It was 1 week prior to my 18th birthday. This was the day I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition on the Austism spectrum. That was my ‘early birthday present’ for my 18th birthday, as my parents and I still often joke. My parents expected the diagnosis after all the testing I went through a few months prior. Quite frankly, at that point, I expected it too.
I actually guessed the diagnosis the day I found out, before my diagnostician even told me. To be honest, I grieved the diagnosis for a long time, despite the fact that I expected it. I grieved because, to me, it meant that there was actually a reason for everything I’d been through, which on one hand was great, and on the other hand stung my heart to its core. Now, after going through the grieving process for a few years, I want to tell you what I’ve learned, knowing what I know now, both looking back and since my diagnosis.
This is what I’ve learned from being autistic:
1. I have to be my own advocate.
If there is anything that being on the autism spectrum has taught me, it is to be my own advocate and how exactly to be my own advocate. From the time I was in 4th grade, long before my autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, I began learning how to advocate for myself in school with teachers. I went to a school for children with learning differences from grades 4-8 and the school I went to did a fantastic job at teaching me how to use my voice appropriately and effectively to help me get what I needed to best succeed in school. Transferring to a private high school after 8th grade further helped me to refine my self-advocacy skills, which helped me prepare well for life in college where I have had to advocate for myself with obtaining the academic and other accommodations I need to best succeed in college.
2. It’s important to be myself
Not everyone will like me, just like I don’t like everyone I meet and that is okay! Other people’s opinions of me are their business, not mine. As long as I stay true to myself and who I really am as a person, the right people will come into my life, will stay in my life, and will be here for the right reasons.
3. I need to continue to find people I can trust and can confide in.
Some of the most important people in my life are and have been those whom I can trust and confide in. Whether they be friends, family, mentors, teachers, professionals, or anyone else, their presence and regular support has been crucial to my success in life. My best friends mean everything to me and I know I can turn to them any time I need an ear or a laugh. For me personally, finding a therapist I click well with has also been incredibly important.
4. My co-occurring conditions are nothing to be ashamed of.
I have some mental and physical health challenges in addition to my autism, which complicates life a lot for me sometimes. Needing to see a therapist or different doctors or needing to be on medications is nothing to be ashamed of. Everything I live with makes me who I am, gives me a unique story to tell, and a unique way to help others.
5. I have to use the platform I’ve been given.
Because I have autism, mental health conditions, and physical disabilities, I have a very unique view on the world. I live life through a lens that most people don’t understand very well and will never personally experience. I know what it’s like to be bullied because I don’t always come across socially the way most people view as “normal.”
I know the pain of being excluded because people think I’m weird or strange. I know what it’s like to have very few friends and not much of a social life. I know the isolation that comes with feeling alone and knowing that it’s for more than one reason. I know how awful it feels to be judged for characteristics or behaviors that aren’t my fault and that I have very little (if any) control over.
I also know what it’s like to see people clap and applaud me for telling my story. I know the honor of being asked to get up and speak publicly in front of a group of people and then be praised for years after for telling my story. I know the pride that comes from being personally asked to write pieces for blogs and websites other than my own because people truly believe that my voice and my story are important.
Being autistic isn’t always fun. Dealing with bullies and people who treat me differently because they can tell I’m not exactly like them is difficult. But I’m thankful for the lessons I’ve learned from being autistic and for the journey I’ve walked and continue to walk. Being autistic has given me a unique platform in life and for that, I really am grateful.
This post was created in honor of World Autism Day. Click here to donate to the Organization For Austism Research.
The Organization For Autism Research (OAR) funds research that directly impacts the day-to-day quality of life of learners with autism including investigating the variables related to outcomes associated with education, life-skills, independent living, and communication of people living with autism.