What is it that you picture when you hear the words Asperger’s Syndrome, or Autism? Is it someone who hides away from the world, surrounded by one particular type of object; who has very little contact with others or someone who is simply very intelligent but has no social skills whatsoever?
In the UK, we have the National Autistic Society; a truly brilliant charity that helps many individuals with Asperger’s and Autism across the country; however there is still very little awareness and understanding. I just wanted to share my story with you all. I personally have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome since the age of 11. From an early age I always knew that I was different; I struggled to understand situations that presented themselves to me; and I struggled also on how to cope with change; I couldn’t understand most of the time what people wanted from me; which led to so many misunderstandings and unfortunately left me vulnerable to bullies.
I was called all sorts at school. Freak, weirdo, nutter, if I listed them all I would be here all day. I struggle with my coordination; still do which made P.E a nightmare and my handwriting and at times my speech; which led to me being mocked, at times physically attacked and very lonely. All I ever wanted was to fit in at school; to have a friend; but I was to naive to see what people were really like at the time. The school refused to help me; they told my parents that I just needed to change myself to fit in. My parents then home educated me; a decision of which changed my life for the better. A few months after, they took me to a specialist who then diagnosed me.
It took me a long time to understand who I was; that being different didn’t necessarily define me. That having this condition can be positive; I notice things that others may not necessarily realize; that sometimes being different and not wanting to hide what you love (in my case a love of anime and manga) can give others to embrace their passions to. When I first began college after six years of home education; I was truly terrified. I had no clue on what to expect; after all my school memories haunted me; they do to this very day. On my first day, I was so nervous I couldn’t speak, and spent most of the day hiding like a small child would on their first day at nursery; waiting to go home to their family.
Gradually I built my confidence up; I first built up a rapport with my tutor; working to slowly approach members of my group on their own; before gradually building up to being able to happily interact with some of my peers. Granted, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. In the past four years I have made some incredible friendships, broken friends with people I thought were real friends, fallen in love and also had my heart broken; I have managed to achieve good things; tried new experiences and also made mistakes; but would I change any of it? No; as all these things have made me who I am today; a young twenty year old former student of health and social care who tries to pretend to not care so much but really does; who adores her animals and family; gets insanely excited about new video game releases and loves all things Japanese.
I personally have a lot of experience with Autism, aside from my own diagnosis, my little brother also has severe autism; I love him with all my heart; there are times as he has challenging behaviors that he can be outright maddening; especially as he can be at times physically harmful to those around him but the other side to him is a truly magical one; the one that has a smile that can light up a whole room; a laugh that can brighten the darkest of hours and above all else? a real, genuine appreciation for his life; a life where he genuinely cares for his family, where he will come up to you and hug you, and just simply want to spend time with you. For all the dark times with him, it’s moments like these that make you truly understand how certain things need not be taken for granted.
I know personally I can bottle things up; partly down to feeling distrustful of others; that I can sometimes handle more than I am capable of which leads to me having a meltdown, that sometimes I may not understand a particular joke or may not understand what is actually happening; I now know that I have strengths, people who care enough about me and people I care deeply for; that it is okay for me to cry; that sometimes it’s fine not to achieve something and there is sometimes a better way.
I am aware of the fact that as a would be support worker I have chosen a “neurotypical” career; I have had many ask me that why as I have no interest in others would I want to go into a caring role, how could I possibly know about the feelings and needs of others?
My answer is this; while my life may not have been necessarily a normal, happy conventional one; I have been on the outside for a fair amount of my life; I have been singled out for being different; I have seen what it’s like to be without friends, to feel that nobody would notice if you disappear. I feel that with all these experiences I have made it a personal goal to with the time I have on this world to try make a small difference in the lives of others; to be there when nobody else may necessarily be; to try and support those I care for; even if they just necessarily know that I will be there to listen.
I have met some incredible people in my life; heard their stories, aside from my family, I have had the pleasure of knowing people such as my long time best friend of ten years Kitty, who helped me to build my confidence again and of course my friends at college, who I have shared many laughs and triumphs with and at times utter frustration; and of course my pen-pals Charlotte and Steph, all these people have seen me at my best and been there for me at my worst; something of which I am always going to be grateful for.
I may not always get it right; but just like anyone I am human, I make mistakes, can be annoying, forgetful and probably care to much; but at the end of the day; I have Asperger’s but it’s part of who I am and I wouldn’t change that for the world.