(Last updated Feb 2019)
My name is Autumn. I live in Australia, but no– there aren’t kangaroos and koalas on my doorstep. I reside in the city of Melbourne is one of our biggest cities that weirdly has a humid climate all year round. In winter it’s cold and sticky; summer is hot and sticky. I’ve lived here since 2000, that’s a considerable chunk of life right there.
I have am deeply spiritual, and think there’s a place for faith in all things… and I also know that many of my autistic friends are totally atheist and that’s okay. We’re all allowed to have our thoughts and ideas 🙂
I hold a Master’s degree in Counselling and Psychotherapy, but I don’t actively practice as a therapist. Currently I am completing a PhD in artificial intelligence (AI) and my second undergraduate degree in applied information technology (my first Bachelor’s was in Criminology and History). I adore education and learning new things. I am very academic, and I enjoy research. I am very inspired by AI as a growing field, and I think that I can work in it to create a better future for humanity.
- Walk into the light. If you want something deeply enough, you will make it work.
- Believe in yourself.If you ever doubt, STOP and say: “Brain, shut the fuck up” – and then go do it.
- Self-awareness rules. If someone challenges you or upsets you, look at that conflict with clarity of mind; “what in my childhood, does this feeling or person remind me of? am i falling into past ‘bad habits’? how can i learn and grow from this encounter happening right now? do i need to talk to my therapist to workshop my own response?”
Growing up was difficult, as we moved around a lot – nationally and internationally. I never really felt “at home” anywhere. It was hard as well, due to the fact that I had mostly absent parents– mum, though a stay-at-home parent, has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, so she was physically there, but emotionally distant; dad was in the army, so often away (and then in 1988, he and mum separated, so I was left living with mum).
From being around 6 years old, I noticed that I was different to other children. I experienced insurmountable difficulties making and keeping friends, challenges learning how to tell the time, do mathematics, read, play in ‘normal’ ways, and I struggled generally with “being” in the world. I was very innocent, more childish than others my age, I was awkward, muddled my words a lot, couldn’t understand conversations unless things were exaggerated, I threw tantrums, and was often confused by emotions of others. But in all of that, it never really crossed my mind that I had an affliction of any kind. I never really ever self-diagnosed in anything… except once googling fever symptoms and freaking out I had the Black Plague – lol…
See, it turns out that I am autistic! I only found this out during adulthood, and while I felt weird and different as a child, I thought that was the experience of all children. In early primary school, my mother told me I had dyslexia but also that she wouldn’t help me because it would make her look bad (hmm!). I found school challenging in that way. Still, I thought (at the time) that this was simply the experience of being a child. I was not diagnosed with autism until much later in life, at age 36…. so I lived the bulk of my life just finding things hard and not knowing why, and not getting any help.
CHILDHOOD/ SEXUAL ABUSE–
I do not know if my story is unique in any way, but yep, I’ve been victimized as a child. A deeply saddening event on reflection– between 1988 and 1997, I experienced a sexually abusive relationship with an older male family-member. For clarity: I was 7 when it started. He told me that our relationship was “special” and that this kind of relationship was normal. So, I did not question it. While I guess you could say most children would react this way, I reflect that being undiagnosed autistic at the time magnified my problems. You know? The misunderstanding of relationships… Anywho – In this weird sexual connection, I was praised and rewarded– things I rarely got in the family unit. Despite my mother knowing about the abuse since 1991, she never attempted to stop it, counsel me, or support me. Later she said, “changing what was happening to you would have made my life hard, so I didn’t do it” (niiice! thanx, mum?). And from 1989, my father encouraged scenarios for the abuse to take place, such as putting me and the abuser in the same bed, saying it was all about being “one happy family”. (This is disturbing as I think about it, being an adult). I would never want to see my own children experience anything like this! Being a child meant I didn’t understand. And being autistic meant that I didn’t understand the brevity of the situation, so even being a young adult (still in that sexually abusive relationship), I had a somewhat childish view of it all. This experience then led me into a series of horrid decisions in future sexual relationships, career-choices and to have distorted life values. It took me a long time to see that I was naive, that I misunderstood boundaries, that I was an attention-seeking victim, and to learn the difference between a romantic relationship and a murky one. Working with a supportive therapist who understands autism was an essential part of that journey for me.
Something else noteworthy, that is also experienced by many autistics is severe bullying throughout our life. I was targeted me for being– well– ME. At school, I was bullied because I “don’t fit in”, was considered “weird” and “asks too many questions”. The abuse at school was physical and verbal from 1983 (kindergarten) to 2016 (university). Yes, I’ve been punched, strangled, pushed down, verbally bullied, and ostracized. I have also been unfairly dismissed at previous workplaces by colleagues and bosses, because I “don’t socialize” and “have personality problems”. It’s so hard! The thing is, I didn’t fit in and seemed weird because I was different (because I’m autistic!). I asked too many questions as I am curious and mostly confused (because I’m autistic!). I didn’t socialize much at work as communication was a challenge (because I’m autistic!). I was seen to have personality problems as I was presenting myself differently to others (because I’m autistic!).
ABOUT MY DIAGNOSES:
I am diagnosed with “Autism – Level 1 – High Functioning”, as well as an auditory processing disorder, periods of hypomania and anxiety. Since 2012 I have also received the diagnosis of dysthymia. Since childhood I have also had learning disabilities. UGH!
I hate the label “high functioning” coz I think it encourages outsiders to think my life is just peachy…. Clinically, it means that while I have a range of difficulties, I am considered among the “more able” individuals on the spectrum.Before I get into everything else, I think it’s important to explain to you that while I do have this label of “more able”/ “higher functioning”, I think my autism makes everything pretty frickking confusing.
ABOUT MY AUTISM–
Autism itself has many different symptoms and presentations, so I won’t go too much into it right now, but you can read more in my other blogs ‘About Diagnosis’ and ‘What is Autism‘. In short, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders says Autism is a disorder that includes persistent impairments in social interaction, developmental language and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors. To be diagnosed, you need to be formally assessed by a qualified professional, often a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist.
My experience is that with autism, the world is confusing. Communication, relationships, understanding facial expressions, voice-tone, wording-use, and interpreting unspoken cues — this is confusing. Hearing things correctly is a struggle. I take things literally. I see things in mostly black-and-white (my partner, Z is helping me to see shades of grey). I feel other’s feelings and get overwhelmed in them. I experience the world at an intense level: noises are super loud, smells are super pungent, temperatures are super cold or super hot… And I feel a continuous depression most days. I also experience anxiety. I like to tap things, I do twirl when “stimming”, and yeh, I have a blankee and sensory toys. I do know that most people do not see me and go ‘autistic for sure’ (and yeh, I know that’d be pretty offensive if they did, but I mean that I don’t seem to reflect that “ideal” of whatever people think autism is meant to be). Maybe it’s because I’m female? I wrote a blog about that HERE.
ABOUT MY AUDITORY PROCESSING DISORDER–
My auditory processing disorder means that I quite simply sometimes mishear words or hear jumbled words in my mind when someone talks to me. The issue is not my ears; it’s my brain. My partner, Z says this is extremely frustrating, coz it means I often react to things he didn’t say or “make up stuff” he said. It’s also frustrating for me because at times I feel psychotic, in the sense of “what’s real??” — but as scary as that may sound, I am pretty good at handling this. Having a supportive partner helps, as does repeating back what I think they heard and taking a moment to consider if what I heard makes actual sense. Recently when talking to Z, I heard, “do you have a fat clarinet, Odin?” and then I just took at moment reflecting on that, and instead of replying to the affect of ‘I’m not Odin!’ or ‘No fat clarinets here!’, I said, “I’m sorry, can you repeat that; I think I misheard you”. It turned out the correct sentence was “do you have that cupboard open?” – and hey- that’s very different, huh? I know this is one of my issues and I work hard to correct myself and hear the RIGHT things.
ABOUT MY HYPOMANIA–
Hypomania for me is totally in the bipolar range. It’s a mild form of mania where I feel hyperfocused, jittery, anxious, with an elated mood and don’t need much sleep. I have periods of hypomania every 3-4 months, and I know the symptoms of it starting now, so I can manage this without medications.
ABOUT MY ANXIETY–
Anxiety is garden-variety, I think. I have a lot of problems, but I don’t let it control me anymore. I work with my therapist and I like to challenge my anxiety, to put myself in situations where I know I will be triggered, and make strategies to cope. I know that probably sounds mad! Here’s an example: I very much dislike crowds, being touched, and loud music… so I spent 2014-2016 learning to dance (Latin dance) professionally. I attended events, did group and solo classes, and even did a few low-level competitions. In the beginning it was really hard and I was really anxious, but after some time, I started to enjoy the activity of dance, and the fears and feelings of anxiety around my triggers dissipated. I like to give myself moments like these to learn, and grow and be less an anxious person. I also use coping mechanisms around particularly triggering things, and I have recently (2018) acquired anti-psychotics to take at bedtime… they really help calm me.
ABOUT MY DSYTHYMIA–
Dysthymia is known as a long-term “mild” depression. I got my “depression” tag in 2012, and it was only in 2016 when I was given anti-depressants for mood stabilizing. To be honest, I think I’ve been depressed my whole life… eh, or maybe just since the abuse? Who knows. But well, those meds– I struggle taking them. They make me feel lethargic and as if I’m walking through treacle (or rather, struggling through treacle). I am unable to think clearly and I feel vague. So, I generally *don’t* take the pills. I just focus on seeing my therapist when I feel down, trying to clear my head through self-care techniques and visiting close friends for support. It helps.
ABOUT MY LEARNING DISABILITIES–
Dyslexia and dysgraphia is a learning disability— I struggle with reading numbers and letters correctly- I see weird squiggles most of the time and have to really look at it or think about it to understand stuff. That being said, and as I’ve mentioned earlier, I do have a shitload of high level qualifications. In 1990, I decided my dyslexia difficulties shouldn’t hold me back, so I made it a “life’s quest” to learn to spell, to identify grammatical errors, and learn to write well. My first task (self-imposed) was to read and memorize a dictionary (yeah, I was 10). I started getting pretty good at language and words because of that… Yet, I didn’t do much to improve or work on my dysgraphia, but as I am now studying IT, I will have to address that aspect in programming skills! Having these issues has made communication hard– but not insurmountable.
LIFE RIGHT NOW:
I’m now in my late thirties and I have a range of coping mechanisms to help me get through the day. I am very proud of all my personal hard work, in therapy and in developing personal plans to manage my own life.
After a very very long period of unemployment I finally got a great job in mid-2018 as a research assistant and an instructional designer. I write and research and edit and analyze things. It’s fun. I am so blessed by my job and all the good it allows me to do incredible GOOD for the autistic community as well as in the private sector.
Indeed, while i adore my work, it is not without its challenges: the procrastination, the anxiety, the self-doubts, the periods of depression/ mania that pull me off track, the stress that comes with conferences and events where I need to be professional and talkative with others… My employer(s) are very accommodating and flexible, and i think having my formal diagnosis really helps with that (incidentally, at university, I am getting WAY more assistance with the formal diagnosis– I showed it to the disability coordinator and now I get HELP at studying and learning and in classes… soooo great 🙂 ). My employer allows me to complete most of my work from home, so I can be comfortable and do my best. When I meet people, my employer has already introduced me as autistic and so no-one is weird or overbearing or doing anything I find uncomfortable. It’s so amazing to me, and I deeply thankful.
I have made peace with the pains of my past, knowing that many of my experiences were due to my autism. I am extremely grateful to my therapist who I have had since 2000; she helped me on my therapeutic journey, working through my trauma, guilt, sadness and pain of my abuse, discussing the challenges of my family life growing up, relationships and managing change. I am glad I have a loving partner, Z. and some close friends.
It is through my commitment to myself that I have learned to find calm. I believe in doing good and trying my utmost to be a good person. I strive to do good through my faith, with my studies and my therapy… and all of this has given me a stronger self-belief and to trust in my abilities. I have confidence that I can achieve what I desire; I believe that I am worthy and deserving of good things… and I believe deeply that others can find this peace too.
REFLECTIONS ON AUTISM AND MY WORLD:
While I do have autism and that presents all these difficulties, it is not impossible for me to function in the world. Sure, it’s bloody hard, but I manage. My autistic experience shows my ultimate resilience and ability to overcome.
I work every day to try to be better. I choose jobs and a lifestyle that supports my needs and highlights my abilities. I attempt to avoid situations where my difficulties are magnified, and I apply coping mechanisms where I can. I choose to work from home, to write, and to communicate with others mostly in emails to minimize difficulties and misunderstandings. I keep an open dialogue with the people I love and actively work on bettering myself. I keep predominately autistic friends and surround myself with patient, understanding, and caring souls.
I see my weaknesses, but I also see my strengths. I know being autistic is not an excuse for bad behaviour, but I also note that, by its very nature, it alters the way I perceive, receive, hear, process and understand the world.
My brain is different; I am different from you. Neither of us is “right” or “wrong”. We are different, and that’s okay. We just need to be cooperative, patient and build understanding through a willingness to learn about each other’s experience in the world. I think that’s possible.