a neurodivergent guide to:
‘You can’t judge a person by their looks. But once you know the other person’s inner self, both of you can be that much closer. From your point of view, the world of autism must look like a deeply mysterious place. So please, spare a little time to listen to what I have to say. And have a nice trip through our world.’ ~ The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
Last year at the age of 30, I was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Having always felt a little different from others, but without really understanding the reason why, my diagnosis bought me a massive sigh of relief and things finally started to make more sense. It turned out that I simply processed the world a little differently.
I have always had challenges with communication and socialising, difficulties with bright lights and noises, an aversion to eye contact despite having learnt how to conduct it and I’m generally always in some form of constant subtle movement or fidgeting. I’m prone to getting hyper-focused on things that I enjoy such as books, tv shows, science and photography, with specific fixations lasting anywhere between weeks to years and I have the tendency to ‘shut down’ when things get too much. I feel calm with routines and predictability and have always felt the need to follow rules. For years I’ve felt self-conscious and guilty for fear of appearing fake to others due to what I know understand is ‘masking’ and will frequently need energy-saving days to recoup. My eating habits consist of fairly plain foods in a rhythm of similarity (with my trusty jar of mayonnaise by my side which accompanies most of my meals – much to the bewilderment of others!) and I have an eagle-eyed attention to detail in some situations and complete lack-thereof in others. I struggle with executive functioning and everyday adulting duties that most of my peers seem to be able to undertake without too much strenuous levels of energy. I can find myself zoning out when I’m in a conversation and I have an uncanny knack of loosing things…continuously! I have a good long-term memory (albeit for mostly random stuff) and a pretty bad short-term memory for to-do lists and struggle with verbal instructions, often needing repetition and a visual approach. I’ve always been shy and introverted and a conflicting mixture of being both old and young for my age. I struggle expressing myself (finding writing easier than verbal communication), have the tendency to run for the hills at any sign of conflict and often automatically agree to things before I have the time to process exactly what I’ve agreed to. I’ve always been sensitive; feeling emotions deeply and picking up on other people’s emotions despite not always knowing how best to react or help them. I tend to notice small things that others don’t, have a disposition to think in black and white terms, take things rather literally and I can miscalculate when it comes to picking up on non-verbal communication and hidden social queues. And most people who know me would be able to relay stories of my clumsiness which has often resulted in some hilarious situations and much broken crockery!
As you can probably tell, I’ve always had my quirks. But all of them finally became clearer when I received my diagnosis and I felt a sense of clarity, relief and something akin to belonging. I was autistic. Always have been, always will be, I just hadn’t known it. A huge part of my identity suddenly had a home and the feeling of relief was all encompassing. There was now a justifiable reason as to why I struggled with some aspects of life that others found easier and I could start to acknowledge myself as perhaps not quite as weird as I often feel, just a little different, and that’s ok.
I’ve now had my diagnosis for a year and it continues to help me every day. It’s not to say that my diagnosis has magically rid all of my hardships away, they’re still there, but I can understand them better, find coping mechanisms and learn ways to be mindful of where my limits are so as not to let life topple over. I’m still getting used to telling people if the situation arrises, of my diagnosis, often with apprehension each time as to how it will be taken. And there are still days that I have a good heaped serving of feeling like an imposter, as though maybe I don’t deserve my diagnosis at all. I have a long way to go in understanding my autism but I cannot put into words how much receiving my diagnosis has changed my life for the better, and that’s why I wanted to write a blog about autism.
I hope that maybe through discovering a book, a tv show, film or podcast that someone out there might stumble across something that leads them to feel less alone, better understood and recognised whether they are formally diagnosed, self-diagnosed, awaiting an assessment or are currently unknowingly neurodiverse. I’ve been extremely lucky to have my family and friends be so supportive of me and welcoming of my diagnosis (in particular my parents who have always been my lighthouse in the dark throughout everything), but I’m starkly aware that for many autistic individuals this isn’t always the case. So I hope that by bringing together in a very small way, a community of autistic authors, characters, presenters and more, that it will help others in such situations feel less alone and more connected in a safe place whilst going through a diagnosis or lived experience. I also hope that it helps people who support a loved one on the spectrum, be they a child, friend, sibling, partner or parent. Living with someone who is neurodivergent can be wonderful and full of joy, just like it can be with anyone who we love, and, just like everyone else, there are challenges too and I hope that the recommendations that I’ve shared, will not only help family and friends of autistic individuals have a better understanding of this condition but to also feel better equipped, supported, optimistic and not so alone on the hard days. The people who support neurodiverse individuals may never quite know just how much their understanding and support helps us – for everything you do, thank you so very much!! And finally, I’d love for my post to simply raise some awareness about autism in general as it’s often a condition that’s very misunderstood. As with any form of diversity, the world is a better place for it. The world is made up of such a rich tapestry of differences – in personalities, in gender, in sexuality, in culture, lifestyle and ethnicity. And people with disabilities and conditions are part of that tapestry; deserving to be a valued member of society as much as everyone else. If we can all take time to better understand one another, in this case, autistic folk, then we can take steps to create a society that includes autistic individuals for all that we are – our strengths, challenges, unique perspectives and everything in between.
So before I ramble on for too much longer (a metaphorical hats off to you if you’ve got this far!) I shall put a close to my introduction and let you read on to hopefully discover a myriad of autistic individuals and their work to help you build upon your understanding of autism – whether as a neurodivergent or neurotypical being. Happy reading all and thanks for reading! 🙂