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Learning and Growing as an Autistic Woman

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I was first diagnosed with autism (more specifically, Asperger’s syndrome) back in 2000 at 9 and a half years old. I didn’t flap or stim or rock, and I actually had a hard time shutting up when I was given the opportunity to talk. However, I somehow knew that I was different from the other kids. It seemed to me like no one loved books as much as I did, and I didn’t know anyone else who could memorize things the way I did or “overreacted” to things quite like I did. No one followed the rules as strictly as I did. It seemed like no one else felt they walked around in a bubble, the way I did.

When I was first diagnosed, my parents and I were told all the things I wouldn’t do: get married and have a family, go on a date, drive my own car, get a job, move out of my parents’ house, or even graduate high school, let alone college. The next few years were more than a little nightmarish, between the bullying from other students, the new rules I had to follow, the constant social coaching and therapy from my teachers and my parents, and the “wonderful” changes accompanied with puberty.

It wasn’t until I got to 10th grade that I finally felt comfortable in my own skin. By then, I’d maintained an As-and-Bs report card in school and was ready to start Driver’s Ed. I wasn’t by any means the best driver in the world, but I didn’t (and still haven’t) hit anyone or anything. I didn’t end up getting my driver’s license until I was 19, but that was simply because of governmental bureaucrats holding on to my birth certificate rather than my lack of skills. Not long after I got my license, I finally saved up enough money from my first job (at a dinosaur museum, of all places) to drive my own car back home, completely debt-free.

Then I started going to college, having graduated from high school with High Honors. Most kids my age might have gone to the nearest university, but those massive campuses awakened a fear in me of becoming a tiny drop in a sea of faces. After being a teacher’s pet for so long, I dreaded losing that, so I chose to go to a technical school that had campuses near my house. I ended up graduating Summa Cum Laude in 2013, having been on the Dean’s List for my entire college career.

Today, I’ve done everything I was told I wouldn’t do except move out and start a family with my husband. There are days where I wonder if I’ll ever do those remaining things — days where I feel all sorts of lonely, undesirable and useless — but I force myself to remember what I do have. I have a loving family who knows my struggles and defends me from the unfortunate consequences of them. I have a group of friends who have similar struggles and let me know that it’s OK to be different. I have a religion that helps me see that I am so much more than a diagnosis and inspires me to strive for more than some others would think I should have.

Above all, I have this amazing mind that is able to see things that most people might not see, hear meanings that other people might have ignored or forgotten, taste the simple elegance of the blandest foods, feel the most luxurious patterns in the world around me, and smell the most beautiful of roses in the humblest dandelion. I’m able to use this mind I have to help others learn and live, and I teach others by example how to be loving and genuine and protective of their fellow man.

There are people who would say that I have this terrible condition and how they would avoid the most ridiculous of things (hot dogs? vaccines? gluten?) to make certain that their child doesn’t have to “suffer” as I have. I ask them, is being autistic really so awful? I’ll be the first to admit that it is not always easy for me, but to see-hear-taste-feel-smell-know the way I do is the most wonderful thing! It’s almost as if locking certain parts of my brain away has awakened the rest of my brain to what I feel is truly important in this world. The complicated maze of politics and social constructs just fade away under the simplicity I can see in the world.

I’m working with the tools I’ve been given to reach my full potential. People may try to say that I shouldn’t reach so far or that I’m wasting my time, but I want to continue to grow and learn and better myself. I already know where I’ve been and I don’t want to go back there, so I’m going to keep moving forward hand-in-hand with my autism.

To anyone who may be struggling with their autism, let me tell you — you may be on a different schedule as compared to some other people your age, but as long as you reach your goals in the time that’s best for you, the timeline doesn’t matter. Be yourself in the time and way that makes the most sense to you, and know that you are amazing human beings with more potential than even you can dream of.

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Thinkstock image by m-gucci

Originally published: April 14, 2017
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