Autism: My story

When I was a teenager I began realizing that I was different from others around me.  I know, pretty much every teenager feels this way, but I realized that I actually was different.  When I was younger most of my friends were younger than me.  Because of my social skills it was easier for me to hang out with someone a couple of years younger as I became a preteen.  When I was about 14 this stopped working as well.  I had a friend come over who was 12.  I wanted to go ride bikes, but she wanted to go sit in my room and talk.  I didn’t really know what to do, so I showed her each of the knick knacks I was using to decorate my room, then I showed her how I had organized my closet.  At this point I started hanging out with people older than me, because they were happy taking the lead and I would just do whatever they were doing.  I also began realizing that I was doing a lot of things wrong.  I didn’t make eye contact and had to learn that at about 18.  Then I realized that people do not just make eye contact the whole time they are talking, they make eye contact, look away for a second, then look back, but I didn’t know how to do this, so I had to count how long people were looking at me and how long they were looking away so I could copy them when having conversations.  Noises also bothered me.  I was about 15 when I was able to vacuum my entire room at once without having a meltdown.  Before that I would have to vacuum a little bit, stop to calm down, then vacuum a little more.  These are just a couple of examples of things I realized were different, there were many more.  I felt like there was always a wall up between me and those around me.  I watched how everyone else interacted with the world and I realized that I couldn’t.  I couldn’t make myself say the things that I wanted to say, I didn’t know how to do some of the social things that others knew how to do.  I began to feel like I was broken, and that feeling caused a lot of depression.  I tried to hide it the best I could.  I watched people and tried to copy them, but often I didn’t know how.  Sometimes I would know that I was doing something wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong, like when I went to the lake with a church group and sat by myself skipping stones.  I was having fun, but everyone kept trying to get me to stop and come do things with them.  I knew that there was something wrong with what I was doing, but I didn’t realize until later that the fact that I was by myself at a social event was what was wrong.

College was also difficult.  My grades were inconsistent, and I knew I should be doing better.  There wasn’t anyone reason for when I did not get good grades.  Sometimes I did not understand the directions to assignments, sometimes due dates changed frequently and I couldn’t handle it, sometimes it was a lot of things.  I also had trouble with roommates.  I often had misunderstandings and did not know how to handle it.

I was in my fourth semester of college when my psychologist and I began discussing the possibility that I might have an autism spectrum disorder.  I had been taking a class about autism, and had recognized many of the signs in myself.  Over the semester my psychologist and I discussed it quite a bit, and then towards the end I was diagnosed.  In my classes we had discussed the emotions many people feel when faced with a diagnosis.  Anger, denial, grief, etc.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the relief.  For the past few years doctors had discussed different diagnoses that I might have, OCD, ADHD, bipolar disorder (all common misdiagnoses for people with autism), but none of them seemed to fit.  Autism fit.  It explained why I had always felt so different, why I struggled with things that others did not.  And most importantly, it made me feel like I wasn’t broken.  I realized that I was exactly the way God made me, the way I was supposed to be.  My life has changed a lot since I was diagnosed.  I have come up with different coping strategies, and some things I have just accepted.  I am grateful I was able to figure out what was going on.

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