Wednesday, May 29, 2019

I am currently 27 years old, and though I’ve lived in quite a few different states, I lived in North Carolina as a child, so I like to say that’s where I’m from.
I am a stay at home mom for my daughter, I love it but am also studying so I can have a career in web development on the side.
Some people may not know how empathetic I am. When looking at and conversing with me, I’m told I come across as rude and disconnected. What people don’t realize is, I care deeply about what they’re saying, and pick up easily on how others are feeling. Anyone who knows about my autism might find this as a shock since autistics “lack empathy”, an idea that is widely inaccurate.
Other than raising my daughter, which seems like the obvious answer, my biggest accomplishment is my art. Drawing/painting has been the one thing that I’ve stuck with over the years. All other hobbies and interests I have struggled to stick with after a certain point, whether it stems from fear of failure or a sudden lack of interest. I love that there will always be aspects that I can improve on with art, and a feeling of pride when a piece is completed. In the current environment of politics, religion, poverty, and the many social issues, I wish I could stand up on a soap box and tell everyone to practice understanding one another. I think a small ounce of listening and trying to understand and appreciate one another, no matter which side of what you’re on, would greatly change the world for the better.
Mental health is one such subject I wish people would try to understand. All of the awareness about autism, and its sometimes co-morbid mental health issues, and I feel like we aren’t getting very far. One thing I wish neurotypicals understood about autism is that we aren’t less. We don’t need sympathy, we don’t need others speaking for us, and we don’t need people telling us how we should act to make them feel more comfortable. We need for NT’s to listen to us, adults and children alike. We need them to understand (Really, Actually understand) that being different isn’t bad. Autism is a gift, it lets us see the world uniquely, and I’m tired of being told I’m wrong when I let go and show people a small part of who I am. I can recount so many occasions as a young girl where my autism shone through. I took everything literally. One time, at a restaurant with my family and some relatives, I broke into a meltdown (which for me, consists of crying uncontrollably) because an uncle teased that I would have to pay for everyones’ dinner if I didn’t finish my desert. I couldn’t finish it and the cold sweats started in as I surveyed how many people were at the table that I had to pay for, and how I was only ten and didn’t even own a wallet. I still can’t eat strawberry shortcake from the stress of it all, though now I look back on situations like that and find them hilarious. To everyone else, I was gullible and naive as a child. But knowing now that Im autistic, moments like the restaurant really fall into place and make sense. Something I wish I could say to everyone else on the spectrum is to stop comparing one another. We are all in this together. We live our lives being compared (usually as the “wrong” side of the comparison) to NT’s, so I feel it’s only natural that we compare ourselves to everyone else with autism too. After all, it’s what we’ve learned to do. But imagine a world where if nothing else, even when NT’s don’t understand us, we can come together and be there for one another. Yes, some of us have a significantly harder time navigating the world than the next autistic. Instead of saying or thinking “I have it worse, therefore I am More autistic” or “I have it worse, therefore I am Less of a valuable person”, let others know you’re there for them through their struggles, or that you need someone to lean on. To listen, or even to speak for them, to be their voice if they don’t have one. Things certainly don’t have to be, and aren’t naturally, “kumbaya” all the time, but if we could come together as one solid voice, we have a much better chance at getting NT’s to listen and understand us better. I think of a world where autistic children can live as themselves and flourish in who they are, not who NT’s think they should be. That change starts with us, within our own community. I wasn’t officially diagnosed until I was 25. Autism was at first such a far away concept to me. I didn’t understand what it was and my only experience with it, via few people in my life and the media, were white males who all acted with the stereotypical autistic characteristics (I’m sure everyone knows what Im talking about).
The thought that I could be autistic never occurred to me until I was in my 20s. I don’t remember the specific moment when autism sparked something in me, it was more of a slow burn. As I accidentally learned more tidbits and symptoms of autism, I found myself relating to them, but never actually put the two and two together. It wasn’t until someone said to me, “Maybe you’re autistic.” that something clicked. So began my new “special interest” of autism research that took over all of my free time. Everything made sense. Stimming, primarily as a child. Being non-verbal until I was almost four. My inability to connect with others, especially people calling me “apathetic”, “monotone”, and “rude”. My absolute obsession for a subject when I found it at all compelling. My sensitivities to light, textures, smells, and hearing my mom tell me I would always cry as I was a baby and it was sunny. My pickiness towards food. The list goes on and on. Im still remembering and discovering characteristics of mine that continue to add to the puzzle, and I feel like that will never stop. All of the obstacles Ive faced throughout my life I feel aren’t so different from others on the spectrum. The general feeling of being misunderstood. Bitterly laughing to myself when I see or hear something that says “Be yourself!”. Of all the obstacles Ive faced in my life, both the ones I’ve succeeded in overcoming and those I’ve failed miserably at, the one that I still struggle with to this day is to be myself. After spending my life trying to mold myself into what others want, and masking my own self, I struggle to even know who I am. My autism diagnosis was the first step, and I hope one day I really will be able to be me, unapologetically me. I hope all of us can be.

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