I have autism, what is often known as high functioning autism. This means that I am on the autistic spectrum, but have average intelligence. It also means I can basically function on my own as everybody else can, but I can struggle sometimes with certain situations. Sometimes people with high functioning autism can find it hard to get a diagnoses as they don’t exhibit all the typical signs of autism and often seem to be functioning well. The idea that I was on the autistic spectrum did not come up till I was in my early teens. A child psychologist first diagnosed me with OCD, which is something people with autism often have. However I am not even sure I am officially diagnosed as autistic, but the psychologist definitely brought it up as something I probably have, and having looked into it, I am pretty sure I do.
I am glad I know that I know I have it as it helps explain why I often feel like I do and helps others to understand me. The problem for me with autism though is that I am fully aware I have it, but can not seem to do anything about it. I have wished in the past that I was more autistic in some ways to the point where I was ignorant of the fact I had it, then it might bother me less, but this thought never lasts long. It can be frustrating to look back at some situations and realise the reason it did not go so well was mostly your own fault, but at the time you could not see what you were doing or saying was the wrong thing.
The main way in which my autism affects me is in social situations. I find it hard to make and maintain friendships. I always felt like I was a bit of an outsider in school and preferred my own company sometimes. I found it hard as a child to read people’s emotions and body language sometimes misjudging the situation and saying the wrong thing. Over the years I think I have got better at reading emotions and understanding other people, but I can still struggle with more complex situations. I can come across as selfish or self-centred with some of the things I say, but I do try to think of others and not just of myself. I have noticed that I can be quite good at responding to social interaction, but I struggle at initiating it. I often fail to make good eye contact at first and come across as slightly shy, when in fact I am not shy at all. The website WebMD describes it well:
‘Unlike People with other forms of autism, people with high functioning autism want to be involved with others. They simply don’t know how to go about it. They may struggle to understand others’ emotions. They may not read facial expressions or body language well. As a result, they may be teased and often feel like social outcasts. The unwanted social isolation can lead to anxiety and depression. ‘ WebMD
I was bullied in school and think my lack of social skills was a huge factor in this. I have had some serious anxiety and depression on and off since I was a teenager, some of which was brought on by being socially isolated and feeling very lonely. I have managed to make a few friends, but still do not have very many and do not consider myself to have much of a social life. I sometimes find it easier to get on with older or younger people than people of my own generation. I have always felt a connection to older people, they just seem to understand me and have more in common with me. I find it easier to interact with my two-year old nephew than a lot of people my own age. Very young children are clear with their emotions and with what they want to do, they do not hide how they really feel and I can understand what they are asking of me instantly.
Another way in which my autism manifests itself is in my emotions. I am a very emotional person with a high emotional response to a lot of things. In school if I was frustrated, which was quite often, I would get very angry with the teachers and other staff. I would have full on temper tantrums as a teenager in front of my whole class. I think I did this in primary school when very little, but I seemed to stop after the infants, but it started up again in my first secondary school. I think it started towards the end of year seven when the bullying got too much for me to handle any more, and I started yelling in class at the bullies. After that I started to yell at the teachers when they failed to do anything about the obvious bullying going on in front of them. At my next school I used anger to express my frustration when I found the work too easy or too hard. I could switch from a perfectly OK mood to a full on temper tantrum in a matter of seconds. I would then get sent out of the room or choose to walk out and cry for ages in the corridor. I never planned on having a tantrum before I had one and I am sorry for the disruption they would cause for the rest of the class. I stopped having so many classroom tantrums once I went to college, although I had the odd few at first. I think I felt less frustrated at college as you could pick what you studied and the work was more at my level. I still used to have tantrums now and then at home which I feel awful about now as it was so unfair on my mum. I do not seem to have full on tantrums now, but I do still get too angry at my parents sometimes. I shout too much at them instead of talking out my problems with them at times.
I also get overly anxious about things and then this can lead to feeling very low, even depressed at times. I feel helpless, like nothing I do will be worth it and I find this spoils my enjoyment of doing the things I would normally enjoy, so I simply stop doing things. I have spent whole days in bed not bothering to get up as it is simply not worth the effort. If this carries on too long I start to get negative thoughts that play on my mind over and over, making me feel even worse. Although not totally linked to my autism, I am sure it is in some way, making me less able to deal with my emotions in a more healthy way.
Other ways in which I find my autism seems to effect me include my need to be perfectionist about my hair and clothing. I resist change in my immediate environment and hate when things are not as I left them. Mostly now I can cope if someone makes minor changes in the house, but if someone does something in my bedroom without me knowing I can get very upset still. I find fine motor skills take me longer to learn than most people, I know I was older than most of my peers by the time I could tie my own shoe laces for example. I have always had a low pain tolerance and this is supposed to be a common trait in autistic people. Another thing autistic people are supposed to enjoy doing is keeping large collections of things, which I most certainly do with my charity badge collection and my postcard collection, although unless this gets too out of hand, I can not see this as a problem.
There are other symptoms of having high functioning autism I do not seem to have, but maybe if you asked my family they would consider me to have other autistic traits that I have not recognized myself. Sometimes I find it hard to know when my personality stops and my autism starts. However autism does not define me and is not who I am. I have heard autistic people referred to as ‘them’ or ‘they’, such as a woman I met in a chat room who works with autistic school children who said ‘they are all such lovely people’. I had to point out I was autistic and far from lovely at all times and not all my unlovely parts of my personality could be put down to autism. That would be using my autism as an excuse to get away with bad behaviour and selfish acts at times when it had nothing to do with it and that is something I would never do. I have a personality outside of my autism as does every single person with autism no matter where on the spectrum they come.