As a child I knew that I was different. I struggled academically in school and just plain didn’t fit in. Basic things such as being able to tie my shoes, put my hair in a pony and ride a bike were delayed by more than a few years. I often heard people say “something is wrong with her”, at first I ignored it, then when I got older I wanted to find out. I so badly wanted to unlock the secret to what this meant. Did other kids grow up hearing this or was it just me? In school the further I got behind, I began to check out, or become disassociated, I saw no purpose in trying any more. There was apparently no place for me in the world. At that point I saw myself as just a non-human floating through life, like it was something I was supposed to just get done and over with.
At the end of 9th grade I had to leave the school that I was at and go to a new school because my GPA was below a 1.0. My highest grade besides P.E. was a D. Since I struggled academically and began to quickly slip further behind my peers, I saw no hope of catching up, so my mind would just disappear during the day as a defense mechanism so that I was not aware of the names I was being called or the reality that was going on around me and that I was being excluded from a lot of things, or just simply not welcome places or invited. Dances, dates and other social events were a fairy tale meant for other girls and not for me. I spent so much of high school checked out, I do not remember any of my birthdays from the age of 14 until the age of 20. My high school graduation was not much of a celebration since I did not even complete all of the requirements, so much for “no child left behind”. The education system was done with me long before senior year. I had no exciting plans after high school to look forward to, or so I thought. But once I began to take control of my life, things began to change for the better.
More and more I began to be told what others were going to be able to do that I was not going to be able to do. My guidance counselor in high school informed me that attending a university was not going to happen for me. After high school I began working a job that was only $6.00 an hour. I knew that if I wanted a better life for myself I was going to have to figure it out on my own. At 20 I joined the Navy. Boot Camp and Tech School were hard to get through.
At the age of 24 I went to see a Doctor to get a formal evaluation. When I was born in 1986 not as much was known about autism. Being diagnosed was a huge relief, I had finally discovered why people were whispering about me, and soon realized that when people said there was something wrong with me, that they were lying. I was excited to share the news with everyone, but I was soon met with responses from people that I was not expecting. Usually you will hear stories of a child who is diagnosed with autism by the age of 5. Early intervention takes place and the child is given assistance in school and guided into adulthood.
This is sadly not the case for many people on the spectrum. Not getting a diagnosis until adulthood usually comes with negative responses. “Are you sure you have that?” “Don’t let them label you.” “Well it sounds like you have already been fine this far.” “What is even the point of getting a diagnosis?” At the time I was talking to a guy and I told him about the diagnosis. He was not happy. “You must think low of yourself if you think you have autism, if you have autism I want nothing to do with you again, if you tell anyone you have autism they will not want to date you.” At this point I began to be quiet about having autism, and I stopped talking about it. A lot of people did not understand it, it felt like no one did. At one point I regretted getting the diagnosis. I tried to go on living as if I had never been diagnosed. I tried countless times to deny it to myself that I had autism. For a short time it seemed to work, but later on down the road I had to face the reality that I did in fact have autism, I had to make a quick choice as to other people’s opinion and my own needs. Learning to put myself first for once was hard. I had always been the type of person who was a people pleaser, and sadly a lot of times this came at my own expense.
I began to join online support groups and from there I met lots of other adults who had dealt with the same situation that I had. I was able to find support and resources. Today I am completely open about the fact that I have autism. This has helped my life in so many ways, I now have proper accommodations in college, my grades got better and I was accepted into a university, something that I had been told was not realistic for me when I was younger. I realized that having autism was not what was holding me back, pretending that I did not have autism was. A proper diagnosis lead me in many good directions. If you are reading this and you suspect that you may have autism, I highly encourage you to see a doctor and request an evaluation. Don’t waste your life worrying about if it will upset other people, you deserve to be able to take care of you and be able to get the help and resources that you need to succeed, I promise it will be the best decision you have made!