Hayley, 28.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s when I was 27, and it was my 9yrs old diagnosis 4yrs prior, which prompted me to seek an assessment. I had spent almost my entire life lost & confused, feeling so out of place, and like a failure of a human being. By the time of my diagnosis, I had become so detached from myself after years of masking/camouflaging my way through life, that I had absolutely no idea who I was, or who the real me was underneath all the masks. So for me, that piece of paper was like being given permission to drop the act, and to come out of hiding, because there was nothing wrong with me! It was one of the most empowering experiences ever to finally be able to drop the masks, and to expose & embrace the real me. Since my diagnosis, I have continued to embrace it as an inherent part of me. And my journey of self-discovery continues.

When asked to explain it, I usually just say that it is the term used to describe a collection of neurological differences that together are the lens that we perceive & experience our world through. I love my brain! Well, most of the time, sometimes it can be hard to turn it off or turn it down, but it is pretty amazingly, very complex & detailed, and it has served me well & helped me navigate & organise this confusing & overwhelming world. Best way to describe it, is it is like an internal video camera that simultaneously processes & records literally everything I see, do or experience, and organises all of this information into intricate detailed folders, sorted by dates, times, people, locations, emotions and numerous other subtitles. This allows me to remember almost every experience I have had, have a high recall & accuracy, prepare for social interactions & experiences, find mistakes or inconsistencies with information, people or items, to recognise that something in my surroundings is different/replaced or removed and even to sense that there is something wrong with another person or even an item.

My biggest support is my husband Stephen. This man has not only supported, & encouraged me for the past 10 years, but from the start has accepted & loved me for who I am, quirks and all. I enjoy spending time with my husband & my children, exploring nature & being an amateur photographer…My alone time is spent enjoying music, and researching my special interest (medical).

For me, primary school was great! I loved it, and I loved learning. I participated in everything academic that I could. High school however was a different ballgame, it was quite difficult, and I left at the end of yr 9. I was labelled a delinquent, loser, difficult, and repeatedly told by my teachers & principal that I would never amount to anything. Majority of my high school years were spent being suspended, walking out of class, truanting, being removed from classes, in fights with students, or hidden in the sick bay pretending to have stomach pains. I struggled with mental health issues during these years including depression, anxiety & self-harm. I felt so alienated, so different, and so wrong compared to my peers & so I did everything I could to fit in, and I did fit in, but It did nothing to stop the internal suffering. I’d like to tell my younger self, ‘I know things are really hard right now, and that you feel lost, alone and want to give up. But I promise you that despite all of your suffering, and the many challenges you have faced & have yet to face, that you will one day look back on these experiences and see them as gifts, ones that have all helped shape you to be the strong, resilient, wise, compassionate & empathetic woman you have become. I know you feel like you are wrong & inherently flawed, however one day you will learn to accept and love yourself for who you are & will embrace all your differences and see them as being an inherent part of you. Hang in there. I promise that things will get better.’

Across both primary school & High school, there needs to be more skills training/educational programs aimed at teachers & aids, to provide them with the knowledge & skills to enable them to provide an individualized supportive learning environment for their Autistic students. There needs to be classroom modifications in place, such as alternative lighting, classroom decorations & furniture arrangement, seating arrangements, and easy access to sensory/calming tools. The Autistic students should also be given the same opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. The high school years however are different, as all adolescents/teenagers experience challenges during these years. However, for Autistics, these may prove to be extra challenging & confusing. So there needs to be extra support available & increased access to educational programs related to such topics as employment, mental health, sexuality, sex, relationships & intimacy, personal safety, consent & boundaries, and identity.

In a perfect world, everyone would be equal & have equal opportunities & rights. Differences were embraced, celebrated and individuality was encouraged celebrated. And our children were accepted & celebrated for who they are, their needs supported, to foster their emotional development, and enable them to achieve self-acceptance, through a healthy sense of self identity, awareness and perception.

When I was 4, we found out I had Asperger’s. I have had Asperger’s since I was born. Asperger’s is a type of Autism. Sometimes being an Aspie is difficult, sometimes it is hard to listen to other people’s instructions, and hard to concentrate when other people are chatting while I am doing my work. Sometimes I don’t understand what other people are saying, and I don’t like people touching me, and I don’t like bright lights. I don’t know what to say to make friends, I don’t really know what to say to people or what behaviour to do when I have a new friend.

I tell people that we think differently because our brains are different. Autism is a type of brain and we have been made differently to other people.

I like who I am and I don’t want to change. I get to do a lot of sensory activities, I can hear from far distances, I can smell a lot of things from far distances, I am really smart at maths and numbers. I can remember a lot of things, and I know a lot of information about different subjects from computers, tv, books and magazines. I am a very good researcher. I like to play with my brother, watch tv, play with my model cars, sleep, sing, dance, go on the computer and research about cars. I like to read books like captain underpants, Roald Dahl, Diary of a Minecraft Zombie & Diary of a Wimpy Kid. But my favourite thing is cars, and I like to research them and read car magazines and collect model cars.

At school I like to do maths, literacy, handwriting, research different subjects, and read. If there were no bullies, more teachers and aids, sensory boxes on desks, and a sensory room, and if neurotypicals could read Aspie books and watch Aspie videos to know who we are. The world would be a better place if there would be no more poor people, better countries, more people helping, places were quieter, and no more bullying.

Mum, Zac, Dad, my teachers, aids, and friends are my I CAN network.

My name is Zachary and I am a very special boy. I am 5 years old. I don’t like people touching me, but only mum and dad. I hate loud noises, and I like to be sensory and play with my sensory box with mum. I am a cool boy and wear cool glasses. I like to play with my cars, read books, play soccer, draw and watch Gravity Falls. At school, I like to play with my friends, and I like to play in the dirt with my cars. I think I’m a good player, good worker and a good person. The world is very special to me, I will make my own world, and in my world there will be some houses and towers, no bullying and the trees will stay up. I am super awesome. My name is Zachary and I am a very special boy. I am 5 years old. I don’t like people touching me, but only mum and dad. I hate loud noises, and I like to be sensory and play with my sensory box with mum. I am a cool boy and wear cool glasses. I like to play with my cars, read books, play soccer, draw and watch Gravity Falls. At school, I like to play with my friends, and I like to play in the dirt with my cars. I think I’m a good player, good worker and a good person. The world is very special to me, I will make my own world, and in my world there will be some houses and towers, no bullying and the trees will stay up. I am super awesome.

The I CAN Network creates a world that embraces Hayley’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.

Go to https://www.gofundme.com/ican-camp-qld to donate – any support is very much appreciated.
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