6 years ago, back in 2011, life was very different for me. I had just been diagnosed with a form of autism, as well as an anxiety disorder and OCD. I was stuck in a school where I was not understood and subject to vicious bullying. I couldn’t do anything but feel helpless. However, this was until I learnt how to not only accept my diagnoses, but to thrive in spite of these conditions. This saw a new, positive chapter in my life begin.
What It’s Like Getting the Diagnosis
Being diagnosed with an illness or a disability, and proclaimed as ‘different’, isn’t easy for anyone. But when I had these labels slapped on me, my mind grieved for ages. As an adolescent in a community comprehensive school, I knew that any sort of difference would be picked up on and seen as an excuse to be bullied. I was not normal anymore, or so my peers seemed to think.
I would be in class, and people would shout abuse my way. All I heard was variations on: “You freak, you retard, go die!”, which really hurts at a young age. Want to know the most shocking thing? Not even the teachers understood. They were pretty much indirect ringleaders – ignorant of understanding and, even with specialist support, unwilling to adapt to a student with different needs. I would cry myself to sleep and hope to be accepted, to be some degree of normal, again.
It became clear that this was not acceptable, so after years of my parents fighting for what’s known as a ‘Statement of Special Education Needs’ – basically, a document outlining what support is needed that’s bound by law – we won. Within just a week or two, I moved to a more understanding mainstream school, which was a relief.
The Challenges of Living with Autism
The challenges of living with autism differ on a person-by-person basis, as people with autism exist on a highly complex spectrum. With Asperger’s Syndrome, I’m at the higher end of it. I have average/above average intelligence in certain areas, but still find social situations and adapting to them hard.
For example, I’m very driven to succeed in my career as a writer and journalist, but I can find it hard to adapt to new surroundings and to not seem socially awkward. But once I get used to a place or a community of people, I’m fine. To me, it’s about assessing a situation and coming to terms with it, whether that takes seconds, minutes, hours, days or even longer. You need to feel comfortable and safe, which is extremely hard if you’re on the spectrum.
Other challenges? There are many. I can be very persistent. This can be a good thing, in that I can demonstrate how passionate I am about something. But others can find this to be, quite frankly, annoying – which is understandable, because we’re all busy and have our own agenda. Still, I sometimes wish people would be more understanding and empathetic. I – and others with this condition – don’t mean any harm. We’re just trying to get by.
How I Learnt to Thrive Living with Autism
I’m not going to lie: it took me ages to adapt to living with autism. And I certainly never thought I’d thrive with it, even though my parents, close family and friends knew I could.
I’ve always loved being creative, especially with words. So, being stuck in my own mind and not knowing anything of the future, I decided to set up a personal blog. I wrote about coping with autism and the things going on in my, well, random mind. Soon, though, I paired this with my technical interest and set up a tech reviews site.
I would nag PRs for gadgets to review – under an alias, actually – and they obliged, which felt so enriching because clearly they believed in me and my blog. It soon become clear that I loved doing this and decided that journalism was for me.
When I had to find a work placement in Year 10, I took it upon myself to contact the local newspaper. A few days later, I received correspondence saying I was too young to conduct a placement. But this was not enough. So, yes, I did what any persistent person would do and contacted the paper’s MD. It turned out he understood autism having a son with the condition, and had me in for work experience.
This was so encouraging, and I felt so at home. Also, the fact that he replied showed me that, yes, I do have what it takes. And perhaps more importantly, that yes, I am different, but who cares? It was a major boost to my self-confidence, which had been left in tatters from being in a school where I seemed destined for failure.
Soon, my GCSEs came and I got into college to study English along with a BTEC in business. I’ve now come to the end of my college studies and have a place to study English at Swansea University. I’m very excited to start in September.
The lesson from my story? As with people not on the spectrum, using your interests to find a sense of purpose in life is paramount to thriving with autism. If you’re autistic, you’re capable of doing anything that a non-autistic person can do, whether that’s excelling at your studies or job, or having a meaningful relationship. Don’t let anyone make you think otherwise, as no one ever really thrives if they only listen to other people.
I’ve learnt so many things on the road to where I am today. The most pivotal has been being able to not only accept my condition, but to look at it in a positive light. I no longer see my autism as differentiating me from society, but rather as a part of my identity – that this is me, and that’s OK.
If I didn’t have this outlook, I’d be a totally different person, and know I wouldn’t be as focussed as I am. I genuinely believe that I’m spurred on by my interests more than anything else, but the support of those around me has also been crucial. Ultimately, the thing I’d say to anyone with autism is to just be yourself, surround yourself with people who understand and care, and follow your passion. That’s all you can do, really. But then isn’t that all anyone, autistic or not autistic, can do in life?