I wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome until the age of 28, but I was always aware that I was different. So were my teachers.
‘Gillan’s “special”, isn’t he?’ they used to say to my mother when she went to parents’ evening.
‘Yes, he is,’ she replied, puffing out her chest with pride, either a master of self-delusion or completely oblivious to the fact that I didn’t mix with the other children, couldn’t make friends, flipped out when my routines were changed, lost myself in funny obsessions, and spoke like a little professor.
Perhaps she thought it was a phase I’d grow out of, but as I got older it became evident that it wasn’t going away. Worried about my future, and terrified of my receiving a label that would somehow hold me back in life, my parents sent me to boys’ camp every summer in the vain hope I’d learn how to cope. They were summers of hell.
In desperation, I read books on body language and communication theories, practiced conversations in my head every night in bed, imitated the behaviours of my more socially successful peers, and consciously altered the way I acted to hide the difficulties I was experiencing. All the things other kids learned intuitively growing up, I consciously processed and studied and performed until I could pass for ‘normal’ – by exhausting myself mentally, bottling up my emotions, and pretending everything was okay when it most certainly wasn’t.
After being bullied at school I was bullied at work, job after job after job. I spent my whole life struggling to fit in, wondering why I seemed to find things so much more difficult than everyone else. It’s no surprise that I eventually had a breakdown, after which my autism was recognised.
And what a relief it was!
I finally knew what was wrong. I finally had a frame of reference by which to analyse everything that had happened in my life, and I could make adjustments for the future. My breakdown was the low point of my life, but since my diagnosis I’ve moved forwards in leaps and bounds. I have gained a degree and a Masters through the Open University; am married to a girl who also has autism; have two lovely children; and have written a book to help others come to terms with the diagnosis of autism – all things I never believed I was capable of.
And that’s the best lesson I can offer. The world is full of negativity about autism – about what we can’t do, what we can’t achieve – but we didn’t cease to be individuals when we were diagnosed and what applies to one person won’t apply to another. Our strengths and weakness aren’t contained in the pages of a book, but in ourselves.
If I could go back in time and speak to my parents, I would ask them this question: is it better to grow up undiagnosed, thinking you’re weak, broken and fundamentally incapable of finding a place in the world? Or is it better to get the diagnosis, receive the support and guidance you need to thrive, and approach adulthood with a clear and realistic appreciation of who you are and what you can do?
I know which one I’d rather.
by Gillan Drew - Autism Advocate & Guest Blogger
Published author and blogger Gillan shares his experiences of being a dad and living with Asperger’s Syndrome in his book and on his popular blog. Gillan is a guest speaker for us and has featured in our My Life with Autism event series.
We have asked our guest bloggers for their opinions. This blog represents Gillan’s own views