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I Was Always That 'Different' Kid

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My name’s Chloé Hayden. I’m a 19-year-old girl who loves horses, acting, and singing. I love One Direction and Little Mix, I love painting, and reading, and writing, I love Disney movies.

And I have autism.

I was always that “different” kid.

I’m not talking about that kind of strange, quirky kid in school who says funny things and is a little more on the “unique” side. I did things differently than others. I spoke differently than others; I didn’t understand how to work with my peers, how to interact with them. I’d sit in the playground and talk to birds and cats I found, and I would refuse to speak to anyone my own age.

A simple “hello” was undoable for me, and being able to interact, socialize and fit in with other kids was completely, utterly undoable.

Every kid wants to fit in, every kid wants to be included — but I wasn’t, and I couldn’t. And it left me feeling like an outcast.

I like to compare that time of my life to the Hunchback of Notre Dame. (Like I said, I love Disney!) But I wasn’t like the beautiful gypsy girl… I was Quasimodo.

Kids would laugh at me, call me names, whisper and tease me openly to the point where I’d run to the back of the school library and hide there until the final school bell went, and I’d come home in tears each and every day.

While I would be gutted and heartbroken at the words, which would pull at the metaphorical strings of my self-esteem, I’d come to the (wrong) realization that this would be my life: being an outcast. A frizzy-haired, green-eyed girl who would rather chat aimlessly to the cat that would walk by on the foot path than even look at another child my age.

As I reached high school, and talking to stray cats and singing Disney songs in public places wasn’t so “normal” anymore, that’s when things started to change. I fell into a fairly dark time in my life. I ended up with severe anxiety and depression, and an eating disorder. I stopped going to school all together, and even leaving my house was found to be too much of a challenge.

I didn’t understand who I was or why nobody understood me. I couldn’t understand why I was like this, why so many “normal” things were so difficult for me. I was confused, and upset, and scared.

Was I broken?

And then at the age of 13, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

What was ass-burgers syndrome? Asparagus syndrome? I couldn’t even say the word, and now I was stuck with it?

Finding out I had Asperger’s was a whole mess of confusing emotions, I had never heard of the word before, and now I had this label stuck to my body. It was strange, and scary, and confusing and every other emotion mixed in between. But most of all? It was relieving. So, so relieving.

It gave me a reason for everything. It gave me an understanding of why I was the way I was — and most importantly, it gave me something to relate myself to, something I hadn’t been able to do before.

I was told by my psychologist that Asperger’s syndrome is basically a lot of different quirks and personality traits and things that have all joined up together. Everybody has different quirks and personality traits, and things that make them special… and my particular set of these traits just so happens to be “different” from other people.

And being different isn’t a bad thing. Everyone’s different in one way or another — that’s what makes the world so beautiful.

But for some reason, the sort of different I am just happens to have a cool name that goes with it, which I’m honestly quite glad about.

I like putting a name to things.

Now, as a 19-year-old, I’m happy with who I am. I know my place, I know who I am, and I don’t feel like an outsider anymore.

After being diagnosed, I was left with a stigma of “this is what my life is now. I’m destined to forever be ‘that’ girl.” But I’ve taken that, and I’ve changed that, and I’ve learned, grown and developed more than anyone ever thought possible.

But despite growing confidence in myself, I know that across Australia there are so, so many kids who have been diagnosed with autism, and they are still feeling so insecure, and outcast, and like nobody understands them. And I feel above anything that it’s up to me to fix this.

I’ve made a name for myself as an advocate and ambassador for autism, and am known throughout the community as Princess Aspien.

I now dedicate my life to helping and advocating for children and young adults who are on the spectrum as well through interactive, fun, and educational videos and blog posts, which tackle the harder pressed issues of living with autism, while keeping it fun, encouraging and entertaining for a younger audience, and educational for their parents.

The amount of feedback I’ve had on this is incredible, and made me realize just how badly we actually need someone who’s here for these kids. I’ve had emails from parents telling me that because of me, their child was recovering from depression and stopped having suicidal thoughts.

I own a Character Entertainment Company, where I dress as well-known fairy-tale characters for events and charities, and encourage and entertain children, teenagers and adults alike, both neurotypical and on the spectrum. This has been such a massive step in my growth, as being able to make these characters come to life has almost forced me into opening up, doing things I never once would have done. And I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been able to have because of it. Things that 13-year-old Chloe would never have dreamed possible.

I’m still the same frizzy-haired, green-eyed girl who would rather chat aimlessly to one of my four cats, refuses to eat with a proper spoon, can’t eat red food, and breaks into Disney musicals in the middle of Safeway, but you know what? I’m not worried about it anymore.

Because this is who I am, and this is who I’m meant to be.

Follow this journey on Princess Aspien.

Originally published: September 19, 2016
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