Autism and Me
In 2018 at the age of 43 I was formally diagnosed as autistic. In addition to this I was also told I have a history and presentation suggestive of ADHD. Previously whilst studying for my PGCE I was diagnosed with dyslexia. All of these neurological differences can be recognised under the umbrella term neurodivergent.
Since my autism diagnosis I have learnt the importance of making adjustments to my daily life to reduce the stress that I can experience. This was the reason I left a 15 year teaching career and made so many adaptations to my life as a whole. I’m currently in the process of radically modifying and minimising my lifestyle and relationships to fit my needs whilst also navigating the needs of others. This is a process which has been unfolding since I received my diagnosis.
Initially I wasn’t comfortable disclosing my diagnosis because there is so much misunderstanding, stereotyping and sadly stigma attached to being autistic. I witnessed a lot of ablism in my teaching career and became very aware of comments made by well meaning friends and family in relation to autism. I feel like there is still quite a way to go before people fully understand what it means to be autistic.
Up to 30 percent of the population may have at least one of the diagnostic traits associated with autism. Many people use the term ‘they’re on the spectrum’ to describe individuals who are socially awkward or a little bit quirky. Autism is a spectrum but to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder there is a vigorous set of diagnostic criteria which reaches as far back as childhood.
Currently around 1 in 100 children is diagnosed with autism. It comes with many challenges but it also comes with many positives. I have reached a stage in my life where I can no longer live my life behind a mask because society isn’t up to speed. I hope that by being open about my diagnosis that it will mean I’m able to feel lighter over time and allow me to form deeper connections with those that do understand or want to understand. I hope that it will enable my friends, family and associates to view autism in a new light. I can also have a voice and put to bed any misconceptions. Having this diagnosis has enabled me to be a lot more compassionate towards myself and towards others who face similar challenges but I know there’s still a lot to learn and unlearn.
Finally an interesting fact to end on, Sir Anthony Hopkins was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of 77 in 2014. Although like many of his generation he expressed he ‘doesn’t believe in it’ and also said ‘people are so quick to add labels to humans and their behaviour these days’. My hope is this changes as labels lead to a framework for understanding and a better quality of life.