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Growing Up in Foster Care as a Girl With Undiagnosed Autism

My name is Mariah and I am Autistic and 24 years old. I’m a big Christian and live in Wisconsin. I was born in Burnsville, Minnesota and entered the foster system at the age of 9. I finally was adopted in 2009 after moving from three different foster homes. I was then placed in services in middle school for those with disabilities and was there for five years until I graduated high school. When others describe me, they say I’m a resilient, caring, enthusiastic, honest and highly empathetic person.

The beginning of my life was tough. I unfortunately figured out I wasn’t placed in a safe environment after a year and experienced a lot of trauma in my last home. I was verbally traumatized and experienced a lot of isolation. Aside from trauma, I felt misunderstood and experienced a lot of bullying, rejection and friendship struggles as well due to misunderstandings. Not knowing I had autism during that time didn’t help. I was selectively mute and I had a hard time understanding the social rules in games and relationships, understanding jokes, humor, and knowing how to relate and connect with others without experiencing anxiety and overwhelm.

I coped by masking. I would stay by myself in quiet places in school and in a shell in my bedroom. During those times I would pray, read books, play my Nintendo DS, journal, and listen to music. I felt left out a lot and couldn’t figure out how everyone adjusted and fit in so easily with everyone. I felt like an outcast. I didn’t know the exact way to approach people either. I tried getting involved but experienced continuous rejection and bullying. I knew I was a good person. Something wasn’t right with the picture. I fell into depression. I started regressing and my parents consulted health professionals. it was hard for them to figure what was going on. I feel doctors placed way too many labels on me for any person to have. I was misdiagnosed for most of my life and figured out everything fit into one picture one day.

It wasn’t until my early 20s when I moved out on my own that I received my diagnosis of autism. Before that time, I was given about seven different diagnoses that kept changing. When I got diagnosed as Autistic, everything clicked and made sense to me. I learned I was just different from everyone else and there’s nothing wrong with that. Autistic girls tend to get misdiagnosed a lot. I learned from the psychologist who diagnosed me that not all doctors are knowledgeable about autism and how to diagnose it. Autism can look different in girls and is diagnosed more in boys. Moving foster homes and switching schools constantly didn’t help the situation either. All I know for sure is that I finally felt whole, and as strange as this might sound, my life made sense. The way I’ve been feeling my whole life has finally been validated. There was a reason behind everything I went through, and being different isn’t a bad thing if you look at it through a different lens.

Since transitioning out of my schooling, services, and adopted home and receiving a diagnosis, my life has changed. I currently work at my new job at Culver’s Restaurants. Thanks to Autism Speaks, I received a $1,000 grant and will be currently working along with a coach through them. I’ll be learning job, relational and independent living skills. Ill will be working on personal goals and finally will have the opportunity to connect with more adults on the spectrum like me.

During my free time, I talk to, study about and listen to music about Jesus. I connect with my new family and online friends and attend church activities and groups. I plan on going to a Bible college and on a missionary trip someday. I believe having a relationship with Jesus is important in my life and is my way of getting through difficulties and life in general. I also participate in Special Olympics — it has taught me about teamwork, resilience, respect, kindness and inclusion.

Lastly, I wouldn’t change being Autistic. I learned being Autistic is a big part of me. I’m just wired differently and that’s not a bad thing. My autism makes me unique and stand out, makes me more accepting of others’ differences, and makes me a loving, empathetic person. I love I can have the opportunity to meet people like me too. I was told I can have a sense of humor as well because I can make people laugh even without intentions too.

Autism has helped me excel in repetitive tasks, creative thinking, observational skills, reliability, honesty and loyalty. I excel at repetitive tasks because it helps me focus on one thing and gives me routine and predictability. Autism helps me remain intensely focused on the tiniest of details. I think these skills can help employers view me as a good employee. Being super honest and reliable are always good qualities to have within the workplace and in life in general.

My main struggles today with being Autistic are the stigma surrounding it and how society views autism. I struggle with lack of acceptance and a few executive function difficulties, sensory, and social difficulties, including adjusting and the rigidity and predictability that collides with my daily activities and changes. I love to make new friends and meet new people, especially those who have the same interests I do. Making friends is still a struggle today, but I continue to fight through it. I learned I’m not born to fit in but to stand out. I will also not change myself for anyone. I shouldn’t have to mask my autism and fit in with the world for people to like me. I’ll continue to find my people who accept me as I am and keeping a small circle is perfectly fine with me. I’m grateful for the people I have in my life.

I truly believe that everything I have been through in my life – the struggles and trauma, the joyous moments like finding my family and friends and receiving an autism diagnosis – has put me exactly where I need to be in the world. I hope sharing my story will encourage readers to treat others who are different with kindness, and explain just a few of the obstacles Autistic people can face along with the positives that come from it. I hope the world will start to recognize girls with autism and bring more acceptance and understanding into the autism community and community at large.

Follow Mariah on her Facebook page.