Autism Awareness week will be here in 2 weeks and I thought that before that happens I would share with you all my Autism story as an Adult who was diagnosed at the age of 31.
Growing up was rather difficult. I never knew how to make friends and keep them, I was easily led into behaviors that were not correct, however, I knew certain things were wrong and I would throw a tantrum if someone tried to get me to do something that was wrong. I was also from a family who didn’t have much in the way of anything so I was unable to hide behind new clothes or fancy toys. I was seriously stunted in education due to my also being dyslexic as well and would say things that I just did not understand were wrong or I would be saying one thing out loud, but what I thought in my head was completely different. Peoples reactions to things as well always alluded me.
In the 90s girls, unless they were low functioning or violent, were not diagnosed as autistic and as such, no one really looked at girls very closely for autism. This is something I am now very thankful for (as a change) since when I was a child.
I lived in a world that I never understood and what was worse, I could see everyone else around me and they seemed to cope with it and yet I wondered why I could not. To protect myself, I would create personas of what I thought a “normal” person was. This never lasted very long. People would see the true side of me and then they would realize I was different. As such, I was bullied and teased. I carried the fake personas into my adulthood. I had an image constructed of what a person in the workplace was. This included:
Someone who was never late;
Someone who agreed with everything their boss said and didn’t say no to them at all;
Even when things went wrong you had to be someone everyone turned to for help and never asked for anything in return.
To be honest, the list could go on forever. This did not work, however. I would last in a job no longer than 5 years (sometimes less) before I would tire of always being this person who I was not. I had to hide everything and could not ask for help from anyone. I kept it all inside and I would follow a pattern, I would make my self sick, then my mental health would suffer, I would sign off sick and then quit. Because of this, my CV looks rather frantic at first glance.
That was until I got my diagnosis. It was like a light bulb went off in my head and honestly, I felt like giving myself an NCIS patented “Gibbs Slap” on the back of my head. Everything I had struggled with made so much more sense to me. An example, when growing up if my routine had been changed last minute I would get so upset I would start crying. This went all the way down to small things like getting on a bus which my mum missed and the conductor had to stop the bus so my mum could get on. The shear sudden change of her not being on the bus with me set me off. Now I have my diagnosis I know that is what is called a “Meltdown”.
SO in the last year, I have had my diagnosis, I decided to make the very most of it. I promised myself that I would be my true self even in the workplace. Case in point, when advertising an event my team was running, I sat in the Atrium of the building wearing my pug slippers. I just felt that day was something I wanted to do, so I did it. I have also learned that it is OK to ask for help. I regularly go back to people now when they email me and I don’t understand what they have asked and tell them that I don’t understand. This has been liberating for me. I didn’t understand how I couldn’t understand what people had been emailing me until I realized, the more specific people are with me the easier I find it to understand. Once I realized this I found that I was asking less for constant approval of work I was doing and actually getting more work done.
I found that instead of hiding who I was and that is an Autistic Woman I was able to have conversations with people and tell them when I was struggling. Just ask my line manager, she will tell you this is true. When I am getting nervous or anxious I go to her and I said, I am struggling and she talks me through what the problem is. I know if I need support I have it from her and my entire team. And, because I am more open about it I can honestly say, I have never felt better in my life. No longer is the facade that I had built up tearing me down, I was embracing who I was.
I often get asked by people “How can an Autistic person enjoy being a Civil Servant”. The truth is, I have always been one for a challenge and that is what I tell them. I know there are things that are beyond my control which I am unable to cope with and it can lead to meltdowns but the truth of the matter is, I am still able to wake up every morning and love going into work. Part of this is because I have a job that I love but also because I work somewhere that realizes that I have differences and difficulties and allows me to embrace them. What more could an Autistic want out of life if not to be accepted for who they are? You may think this is me sounding like a recruitment poster for the Civil Service but honestly, I have never had so much support to be my true self than in the Civil Service.
Now you may now be asking what does that mean, do I come into work with a label that says I am autistic deal with it. The answer to that is no. I know there are things that I am unable to control for instance the way that I twitch my legs. I never realize I am doing it. However, I do tell people who work around me, if you see it happening and it is annoying you tell me and I can try and find a way to make it less annoying.
My Autism Story has only really started as I look into how I can improve myself and I use it every day to find ways to help others with autism get on better. So, what is the moral of this then? The answer I believe is that you must always be true to who you are. When you deny who you are you get tired and that leads down a road that is not good to be on, believe me I know. You do not need to be something you are not, with the right support you can do anything you set your mind too. It may take a little longer to get there, and there may be a few bumps in the road, I sure as heck know this all to well but you will get there.
My advice to anyone in the workplace who has autism and is not happy in what they are doing;
- Be true to who you are. Find ways to make sure you can bring your true self to the work you do, even if it is wearing pug slippers in the atrium of your building;
- Don’t shy away from opportunities that come your way for fear of a meltdown. By trying we learn and once we learn, we can grow.
- Do not feel ashamed of who you are and what you go through. The shame will keep you in your own facade which will pull you down eventually.
- Make sure you do what makes you happy and do not let people stand in your way by using your autism against you. Autism is its own superpower.
I am still learning about my autism super-powers but I will continue, no matter what to stand there and say, “So what if I am autistic, doesn’t mean that I can’t do that”