Catriona, 38.

I was diagnosed in February 2003 one week before my 23rd birthday (I am 38 now). I felt a sense of relief as I could understand why I am how I am and in time learnt to realise that is perfectly OK, it’s just a different way of thinking and viewing the world.

I now feel that Autism and in particular my Autism is just a different culture if you like, that it’s not wrong or bad or deficient, it’s different. I think over time my views of this have perhaps come stronger as I’ve gotten older and my diagnosis has also got longer away. Also my views on Autism as a Spectrum have changed when I was first diagnosed with what was then called Asperger’s Syndrome I felt that there was a huge difference between “aspies” and “autistics” now I realise that it is a Spectrum and that the differences are in the people not so much the term used, so for example there was actually little practical difference between Asperger’s ‘sand high functioning Autism other than a speech delay in childhood. Therefore these days I tend to use Aspie and Autism interchangeably depending on the circumstances with Autism more common now.

To explain Autism to people, I explain that I’m an adult on the Autism Spectrum and that it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, just different, and then go on to explain some of the difficulties I have, for example understanding the unwritten social rules, understanding other’s viewpoints, trouble with wider consequences of my actions and trouble regulating my emotions. I ask them if they have any questions and answer them and if any issues come up in my relationships (I use the term broadly) I will explain why I might have reacted a certain way or why a misunderstanding might have cropped up.

Autism makes me, it’s me and I’m it and even if they hypothetically came up with a ‘cure’ tomorrow I wouldn’t take it for this reason. It makes me who I am but it does also mean that life can be hard at times – there is increased social isolation, depression, c-ptsd and finding employment is difficult. It’s got positives and negatives for me and for many in my situation. Some of the benefits of Autism are that I have an enquiring and analytical mind, that I am loyal, that I have a wonderful memory.

My favourite character is Saga Noren from the Swedish/Danish version of The Bridge as she is very like me in that she has many of my traits a lock of understanding of fashion, loves takeaway food, is direct in communication and is most importantly an adult woman on the Autism Spectrum and we are not portrayed often on tv.

In my spare time, I’m a Joey Scout Leader with 5-7 year old girls and boys with 1st Point Cook Scout Group. I also play basketball for Altona Leopards, go on the internet and social media, garden and watch tv.

My time at school academically was fine but socially was awful; I was bullied and isolated severely and have c-ptsd as a result. I grew up at a time where children with differences were not accepted or understood at all and this at times included teachers also. I often think if only the kids had given me a chance I was a really sweet little girl. Now, I would tell my younger self that it’s OK to be different, that things will get better and that school is only for a part of your life. I isolated myself as that was often better than the outright bullying. I think teachers can do things like for example instead of giving kids a chance to choose their own groups for assignments etc., randomly place kids into groups therefore taking away the chance of we don’t want her or him in our group, and understand that noise and smell can be an issue for autistic kids. Depending on the age of the children teach them about Autism (age appropriately) and why it’s important to be kind to kids who are different. Education of kids about Autism and other differences, chill out zones, less noise, constant structure could also help.

I have a small but important army that help me including my 9yo cat Tiggs, friends and family my stepdad John, my grandma Mim who is sadly no longer with us, mum and my close friend Sharon. I first met Sharon thru scouting about 5 years ago, at the time I wasn’t know she would turn out to be an extraordinary and influential woman in my life who inspires me and who I have much respect and admiration for. Sharon has an understanding and respect for those on the autism spectrum that not all do, she likes me as me Catriona, Aspie or no Aspie. Sure like all friendships we have had our ups and downs but that is path for the course particularly with Autism. Over time we got to know each other and today we are close friends with a lot in common and not only is Sharon a friend but a guider. She encourages me to be the best person I can, sees the good in me, discourages and doesn’t accept the bad and to achieve my dreams personally and in scouting and be the best advocate for those with ASD. Its a two way street I love hanging out with her and helping her out if she needs it as friends do thru our friendship I’ve learnt many skills about what a good friend and a bad friend is and how to be a good friend also.
For me, a perfect world would be A world where Autism was understood and accepted in fact any kind of difference was accepted and we all got along and learnt to understand each other’s differences. I can work, I can achieve, I can do good things in this world and make a difference for myself and more importantly the young autistics coming up now.

The I CAN Network creates a world that embraces Catriona’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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