Over the course of five weeks we have been sharing a series of blog posts with you, written by an autistic academic who was diagnosed later in life.
She was assessed for autism as a child, but says she missed out on the diagnosis as little was known back then about the female presentation of autism. Thankfully, she had the chance to be reassessed as an adult.
She prefers to remain anonymous in her writing due to the stigma and discrimination that still exist within her industry, but she is happy for people to get in touch with her with any questions or feedback.
If you would like to get in touch please email us
If you've missed any of the blog posts, please find the link at the bottom of this page.
This is the final part, part five:
Every hour that rolls by is an hour in which at least one person has died from an eating disorder. I survive. My mother and sister pull me through, kicking and screaming. In this half-life I complete my PhD and specialize in autism research.
I learn that it’s common for autistic children to appear deaf when they don’t respond to their names; that made-up words are called neologisms, and that repetitive speech is called echolalia; that any autistic child might hide in the comforting dark in a bright, noisy shop, and that many autistic people love shiny, sparkly, colourful things as much as I still do. I learn that whilst psychopaths don’t empathise or connect emotionally with others, autistic people can struggle to identify an emotion behind what people do and say. I learn that autistic girls, in particular, can often learn social rules through logic and copying others, and become excellent social chameleons, though their learnt rules often fall apart in spontaneous interaction. I learn that secondary school is often where autistic girls truly go into crisis, and that suicide, self-injury and mental illnesses, like depression, anxiety and eating disorders, are endemic in the autistic population.
I go for an assessment and the consultant says, without doubt, that I am autistic. Some, when I tell them, say: “Er, yeah? Didn’t you know?” At twenty-eight years old I am given this precious gift, this opportunity to shed the tainted skin of the past and to wear this blameless new identity.
In my thirties, I am a work-in-progress. My mum still helps me with even simple admin. I still make lots of social faux pas, struggle with my job, take medication to fight depression and anxiety. I beat myself up for my social mistakes, and when I mess up, I miss the easy self-esteem that I got from running the furthest, eating the least and being the lightest. I get my heart broken, patch it up again and struggle to figure out the ‘riddle within a puzzle within a maze’ that is romantic relationships. I still work hard to convince myself that I am not the bad girl, the freak, the problem; often, I forget.
But the joy in finding my ‘tribe’; the joy in being among people like me, people with whom I am not bad or different! The joy in my now unabashed pleasure in lights, sparkle and glitter, being brave enough to have rainbow hair, to wear colourful things that make me smile! The joy of having training and expertise that can help people; being able to write articles where other undiagnosed adults, like me, see themselves and say, “This has changed my life”. The joy of having a job where I can teach, support and boost the confidence of young people; the joy of researching important things and trying to make a difference. The joy of talking to people about autism, dispelling myths, telling people it’s OK, they’re OK, they’re exactly who they are supposed to be and they can go on and find things that make them happy.
I speak to parents who are worried that once diagnosed, their children will carry this label for the rest of their lives.
I assure them that of all the labels given to me in my life, only “autistic” has ever brought me peace.
Click here to read Part One