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My Struggle to Accept Myself as an Autistic Woman

I have always been very honest and open about my autism diagnosis. I’ve never wanted to hide who I am despite the amount of discrimination I’ve faced. But, there’s never a day where I don’t worry about how another person perceives me or how other people are going to react if I disclose my disability to them. As a 26-year-old woman with autism, I constantly struggle to accept myself and to decide whether it’s appropriate to tell someone I’m on the autism spectrum.

Prior to my autism diagnosis, I knew there was something different about me. I didn’t take an interest in playing with other girls my age and resorted to spending time by myself, and this didn’t bother me. But, as I grew older, kids started to exclude me, and I began to feel inferior. I began to feel like there was something wrong with me. I didn’t learn at the same rate as the other kids my age and I didn’t have very many friends. Most individuals rejected me when I tried to befriend them or they would just roll their eyes and tell me to go away. These weren’t the kind of people I wanted to be associated with.

Beyond the depression and the suffering, I knew that there was a voice waiting to be heard and acknowledged. But, I felt silenced and unwanted. I have never been able to read body language or facial expressions. It’s hard to even try and decipher what another person means and what their true intentions are. Amongst a large crowd of non-autistic individuals, I feel I am one, but one less and never the same as them. I have grown to accept that I am different from neurotypical individuals and that they will probably never understand me the way I would like to be understood. I don’t want someone to say they feel sorry for me if I tell them I’m going through something difficult or that I’m being bullied. I just want people to show their support and that they care about me. It can be challenging to separate myself from the here and now and not hang onto memories from the past. But, these memories are somehow still a part of me and the things I have experienced in life. I often wish that other people could step into my shoes to fully understand some of the experiences I have been through.

The hardships I continue to face may have helped me become a stronger person, but they have also brought forth a lot of depression. Almost every individual I know with autism struggles with anxiety and depression. It is a very challenging obstacle to have to deal with, especially when you feel as though you are on your own. I feel it is my choice to be happy and I constantly try to be a happier and healthier human being.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that can be very ableist towards those with disabilities and other learning differences, and I’m trying to be OK with the fact that some individuals are never going to want to understand me. I never chose to be autistic, but I would rather embrace my disability than hide from the challenges I face. Writing has really helped me let go of the anxiety I have felt throughout these past 26 years. When I write, I focus on what’s happening in the moment, and not what’s been bothering me lately. It’s as if my mind has been transported to another universe and I am able to use my creativity and imagination to create stories that other people could find entertaining. I like to describe myself as someone who is not great with people or reading body language, but is an excellent writer.

I have never been good at telling others how I feel by communicating verbally. It’s not something I’m great at and I would much rather write someone a letter than vocalize what I would like to say. I spend a lot of time by myself wondering why some individuals have not been accepting of me. The truth is I have not always accepted myself and wanted to acknowledge the fact I am autistic. I have tried to camouflage my disability so that other people won’t notice that I am different, and cannot form judgments. But, no matter what, everyone always forms their own opinion about me. Growing up, most of my peers excluded me even prior to my autism diagnosis, and at first, I didn’t understand why. I feel as though my peers were not mature enough to understand the things I was experiencing as a young individual with autism.

I was hurting inside and going through so many changes. I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be. When I asked other people to hang out after school, most of the time, the answer was no. No one really wanted to hang out with me, and that’s what hurt most of all. I had a few friends, which I hung out with once in a while growing up, but I wanted more. I wanted to feel as if I was liked and accepted. I thought it would help take away some of the pain and suffering. But, it did not. Going to counseling helped to some extent, but somehow the anxiety always stayed with me. I knew I needed to change my attitude and switch to positive thinking. I didn’t want to stay stuck in this negative cycle anymore. It wasn’t healthy for me or those around me.

My life has never been perfect and I have to encounter so many more obstacles than a non-autistic individual. Sometimes people call me “stupid” if I misunderstand a question or they laugh at me because I say the wrong thing. I used to react when others treated me this way. However, I’ve come to realize that individuals who behave this way are not worth my time and that I should ignore them and walk away. I feel as though the past 26 years of my life have helped shape me into the individual I am today. I am constantly learning to come to terms with my autism. I know that not everyone is going to understand me and accept me. But, that isn’t important to me because I have friends and family who love and support me. Autism doesn’t define me. It makes me unique and I’m so glad I’ve finally come to this realization.

Getty image by recep-bg.