On the One-Year Anniversary of My Autism Diagnosis

It’s been one year since my autism diagnosis. I almost never dwell on the past. It seems pointless, and I have too many blank spots. This time I want to, before I forget what my life was like before and lose the sense of newness I’ve found over the past year.

So many things are different. Pursuing a diagnosis absolutely was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It made sense of my life, freed me from my worst demons.

I worry less about what others think of me these days. Beating myself up over things I can’t change is pointless. Passing as “normal” has come to feel like an unnecessary concession and personal defeat, as though I’m allowing others to set the rules for an exhausting, un-winnable race. Autism is my explanation. It’s not my excuse or apology. It mediates everything I experience.

I’m more happily “unwrapped” now. I pace, bounce up on the balls of my feet, rock, cover my ears, stare at people to keep track of what they’re saying… whatever I need, whatever helps. It’s such a relief.

I finally have accepted that being pressured and bullied aren’t things I deserve because I’m a failure or unlovable. They are things I permit. It’s a choice to stand up for myself, draw lines in the sand, express my desires and needs. It may get loud and be draining, but it’s absolutely necessary. Besides, people being angry, impatient or embarrassed won’t “fix” me; it’s only going to cause me to shut down and leave me unreachable.

Words still are the slippery fish they’ve always been. Sometimes they school downstream by the hundreds. Other times, they hide just out of reach where I can’t catch a single one. It’s gotten to be fairly amusing, and not just for me.

I’m pretty upfront about my autism these days. At first, I told people almost as an excuse, a get-out-of-jail-free card for my quirky behavior. Now, I tell them in order to help educate them about autism and to improve our interaction and, hopefully, relationship. Surprisingly, being upfront about autism is pretty easy for me. Not so much for other people.

I have a lot to be thankful for. Autism has, after 35 years of at times tumultuous marriage, brought my wife and me closer together. We still push each other’s buttons, but with more awareness of the reasons and necessary limits. My adult children still love their dad. I have new friends in the autism community that absolutely “get me,” no explanations or apologies required. I have an expanded sense of purpose thanks, in part, to an adult support group I started.

Like many autistics, I have skills and abilities I wouldn’t have as a neurotypical person. These skills are a lot more “available” to me these days, now that I’ve left behind the depression and anxiety that used to weigh me down. So, I now volunteer with a purpose, focusing on my abilities and how I can make a contribution. It’s amazing what a difference the simple act of feeling good about myself has made in almost everything I do.

Today, I turned 64. Perhaps it’s just my age, but the present… this moment… is more important than before. The past, other than the miracle of watching my children grow up, is of little concern. The future… well, it’s largely what I choose to make of it, not something to worry about.

It’s good to be older. Trivial things make way for more important ones. Clarity and contentment slowly creep in. I now have random hours and whole days when I’m happy and content, something I never experienced before my diagnosis.

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