By Robin Young
I was diagnosed with autism when I was 15, on the recommendation of an English teacher I’m forever indebted to. In truth, it didn’t have much of an impact on me when I found out. I carried on much the same as I was before, only now I knew what was wrong with me, and had the support from my school to get me through my exams without my double diagnosis of Asperger’s and dyspraxia getting in the way. It wasn’t until I left for uni, travelling halfway across the country to study at Liverpool, that the impact of autism on my life really hit me.
Changing from a small town to a city, surrounded by people I didn’t know, in a far more demanding social environment where I had to learn full independence, I should have cracked, or at least retreated into a shell and refused to socialise with anybody. For the first month or so, sure, that’s exactly what I did. I went out to events for a couple of societies, sure, but barely spoke to anyone and always disappeared before the pub.
Then one day, I decided to go on a weekend trip to Somerset, with a bunch of people I barely knew, through the Historical Reenactment society, the only one I’d dared to join. It remains one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Skip forward about five years and I’ve never stopped pushing myself. I’ve found the circle of friends I never really found in school, I’ve got a job that someone with my diagnosis should have no right to succeed in, and, perhaps most importantly of all for me, I’ve found a long-term partner who is so, so understanding about my condition. The problem with autism is that all anyone ever talks about is what you can’t do. Nobody ever tells you what you can do, or more importantly what you can achieve in spite of your disadvantages. If you’re autistic and reading this, know this: whatever you think you can’t do, you can. I know because I’ve proved myself wrong so many times.
I know my autism makes me difficult to deal with sometimes; it’s not always easy for non-autistic people to appreciate why I react the wrong way to things, or struggle to understand things that should be simple. I never expected to have friends I was fully comfortable around, and who were fully comfortable around me, and totally willing to put up with all my weirdness and wrong answers. Having friends who are on the spectrum (or who at least can relate to my autistic traits) has helped more than anything, because nothing is worse than feeling that nobody can relate to you. All anyone wants really is to be accepted, and with autism, that can be difficult because your brain works so differently to the people around you - or so we’re taught. Which is true, to some degree, but if you really get out there you’ll be amazed how understanding most people can be. More important than anything was realising that I can be public about my autism, and not be ashamed of it. It’s part of who I am. Realising that has allowed me to be truly comfortable around others for the first time in my life.
More important still, has been the support of my amazing partner. Little over a year ago the idea of being in a committed relationship with somebody who would be completely empathetic of my most difficult qualities was a fantasy within a fantasy. Then, one day, while talking to a girl in my university’s drama society, I found it completely by mistake. As with so many other things in my life, I proved myself wrong, and proved I was capable of the kind of emotional maturity and intimacy that my diagnosis told me I couldn’t achieve.
Having somebody in my life who knows about the difficulties I face because of my autism, who understands even when I point blank refuse to communicate verbally, and who always treats me like an adult even when I feel like a child throwing a tantrum, has made a world of difference to the comfort I feel with my diagnosis. It has helped me achieve things I never thought I could, like somehow having the confidence to lead a committee team as president of my favourite university society (comic books), despite having a communication disorder and social anxiety.
I am Robin Young, I’m 23 years old, I’m in a long term relationship, and I’m going to be graduating this year with a Master’s in History from a Russell Group university. Oh, and I have autism. It’s always going to give me difficult days, and I’m not pretending that the limitations it imposes aren’t very real and scary. But if I really push myself, it’s amazing how far I can stretch those limitations and what I can achieve despite them. Never, ever let your diagnosis get you down.
We have asked our guest bloggers for their opinions. This blog represents Robin’s own views.