As I shoved my bags into the back seat the taxi driver grumbles that he was just about to pull away, apparently, I had taken so long that he had thought I was a no-show. ‘Sorry I was just putting my shoes on’ I say, which I hope conveys that I couldn’t have left the house any quicker unless I was sitting on the doorstep; looking disdainfully at me he turns the car around; and we head off to the station where I am being dropped this morning.
Some time ago while on a course I met Nicky, an eccentric, funny, intelligent woman who a little while into our acquaintance told me she was autistic. Now, I didn’t know much about Autism except what was portrayed in books and on television; and most of these portrayals showed boys and men. Because finding out about important things, especially when they involve us lady, women, people, I made it my mission to learn about being ‘on the spectrum’.
So, I asked Nicky to tell me all about her superpower of being different, she explained that being on the spectrum means diversity, it is a scale in which autism is measured, and that scale is large. At one end you have high functioning individuals who appear to have nothing wrong with them and at the other end severely disabled individuals who need support in all areas of living. Nicky pointed out the for the vast majority of autistic people it is the environment that is disabling and terms / labels like high functioning that diminish the difficulties people face on a daily basis. There is nothing wrong with an autistic person, it’s a wiring difference, and one that people don’t necessarily understand and when you don’t understand something it’s easier to come to the conclusion that something is wrong.
You can absolutely be autistic but not know it, society is led to believe that autism is a serious condition that disables a person, when you’re on the end where you have obvious learning and developmental delays it’s easier to see that there is a potential problem, and parents tend to get their children into specialists at a young age. However, when you are able to function at a seemingly normal level it is very easy for autism to be missed, many dislike the term ‘high functioning’ as it detracts from a person’s struggles, they are more likely to be able to blend in with their environment, almost like a chameleon. Despite this being an impressive superpower, many times the autistic individual isn’t aware that they are doing anything out of the ordinary, after all, how do you know you’re different when this is what you’ve always known?
Whole generations of mostly women have been misdiagnosed or have slipped through the net, which leads them to live very troubled lives, filled with anxiety and depression.
Nicky told me that for her personally the most obvious affects of her Autism is her hyper focus, which is an intense focus on a particular subject or task, everything else becomes unimportant, eating, household chores, other jobs etc.… and if somebody breaks that focus it really throws her. Essentially meaning she has to start the task again and get back into the zone, she cannot turn my attention to whoever needs her and then just go back to what she was doing.
Noise sensitivity is another massive thing, hearing the electric buzzing through the cables and feeling sick when there is vibration from things like excessive base from someone’s car stereo can send her into sensory overload. If that isn’t controlled it will lead to a meltdown and that’s something every autistic person wants to avoid. The current levels of anxiety that typical people are facing during lock down is very much what an autistic person experiences on a day to day basis, things like shopping and being in social settings are incredibly tiring, constantly having to adapt to the environment around them, so that they blend in and don’t draw unwanted attention to themselves, which is as exhausting as it sounds.
Nicky works with neurodiverse women, which is how she began to understand her self, and she feels that self diagnosis is perfectly valid with the range of information available now. She feels that if being comfortable with her own diagnosis is vital as an example that others can draw strength from, and be comfortable at accepting their own research and experiences as a valid diagnosis too.
After the initial shock wore off Nicky found that she felt liberated “having the label gave me a deeper understanding of who I am and how I had been hiding myself for my entire life. I wasn’t weird, I was just wired differently. It explained why my life had been such a struggle, it gave me a massive insight into my strengths and how to cater to them and how to balance my weaknesses, it gave me an opportunity to take my personal development to another level, to really start to be myself, to stop masking who I am in order to fit in with a society that disables me at every turn, it gave me the strength I needed to really make a difference, not only to myself but for others too. It also helped me to see what masks I had put on unintentionally put on over the years and to see why I had put those in place, it was and is pretty interesting to experience”.
After living a life of addiction, trying to give herself the confidence necessary to blend into social settings, and numb her negative feelings about herself, her diagnosis has changed her ability to be compassionate towards herself. She realised that when she gets to her tolerance limit she needs to remove herself from the situation. And that’s ok, because that’s what she needs.
“You could ask 1000 autistic women what it’s like, and whilst there will be similarities in the answers, all of the experiences will be different, that’s diversity for you. For me it is both challenging and liberating. I can focus on something so hard that I complete what one person could take a week over in a day, I get into a zone and if left to my own devices I am quite literally a machine. I pick up on people’s emotional changes, I don’t always understand my own emotions and my processing is delayed, so if I am reading a book, I will need to read the paragraphs several times to feel like the information has gone in, it will take a day or 2 for that information to trickle through. Emotionally I can seem distant, this is also down to processing delays, ask me to answer a question on the spot and I freeze, it’s not because I don’t know the answer it’s because my processing delays mean I just need a little time to consider the question and allow it to filter through, I am actually highly intelligent and given time and patience that intelligence will come through in an abundance”.
If you want to take some quizzes to find out where you are on the spectrum follow the links