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When I Told My Girl Scout Troop About My Autism

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“Do you think this sounds right? Should I add or delete anything?” I asked while holding a notebook with the speech written out in my hand.

“You don’t have to tell people just because you are researching more,”  my mom assured me. “Since this is making you extremely stressed, you can choose not to tell your Girl Scout Troop. Also, you realize that the Girl Scout Troop leaders already know, right?”

“No, I did not know that. Why did you tell them? I still want to tell them,” I insisted. “What time am I going to talk? Where should I sit? Where is everyone else going to sit? What is an appropriate reaction? Is Kirsten, my twin sister, going to be OK? What if not all of us come to the meeting?” I questioned my mom.

The day arrived.

I prepared for the meeting: set chairs, snacks, and a computer out to do our finances, and also took a book from my room and put it on the couch, covered it with a jacket, and left it there. We previously decided that we were going to go caroling as a Girl Scout Troop like we do every year during the troop meeting and then come back to our original location and have a regular meeting, overall having an extra-long gathering.

Mom told the troop that there was an important meeting agenda item we would do immediately once we got back, and then we would continue the meeting as normal. Then, Emily communicated she would be there for the meeting, but not the caroling. Eleni had to leave shortly after caroling. So, there was a small amount of time when the troop would be together as a whole. However, if Emily arrived late, the entire troop would not be there. My mom asked me if I still wanted to tell my Girl Scout Troop, even if Emily did not arrive. I told her yes; I did.

We piled out of the car from caroling, happy even if we did not sing well. These events increased my stress levels because I get anxious when things don’t follow the plan and think about what-if scenarios. Emily arrived. Everyone got settled into their seats.

“Before Eleni leaves, Jocelyn has something she would like to tell you.” announced my mom.

I was sweating, my mind was racing, I could not concentrate, and I was shaky. During caroling, my friends kept asking me if I was OK because I was more nervous than usual.

I pulled out a small pink notebook with flowers on the cover. I flipped to the first page where I had written out my speech word for word. I started speaking.

“I want you to know something about me,” I said nervously. “I don’t want you to tell anyone. I have Asperger’s, which is a subcategory of autism…”

Many starts, stops, and pauses later, I looked up finally to see what they would say; I had been staring down at my notebook the entire time, too nervous to look up. No one asked to see the picture book about autism that I had brought with me, so I just left it there. This was a good thing because I did not need to use the book as an aid to explain myself, and the troop understood it well enough by just me speaking.

“We like you no matter what,” Emily reassured me while hugging me.

“Thank you for telling us,” said Eleni.

The rest of my friends said nothing. Then, a leader spoke up and asked what they as a troop could do. I was still shaking with adrenaline. I tried to answer the question, ended up rocking back and forth because I was nervous, then I whispered I had to use the restroom, staying in there for a couple of minutes to calm myself down. When I came out, they had moved to doing finances. I suddenly became exhausted. “Must have been an adrenaline rush coming out of my system,” I thought to myself. The meeting continued. Then once everyone left, I felt like someone had lifted a weight off my shoulders because I could stop pretending like it was not a big deal and admit that it exhausted me.

I was so nervous to tell my Girl Scout Troop because before this, only my doctors and my family knew that I had autism, or so I thought. My mom had told some adults in her life, but did not tell me about that. I told no one else because I did not want them to treat me differently. I told my Girl Scout Troop because I have known most of them since elementary school; they are my friends, and I thought it would help them better understand me. Once everyone left, I asked my twin sister and mom how they thought it went. They said that it went fine and reassured me it was going to be OK.

Looking back, I realized I had made it out to be a much bigger deal, and gotten stressed a lot more about it than I should have. My friends are still my friends and are more understanding of me, but otherwise still treat me the same. They are more understanding when I tell them I need a break. Telling people my identity helped them to better understand why I act and do things differently.

Getty image by SerrNovik.

Originally published: August 18, 2021
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