Growing up and getting by in the world is hard enough for anyone and everyone has their own unique challenges they face daily , but the challenges are ten times harder when you also have to cope with autism. This month is Autism Awareness Month which aims to generate a better understanding of the condition and highlight the issues those affected by the disorder face. I like to share my own experiences growing up with autism.
I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, which means I have difficulties with coping in social situations, communicating with people and carrying out day-to-day tasks other people would find easy. Being in a crowded, noisy or busy social environment can often make me feel uneasy. Also, I struggle with being flexible and often have to do things by routine, and any changes to that routine can often be stressful. Growing up, I’ve found it hard to meet people and make friends, and couldn’t understand what I couldn’t mix with people easily and why socialising was virtually impossible. There were all these unwritten rules of socialising that I didn’t seem to have access to. To reference a song by my favourite band Oasis, it can be like living half the world away, in an alien culture that makes no sense to you and people speaking a language you don’t understand. Being painfully honest, I felt lonely and isolated throughout much of my early life.
Nowadays, my difficulties have faded though not completely disappeared, I find it easier to cope and have made a lot of good friends. Most of my friends who don’t know much about my condition say that they can barely recognise it, and that it’s virtually invisible. However, deep down some of those difficulties are still there, I’ve just learned to hide them better. There are times where I still struggle, and even though I have made plenty of friends in the past few years I still harbour those old feelings of isolation.
I don’t see my condition as being a disability, but merely a different way of living. The best way I can describe it is it’s like being a three legged dog. The dog can still walk, but it just has to learn to walk a little differently. People on the spectrum can still do the things that ‘normal’ people can, but we have to adjust to certain things in a unique way.
Going to university has, for me, been a huge stepping stone to regaining my confidence and becoming the person I am today. There are many people with the condition who haven’t been given the same opportunities that I have, and I’m very lucky to be where I am today and to have had the amount of support I’ve been given. In a way, I’ve come from nothing and I wouldn’t have got where I am today if it wasn’t for not just the belief I had in myself, but other people’s faith in me and the confidence they instilled in me.
My biggest hope now is that more effort is made to inform people of and create a better understanding of this condition and how the right support can help those afflicted to achieve their full potential. I hope that more people with the condition are gifted with the same opportunities I have been given. When I was growing up, there was very little awareness promoted of the condition and people didn’t exactly what it was, and because people didn’t know why I struggled the way I did it made life very difficult for me. In the past few years, there has definitely been more information endorsed about it, but I still think there is a long way to go. There are still many people who don’t know anything about it, and often the condition had been misrepresented or negatively stereotyped in the media. There are many negative opinions about people with the condition, which only heightens the difficulties faced by people on the autistic spectrum.
Despite some of the constant negative stories I come across written about people with autism, occasionally I come across one story which restores my optimism. I recently read a news article on a girl with autism, who managed to organise her own charity awards ceremony all by herself, Holly’s Ball. Inspirational stories like this are just proof of the great things people on the spectrum can go on to achieve if they are given the right support, and reminds me why I have reason to remain optimistic about my future regardless of the hardships I face.
There’s an old Beatles lyric that in a way sums up everything I’ve said here. “Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly.”