I’m a passionate Potterhead (sorted into the Hogwarts house of Ravenclaw on Pottermore) with a truly unforgettable brain. Literally. Not only am I Autistic, I also have an extremely rare kind of memory called HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory). HSAM makes me unable to forget any day of my life. I was diagnosed with HSAM by neuropsychologists from the University of California, Irvine after two years of thorough tests and brain scans.
Since the age of nine I’ve been a huge fan of the Harry Potter series. Recess time at school was always difficult for me, and my teacher suggested that I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which had recently been published. I was reluctant to veer from my preferred reading of atlases and other reference books, but once I entered that magical world, it immediately felt like a form of escape. Twenty years later it still feels the same way! I also learned a lot about social skills through Harry Potter by noting how he interacted with others, resolved conflict and even managed his homework!
I received my Autism diagnosis as a fifteen-year-old, and although I wasn’t surprised in the slightest, it was still a tough time for me. I had missed out on a lot of much-needed support and understanding at school that comes with a diagnosis and that negatively affected my post-school qualifications. Yet once I graduated from high school, I did my best with my therapies and giving myself my own catch-up lessons.
Blogging and public speaking – which I found so much easier than more personal and unpredictable one-on-one speaking – became a way to tell my story and connect with others. As with my love of Harry Potter, my passion for sharing my story continues to this day. It gives me a sense of pride knowing I can provide motivational support to others while also helping people understand Autism better.
I am constantly proving people wrong, especially when they have low expectations of me. For instance, two years ago I entered a local Toastmasters speech competition. After the rehearsal, another member of my club took me aside and said that due to my Autism, communication and cognitive difficulties I would never be able to win a competition – but that the losses might be a good learning opportunity for future speeches. Imagine that person’s surprise when I ended up with first place! Saturday, 28 October 2017 was a great day.
It’s very important for people to talk about Autism in a positive light because that helps those of us on the spectrum feel more accepting of who we are. The I CAN Network is fabulous because our core purpose is to focus on what Autistic people CAN do instead of on our difficulties. Since I joined the I CAN Network as a speaker/mentor in March of 2017, my life and confidence have changed immensely. For years, I had been struggling to find work and that really affected how I saw myself. When I discovered the I CAN Network, it was such a blessing. Firstly, I was so happy that I could say to everyone, “I’m employed!” However, perhaps the greatest benefit of all was being able to connect with other people like me, learn from them and give advice of my own in an environment where I fit in so easily. I’ve made some wonderful new friends and my social circle has branched out considerably.
Due to HSAM, I remember and relive my past from various ages constantly, so there are many things that I would love to tell my younger self. Most importantly, I would tell her that life gets so much easier when you enter adulthood. Once we complete our education at school, we’re able to take a path that is much more our own. Life too isn’t linear; just because one thing doesn’t work out it doesn’t mean that we won’t achieve what we desire in another way in the future. Also, we grow and even mature through our life experiences. Often what we truly desire will change slightly over time.
I can remember nearly every past day of my life, but if I had the ability to look into the future, I would like to see a world that truly embraces Autism. For me, that vision would be a world in which Autism is viewed as a normal part of life and that every human on the Autism Spectrum would be viewed as different, not less. Whether we are wizards, muggles or anything in between, everyone should be valued as important members of this world and every person should be accepted as equals.