My feelings about my Autism have changed considerably over the past 6 months -from feeling dejected to feeling a greater sense of self and in turn, pride. After facing a particularly bad period of bullying, prejudice and discrimination, I reassessed my goals based on my passions and drawing upon my strengths. I am also beginning to recognise that in some ways my Autism can be a gift and one year on from my diagnosis I am still discovering my strengths along my journey of better understanding, accepting and most importantly, loving myself for who I am.
This has allowed me to create a more positive life for myself where I feel I can begin to be my more authentic self whether it be in the area that I work, to my perspective and relationship with the world. However, removing the many masks that I have developed over 30 odd years in an attempt to show my true identity is no easy feat and is often like removing the many layers of a Russian Matryoshka doll. Despite this, I am actively trying to be more clear and assertive when communicating my needs as an openly proud Autistic.
I wish there was a spiel that I could recite to people when explaining what Autism is, but research, education, advocacy and many other facets making up the Autism paradigm is not static and is constantly evolving. Therefore, I simply saying I’m Autistic and then it’s a matter of whether the individual will ask for further detail and tailoring my explanation to the person depending on the situation and individual circumstances. Sometimes the easiest explanation goes along the lines of: ‘my brain functions differently which allows me to see the world differently’. Otherwise, I refer them to an arsenal of literature which can better explain it to them than me being put on the spot. Honestly, I’m still figuring it out. I don’t think you ever stop learning about how Autism manifests itself in one’s day-to-day life. But thus far (which is still early days), Autism is something special should be accepted, valued, harnessed and appreciated by the individual and greater society as a whole. It is a different neurology which contributes to the greater neurological construct of our neurodiverse global society.
My Autism has always allowed me to think quickly ahead of the pack. I can quickly deduce a wider range of variables, hyper analyse all the various causal and consequential pathways and arrive at an accurate conclusion. Despite, my writing and prose not being as strong as my peers, I can normally out-strategize others in a very short space of time. I am also creative which allows me to think outside the square.
I am saying I CAN to everything! I have spent many years holed up and feel like I lost a lot of time and missed opportunities. As I have progressively been coming to terms with my Autism diagnosis, I believe that I can do a lot more than what I gave myself credit for in the past. Granted, there are many situations that I may not like or make me feel uncomfortable, I don’t want life to pass me by and think of all the wonderful experiences I could have had but missed out on.
Like many others on the Autism Spectrum, I was a victim of bullying. Given my forward approach and failure to recognise authority figures, I often found myself being scolded by my teachers and flagged as the problem child. The boys would frequently single me out as they found it fun to throw food at me and eventually watch me ‘snap’ which I now know were meltdowns, with teachers subsequently alienating me further from my peers with detention and even periods of suspension. I took little interest in most subjects but took a particular shining to art history, particularly artworks produced during the Cold War era. My grades also tended to dramatically fluctuate depending upon whether the topic at hand peaked my interest or not. By the time I got to year 11 I started making friends outside of school which distracted my focus from the antics that I was subjected to at school whilst focussing on my work.
Now, I’d like to tell my younger self that life is fluid and while things may be tough at that moment in time, things will change, you will grow and you will find different facets of yourself many times over until one day you find your own tribe, your true sense of self and will be old enough to not care about issues others may take with your Autistic personality, as it is simply their problem. Be your authentic self, but also be tactful and chose your battles which will save you a lot of hurt in the long run. Also, you are intelligent and you will contribute to making this world a better place (no matter how small that mark is). You are worthy, you are loved and don’t be so damn hard on yourself! For other young people, never be afraid to ask questions if you are stuck or unsure of something. From my experience, it is better to check with your teacher to avoid making mistakes which can cost you later down the track. Often students are too scared to approach their teachers, however doing so will actually demonstrate your enthusiasm to them whilst clarifying any queries or concerns. Also, if you are tertiary student and you are struggling with any physical and/or mental health issues, make use of any health or disability services available. When I was going through some personal issues, I was able to obtain a disability certificate which allowed me greater time to submit my assignments and during examination periods which helped relieve stress through flexible study arrangements. Similarly, most University institutions will have some type of student learning centre where you can bring your essay plan or marked assignments into, where a staff member (often a PhD student) will sit down and go through your assignment to help with essay structure, sentence structure, grammar etc. When I first started university, despite implementing feedback provided on my marked assignments, my grades were not improving. I decided to visit the University’s student learning centre where the friendly staff helped taught me how to improve my academic writing. Consequently, my grades improved and I eventually understood what was expected and how to get the grades that I wanted without further assistance.
I also think it is important to set yourself small and realistic goals to ensure that you are producing your work on time and to avoid the stress of leaving things to the last minute (unless you work well this way which is also fine). Having a timeline for what is needed for each assignment (whether it be research, writing the body, drafting [always be sure to draft your assignments no matter how painful this may be] etc) will help you meet your deadlines whilst minimising stress and having a more consistent sense of achievement.