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What I Need as an Autistic Girl With Social Anxiety

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I am plagued with misunderstanding and ignorance. It wreaks havoc on my way of life and on who I am as a person.

I am forced every day to wake up to a world that wasn’t built for people like me. To people who are stuck in their ways and who don’t seem to realize how harmful they can be to people like me.

I am forced every day to succumb to the pressures of being “normal” so I don’t exhaust my mental resources completely in the first hour of my day.

I am forced every day to sit in class and behave like everyone else because “equal opportunity is key,” though I learn nothing from sitting in a classroom and being forced to share my thoughts. Opening my mouth in such a setting causes my brain to lose all train of thought.

I am forced to speak my mind when all eyes are on me, which makes my stomach twist and my palms sweat and makes my conscience second-guess every little thing I’ve ever said in my entire life.

I am forced to stand up in front of my peers and give speeches even though every word that comes out of my mouth is the only thing keeping me from throwing up, and the fear of accidentally making eye contact or losing my place in my notes or losing my train of thought and sounding like an “idiot” plays in my head on repeat.

I am forced to make small talk and initiate conversation and make eye contact, even though those three things make me want to take the nearest flight to a place across the globe where no one else exists and stay there in isolation until people realize those three things are basically hell to someone who is autistic.

I am forced to keep my hands quiet and to stop doing things that help me cope with sensory overload and meltdowns because it looks strange to the average onlooker and I would hate hate hate to appear less-than-average.

I was forced to sit in applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy and was engrained to believe that being nice and having good social skills and making eye contact is key to having friends, and everything I feel and everything I hate about being social is wrong, and going against what you feel comfortable with is the only way to not feel alone in this world.

I am forced to sit and hear “autism is what you have, not who you are,” and “social anxiety is just a barrier to a better you,” and “don’t be defined by your disabilities,” but that is all wrong wrong wrong.

I am autistic. It is who I am, and I wear that badge with pride. It does define everything I do and say, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some autistic people don’t see it as a disability, and I don’t and there’s nothing wrong with that either.

What does disable me is comments like the ones above who force me even deeper into my shell that I’ve created.

I do have social anxiety. It stems from a long history of being made fun of because I am autistic (though I didn’t know it at the time), and a history of not feeling like I could be fully myself. If I didn’t have social anxiety, would I be a better person? Maybe. But right now, I’m still trying to grow in being self-aware, and maybe someday I’ll take steps to be more social, and maybe I won’t. And people have to be OK with that.

I dropped out of university after one year because I felt like the “normal” college experience wasn’t the right fit for me. Having to be in debt for the next 10 years after one year of college, that I didn’t particularly enjoy, was enough. I felt pressured into doing what everyone else was doing, and without considering the consequences, I jumped in, pursuing a career I myself wasn’t 100 percent comfortable with.

Yes, this world is fragile and breaking and people are hating and wasting resources and making it all about them and their comfort, but I wish people could wake up and realize that not everyone can fit into the mold of a perfect millennial. Not everyone wants the “American dream” of getting a degree at a four-year college, getting married and pursuing a career that really loses its touch after several years. Not everyone can function in a setting where you’re forced to be social and to make friends. Not everyone appreciates environments where you have to get in groups and share your feelings.

Especially not people like me.

There’s nothing wrong with being different. There’s nothing wrong with learning and growing in different ways than most people.

What is wrong is assuming that just because someone is different, they can accommodate themselves into your perfect idea of what they need.

Autistic people don’t need to be fixed.

Anxious people don’t need to be thrown into the metaphorical lion’s den to be cured of their anxiety.

Depressed people don’t need to be “cheered up” to be suddenly cured of their depression.

What we do need is to be listened to. To be respected. To be cared for and cared about.

Smashing us into the mold of a perfect learner/student/friend not only hurts us, but it hurts you because you’ve damaged your relationship with us.

Listen, learn and grow from us.

The world will be a much kinder place if you do.

Photo by Averie Woodard on Unsplash

Originally published: March 29, 2019
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