My name is Andrea Michael, I’m 37 years old. I was finally diagnosed in 2013 after many years of spiralling mental health and an inability to hold jobs for long or manage a university degree. I had rather mixed feelings because it explained a lot of things about myself and my experiences in life, but I also realised that I had this “things will get better if I find the right therapy” attitude getting me through. Having a name for the condition (one of several it turns out, ADHD and Bipolar II were diagnosed as co-morbids later) and knowing that there’s little for Autistic adults in the way of supports or services made me feel hopeless for a little while, like “well where do I turn now?”
I have had 5 years to learn about Autism, and about my particular place on the Spectrum. After several false starts, I found a good psychologist a couple of years after diagnosis who was able to discuss my challenges with me and help me understand myself all the more. I saw that not only do I have a lot of conditions to manage that most other people don’t, but that I had unique gifts as well. Besides the initial ambivalence, I’ve never felt negatively towards being Autistic and I dislike a lot of the prevailing attitudes expressed about ASD because they feel quite dehumanising.
I don’t meet too many new people because my social anxiety is quite extreme, and when I am around people I don’t know, I’m usually very quiet. I don’t tend to explain what Autism is to people unless they ask me for specific information after learning that I’m Autistic. In all my reading of research about the condition, I have developed an encyclopedic memory for Autism knowledge and once I start talking, people soon start looking for my “off” switch. I find I’m unable to condense it down to a simple explanation, because Autism is anything but simple.
To me, Autism means having a different operating system from the majority of people. It means my brain parses information differently, that I think differently, and that my body responds differently to various inputs. It means I have different needs from other people in order to be operating at my best. I find that while neurotypical people are extremely puzzling to try and decode and communicate with, my fellow Autistic people are often quite the opposite. As a consequence, my small friend circle are almost entirely on the Spectrum themselves.
Benefits that I enjoy include my extreme attention to detail, my ability to see things from perspectives that many others don’t, my fair-mindedness, my creativity, and my honesty and integrity as a person. My almost-complete removal from society means I can see it all differently as an outsider looking in, rather than being constantly swept up in it. I enjoy the solitude and the space to think and just be.
My favourite character from a movie is Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Seeing his portrayal on the screen is the first time I’ve ever felt myself represented on-screen at any point in my life. I identify greatly with his single-minded drive toward the magical animal kingdom, because I have been obsessed by animals all my life. His personality is also very much like mine, though I think he has far less anxiety than I do about everything!
I’m an artist and spend a lot of time doing art, and in my spare time I often scan social media for interesting articles to read. I enjoy learning so I tend to read a lot of articles on all sorts of things. I also enjoy computer games, photography and learning new crafts.
The people that support me the most are my housemates and my carer. In the day-to-day they help me with the things that I find very difficult like cooking, going out to places, helping me manage anxiety, reminders to eat and take medications and so forth. My mum is also really supportive and even though we live in different states, we are in contact a lot.
I CAN have a fulfilling and interesting life, even if it’s an unconventional life. A perfect world to me would be one where people aren’t treated badly for who they are.
My artistic talent is drawing and painting highly detailed realistic animal artwork in a variety of mediums. I can pick up new mediums almost immediately, without the usual learning curve. I was identified as having savant syndrome by Darold Treffert, an expert in the condition.
I grew up with a pencil in my hand, but it was the usual thing of incrementally improving over a long period of time. In my early 20’s I lost the ability to do any artwork at all due to a medication I was taking for anxiety and it didn’t return for 10 years. When it came back, it was very sudden and I was able to do this highly realistic artwork and pick up new mediums as though I’d been working with them for years. When I’m creating artwork, the world around me disappears and it’s just me and the pencil or paintbrush. Since recently starting treatment for co-morbid ADHD, I am much more relaxed about this process because I can finally focus properly. I feel accomplished when I finish a piece, but I generally quickly move on to start another one because I feel driven to do so. I attribute my extreme attention to detail and ability to learn extremely fast to my Autistic brain. I’m also quite removed from the world because of my challenges, so I have all the time that I need to think and create. I get my ideas from animals themselves. I will happen upon photographs that depict their natures in ways that grab my attention and I will request permission from the photographers to use them as references. I also took up photography to gather my own references, as I really enjoy spending time with animals. I also do some more whimsical/fantasy artworks and those ideas just tend to happen on their own. My brain is never really quiet, so there’s always new ideas and associations popping up to draw from.
I have a Facebook page at //www.facebook.com/AndreaMichaelArt/ and an Instagram account at //www.instagram.com/andreamichaelart/ where I display my work.
The I CAN Network creates a world that embraces Andrea’s strengths. We need your support to continue creating a society that empowers young people on the Autism Spectrum. Join us by donating to our next venture: holding one of our acclaimed camps in Queensland.
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