When I was 25 I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. It was quite surprising to me. I didn’t know anything about Autism or Asperger’s at the time and assumed the psychologist would say “of course you aren’t Autistic”. What happened was a declaration that I was a ‘high functioning’ Autistic. The news was given kindly with confidence along with a positive reassurance that being Autistic was not so bad.
It was 5 years before I met another Autistic person. In that time I read about Autism, thought about how to fix it in myself and wondered what other Autistic people would be like. My first encounter with another adult Autistic was strange, different and typically Autistic. A man rang in response to an advertisement I placed in a university magazine for a flatmate. He was very friendly, detailed in his description of his reasons for looking for somewhere to live and mentioned he had Asperger’s. He came to view the room and we became instant friends. He was, quirky different eccentric unusual and in so many ways just like me.
My second meeting of an Autistic person occurred in the graduate computer room at university where I was busy typing an assignment. A man flopped down next to me and said “it was you who gave that presentation about Asperger’s people and I’m one of them”. I was amused by his instant leap past all social conventions straight to the point and thought “hmm, you are aren’t you”. I was by this time doing a research project about adult experiences of Autism and he was, just like me. We became friends and I decided I wanted to meet more Autistic people.
At this point I wondered if I really needed to fix this Autism in myself because really, being Autistic didn’t seem quite so bad. I liked the first two Autistic people I had met and noticed they were doing fine in life as they were. Neither of these Autistic men thought having Asperger’s was negative, they were happy with their diagnosis and both view Autism as positive type of difference. This view contrasted sharply with my “I have a condition” needing fixing type thinking.
It was a novel idea, to view Autism as a positive and not a negative condition making my life difficult. It was a perspective which grew on me and I found fruitful. Life did ‘feel’ easier accepting this way of being rather than seeing it as a hindrance. Those first couple of Autistic people I met inspired me to think differently.
I went on to meet many other Autistic people. I meet them through Autism organisations, at support groups, at conferences and via social media. I’ve met Autistic’s from every walk of life, every profession and every personality type. We are a very diverse group of people but one thing is sure, many of the common perceptions of Autism are not correct. Many of these ‘common’ ideas about Autism cause unnecessary self-stigma and negative thoughts toward ourselves. Feeling like we need to fix and change ourselves in order to have good lives is not helpful.
From my ongoing analysis of other Autistic people, because I just love to analyse people, I have seen to distinct themes emerge. Autistic people who are having happy, fulfilling and productive lives ‘like’ themselves and don’t want to ‘fix’ their Autism or be a different person. Autistic’s doing well in life generally focus on their strengths and how they can use to gain employment, career rather than focusing on what is wrong with them. Autistic adults who focus on what is wrong with them and feel like they have to change themselves to fit in with society are generally less happy and have higher incidences of depression. It has been the same for me. When I stopped trying to fix myself, came to like my quirky eccentric somewhat different Autistic self, I felt better and happier. Feeling happier and more positive helped me find my strengths and get the courage to live the life I want. Now I’d like to help other Autistic people find their strengths, learn to like themselves and find ways to live the life they want. After many years of informally supporting Autistic adults I believe I can.