April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month. But for me that's every month of the year! I am on the autism spectrum, I work taking care of an amazing girl with autism, and I know and love many people with autism.
I was technically diagnosed when I was 17 but I didn't find out about it until I was 20. And it was a shock at first. Because the truth is, I hardly knew anything about autism at the time beyond some stereotypes. And because I didn't fit those stereotypes, in my head I thought there was no way I could have autism. Similarly, my mom had a very narrow perception of what autism looked like, and 15 years ago there was nowhere near the awareness that there is now. So I was just diagnosed with ADHD at age 7, and was always just the shy quiet girl. Knowing what I know now about autism being a huge spectrum, and how it can present itself differently in females, it's painfully obvious that I had more than ADHD and I can pinpoint issues back in very early childhood.
I've been wondering lately if/how things would have been different if I was diagnosed as a child. It doesn't even matter now though I guess. There's definitely more awareness now than there was when I was a kid, but we still have a long way to go. When I had my stitches removed in September, they allowed me to bring my mom in because I said I was autistic (normally you weren't allowed to bring in someone). The doctor asked why she was there and said "wow you don't look autistic!" which is actually not the compliment you think it is. There's no one universal "look" to autism. The doctor was super sweet and accommodating to my anxiety, and I just laughed it off, but it was surprising to hear from a medical doctor.
I wish kids were taught in school about neurodiversity and accepting differences. Every single person with autism is different. Autism is a spectrum, meaning the traits present differently in each person, and the severity and functioning level varies. For example, the girl I take care of is nonverbal and has no spoken speech and has higher support needs than I do. If you've met one person with autism, you've met only one person with autism.
Honestly, my feelings towards myself and my autism fluctuate constantly. In truth, most of the time I have negative feelings about it. I'm doing a lot better now, but for a long time, and still sometimes now, I felt/feel so behind in life. I was very socially and emotionally immature. I'm often ashamed and hesitant to say I have autism, because most neurotypical don't really know much about the autism spectrum and make assumptions or have misconceptions. People with autism are often infantilized and I don't like that. I'm also reluctant to claim to be part of the autism community because much of the online adult autistic community stands for things I don't believe in and attacks people who disagree with them.
I wish I could say I had autistic pride, but I don't. Sometimes I do wish I could be "cured." Unlike some autistic adults, I don't view my autism as a positive identity. And my feelings and the way I experience autism are 100% valid, despite anyone disagreeing with me.
There are some positives though I suppose. I feel like I have a unique perspective on the world and am an out of the box thinker. Being on the autism spectrum myself, I'm much more compassionate and excel at my job taking care of a younger autistic girl with high support needs. My boyfriend has autism too and I feel like he understands me better than anyone and in a deeper way than if we were neurotypical. Which is really amazing because I used to believe autism made me too damaged and broken to be loved or understood, and that I was too socially inept to have a successful relationship, and now autism happens to be what makes my relationship work so well. So I guess it's not all bad.
I'm happy to answer any questions about autism and how it affects me, because like I said, every single person is different. But above all else, we ALL just want to be accepted, treated with kindness and dignity, and listened to.