Autism and Me: What I’ve Learned in the Year Since My Diagnosis
This year, 2017, is vastly swimming by. It seems that just yesterday we were celebrating Christmas and now we’re welcoming in spring and all the beautiful flowers that bloom and the gorgeous baby animals that are born.
April is an incredible month; besides the fact the weather is becoming warmer, it’s also Autism Awareness Month. This is the first Autism Awareness Month I have ever participated in, and it feels amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that Autism Awareness should occur every day, every month, but it’s refreshing to know that there is a dedicated month for autism and Autistic people.
It’s approaching a year that I was diagnosed with autism, and what a year it’s been, with learning more about myself as a person, attending support groups and learning how to be more independent. Without forgetting to mention the incredible people I’ve met and had the privilege of working with, including my lovely support worker, and the lessons I have learned in terms of myself, other people and life.
I was diagnosed with autism at 19, and I can assure you that only positives have come from my diagnosis. My eating disorder therapist was the first to pick up on my possible autistic traits; I am thankful that she did or I may have never been diagnosed, meaning I would never have received the help and support I currently have access to. However, just because I have been diagnosed a little later on in life doesn’t mean I haven’t always had autism. Autism is a lifelong developmental condition, meaning it’s present from birth and you cannot just catch it or develop it in the future. The reason I hadn’t been diagnosed prior to this is because nobody had picked up on it. It seemed to me like everybody just assumed I was shy, and I had grown somewhat comfortable with being “the quiet one.” In addition to this, autism can be harder to recognize in females, with one potential reason for this being that we might try to copy those around us as a means of fitting in. But this certainly doesn’t mean males cannot be diagnosed later on in life, too.
I find that people fail to understand autism due to the stigma that surrounds it. It’s time to address this stigma in an attempt to stamp it out completely. Comments have been said to me, including “you don’t seem Autistic.” And I simply put this down to a lack of understanding and knowledge regarding the condition. For example, autism is not a mental illness. It’s impossible to “look” Autistic, and people are only aware of my autism if I trust them enough to discuss it with them. Many people were in shock about my diagnosis because I am intelligent and because of how well I do academically, which is silly considering Autistic people can be highly intelligent. I am blessed to have such understanding and loving people in my life, including my family, my friends and my medical professionals.
Before I was diagnosed as Autistic, I wasn’t fully aware of what it meant or what it included as such. But with each day I am growing to accept and understand my condition, because it doesn’t define me, it’s just a part of who I am. There is a huge Autistic spectrum, and no two people with autism are the same. For instance, I struggle with communication whereas others may struggle with knowing when to let others communicate. I have a huge passion and admiration for animals, whereas others may have interests in other areas. Some people may find certain noises or bright lights frustrating (I hate the ones in supermarkets, ugh), and some people may only feel comfortable wearing a specific brand or item of clothing.
Due to my autism, I struggle with certain aspects of life, but fortunately for me I can learn to challenge them and to maybe overcome my difficulties too. I’ve yet to meet somebody who doesn’t accept me for me. But if the time comes and this does happen, I will simply tell them where to go because I need acceptance and understanding, not judgment and criticism. I struggle with tolerating change, social communication, high levels of anxiety, and low self-esteem/confidence. I cannot always understand sarcasm and have been known to take things literally. I struggle with small talk as I find it pointless and unnecessary, not to mention that it makes me feel extremely awkward. I dislike meeting new people and going to new places, and I also feel uncomfortable in busy/crowded places. I don’t always enjoy things my peers enjoy, including going out drinking and going to parties. Instead of putting myself down for not fitting in with those aspects, I simply carry on and do things I feel comfortable doing instead. I do enjoy spending time with animals, including my cat and rabbit, visiting animal-related places such as animal sanctuaries and zoos, and going for walks in nature. I also enjoy reading, writing and doing anything artistic (well, apart from sewing!).
Being diagnosed with autism has had such a huge, beneficial impact on my life, and despite the fact that I get frustrated with it sometimes, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Why? Well, because autism makes me, me and it makes me unique. It has given me answers to so many things in terms of who I am and why I do, say and understand things differently. In the beginning I was ashamed of even being put in for an autism assessment. I am slowly, but surely, moving on from that feeling, and I’m learning to accept that it isn’t a negative thing at all, and certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
Accept difference, not indifference. I see things in the world differently at times; that doesn’t mean I should be seen or treated differently.
I am an Autistic young person who was once an Autistic child. Instead of judging me, support me and provide me with reassurance and understanding.
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Thinkstock image by IakovKalinin