatrists, I finally found one who on day two said, “You are on the autism spectrum.” My mom is a special education teacher and has had many boys in her class with Asperger’s but no girls. That night I looked up: Female Characteristics With Asperger’s Syndrome. The next morning my mom woke up at her regular time of 6 a.m. and I was up, wired, and wide awake ready to tell her awesome news. I showed her the paper of the characteristics. I screamed and jumped with excitement. This is me! This is who I am! This is why I do what I do and have no explanations!

My mom looked it over and understood I just found myself. From that day forward, I learned about myself and learned to understand aspects of myself and everything else. I studied body language, eye contact in the mirror, and learned more about myself. I needed to know and understand myself more to be confident in who I am as a person. I didn’t want to guess anymore. That year was one of the hardest and best years of my life. I had to fight the urge to want to die, had to stop self-harming, had to start lowering medications and had to figure myself out.

Without answers to my questions, I would not be where I am today: alive, confident and happy. My autism diagnosis is something I will always be proud to talk, advocate and educate others about. I am no longer afraid to talk about my past because it led to my future and where I stand today. Without understanding myself, I would have never understood why I am the way I am around large groups of people. I would have never seen the signs before a meltdown occurs. I would never keep ear buds with filters in case something is too loud for me to handle. I feel I wouldn’t have found someone I am in love with and who is in love with me without me understanding myself.

I am autistic, and I am proud to be who I am.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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If you told me two years ago — before my autism spectrum disorder diagnosis — that all I needed to do was to chew in order to have a better social life, I probably would have thought you were telling me to chew tobacco. Then I would have thought that was silly. But in the last few months or so, I have been chewing (also known as stimming) as much as I please, and without shame.

Stimming means “self-stimulatory behavior,” and I believe almost everyone does it in some way. Even a neurotypical person might somehow fidget or stim. It’s very common and natural. However, it is different for autistic people. The most recognizable autistic stims may be hand flapping or spinning, but there are many more. I even consider listening to the same song 20 times (or more) in a row to be a common stim for me. It calms me; it makes me feel like myself.

I have come to realize that chewing on my chewable necklace from Stimtastic — a store that makes stim toys just for this purpose — calms me greatly during times of sensory overload. When am I overloaded? Often! This happens a lot in supermarkets and other crowded places. The most dangerous place it occurs is in the car. I have extra trouble at stop lights, when cars are buzzing by, horns are beeping, etc. I can’t just run away from the overload while I’m in a giant piece of machinery!

But now I chew on my necklace and have been able to drive farther from my safe bubble than I have in a long time! I’ve been as far as 80 miles away to visit family. In fact, I can’t get enough of this new ability I have, thanks to being able to stim. Sure, I get looks. I can see out of the corner of my eye. People may think it’s odd to see a grown woman chewing hard on her jewelry, but I don’t care. Stimming has improved my quality of life — my social life, in particular. Driving to see family is something I won’t ever take for granted. I can’t wait for the holidays this year, which is not something I could have said a few years ago.

Do you stim? Don’t be ashamed, even if it’s not seen as “normal” by some people. The more of us who are willing to shamelessly stim, the less stigma will be attached to it!

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