Malena Dell

@malena-dell | contributor
I am neurodivergent. My heart is in New York City. I love anything Broadway!
Malena Dell

How My Autism Diagnosis Helped Me Find People Like Me

Before I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) a year ago, I didn’t really know who I was. Growing up, I was an awkward kid who never really wanted to do the same things as her peers, and that only grew worse throughout my teenage years. I was really excited about things others around me were not, like 1960s sitcoms, subway systems and repetitively playing tic-tac-toe against myself. Everyone around me seemed to be making these new decisions with their time and money. They wanted to go on dates and shop at the mall for makeup, but I wanted to spend time talking about whatever my brain was stuck on that day or week or month. I just never seemed to fit. My journey to being diagnosed wasn’t simple. I went to a therapist my freshman year of college for obsessive-compulsive disorder. I did it all privately; I didn’t want to tell even my parents how much I was struggling with anxiety and the transition to college. I sat down for my first appointment. (If you’ve never been to a therapist, it is usually an intake appointment where they gather information about you to try to help figure out a treatment plan.) Within one hour, this therapist told me she suspected I had Asperger’s syndrome. I left thinking she was wrong and never went back. Two years later, I reassessed the situation after struggling with more sensory processing issues. I actually did some research and found out she was right — many of the symptoms fit me. I found another doctor, and after four hours of assessments, he deemed me to fit the criteria. I walked out with paperwork in my hand that said I was, in fact, on the autism spectrum.   For the first time in my life, I made sense. Some people might think being diagnosed with ASD would be devastating and take a toll on one’s self-esteem. For me, it was the exact opposite. I found other people like me. I started to realize they were like me. They had obsessions too, and they struggled with socializing like I did. I wasn’t alone anymore. That sense of belonging made me OK with being different. I finally had an explanation of why I was who I was. I found an identity and became OK with myself. I have found myself. Some people search their whole lives for their true identity. I found mine when I was 20. I am self-confident and have learned how to work around any social limitations I come across. I also have learned it is OK not to fit that mold. All of the unspoken rules I missed, all of the time I spent doing my own thing, all of the obsessions, all of the difference, all of the everything — it’s all OK. I am OK. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock image by chronicler101

Malena Dell

A Letter to My Teacher About My Struggles

Dear Teacher, Yes, I read the homework last night. Twice. I can’t bring myself to ever not read it. My anxiety takes over and I panic wondering if you will ask if I read it or if you will give us a pop quiz. You never ask and there is never a quiz, but I had to read every mark on the 20 pages of reading. I had to reread sentences and words so I wouldn’t disappoint you. It makes me look responsible and smart, but I feel terrible when I lose sleep over missing a comma on page 194. No, I’m not cheating. I need to sit like this because the other students’ movements and noises distract me. I wish I could tell you, but I’m too nervous you will think less of me. Yes, I am listening. I hear every word you say, even if it doesn’t look like I do. My brain works fast. I can draw or fidget, hear every word you say, and still have room for my mind to accidentally wander away when you pause to answer a question. No, I am not looking at you, but I am still taking in more information than you can see. Yes, I procrastinated my assignment—no really, teacher, I am sorry. I wanted to have it done for you on time without procrastination, but I spent hours researching this new interest of mine. I start reading and 10 articles later I realize three hours have passed and I panic to finish the homework I could have finessed by now. These interests are why every project or paper I do is on the same topic. One day, I will major in this topic and finally get my chance, but today is not that day, and I’m sorry. Teacher, I know you never thought much about my quirks; after all, I was a good student and never had behavior problems. But I did struggle. I have graduated public education and only have one year left at my small college, where I have finally learned to advocate for myself. But I hope this letter helps you understand your current and future students who may struggle despite their high performance. Sincerely,A former student We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock image by fizkes

Malena Dell

The Challenge of Social Anxiety for a Person on the Autism Spectrum

When I was being evaluated for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at the age of 20, my doctor asked questions to make sure my diagnosis was ASD and not social anxiety disorder. But both social anxiety and ASD seemed to resonate so strongly with what I had experienced in my life. Now I am seven months out from receiving my diagnosis. I am more self-aware than I ever thought I would be. I think I understand why I identify with both ASD and social anxiety. There are two ideas I have that differentiate ASD and social anxiety: for me, ASD can be too little social awareness, while social anxiety can be too much social awareness. As a child, I never understood the social rules some others seem to take for granted, like why I was expected to hang out with the kids at parties and not the parents. This fits my ASD diagnosis, but as a child, I didn’t feel the anxiety that comes now. I was oblivious that I was breaking “rules.” Now I am older and understand more of these rules and can fit in to my surroundings very well. I learned through being left out of groups. I learned through seeing people who were once great friends of mine maturing in these “weird” ways I could not seem to grasp and leaving me behind. As an adult, I place that feeling I had with those kids growing up in the middle of all my social attempts. I am constantly worried I might lose one of the real friendships I am finally learning to manage successfully. This leads to anxiety, almost to a major effect at times. The good news is this: I am learning how to manage both. Every day is like an adventure — I learn a new social rule and push through some social-related anxiety. It has definitely been a challenge, but I am learning how to accept myself… slowly, but surely. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock image by Everste