Why Autism isn't a bad Label to haveJun 08, 2022
I’m Nicky a self-diagnosed autistic adult, I went through my childhood not knowing I was autistic. It wasn’t until I reached the age of 34 that I realised that I could very well be on the spectrum, and the more I researched the more my life made sense. So many autistic children go under the radar, if you’re good at pretending to be OK, are good at blending into your environment, if you keep yourself out of trouble and do what you’re told by teachers and those in charge, then they never suspect a thing, and this was me, the queen of masking.
I would sit at my desk either at home or at school, a rising feeling of panic inside me as I didn’t know the answers to the questions, if I asked for help then everyone would see me, I’d stand out, so I unknowingly plastered that mask on, gritted my teeth and acted like the good little girl I was brought up to be. This mask started to slip when I hit my teenage years, I was one of those teens who went “off the rails”. As an adult looking back with the gift of hindsight it’s clear to me why things went so wrong. I never felt like I was understood, it was like everyone around me had been given this book on how to be human, but they missed my copy, so I was stumbling along not knowing how to act around others, I had very few friends and was bullied which only added to my misery. School was a nightmare for me, I often say that the only autistic children who thrive at school are the ones who have it worse at home. I disliked school so much that by the time I reached 14 I started to bunk off. I would get the bus to school, then I’d go to morning registration and most days I’d then walk home through the pig farm and fields, as there was less chance of being spotted and being taken back to school. As I grew older, I attended school less and less, eventually, I started to drink alcohol this was my way of making the world easier to navigate, it created a shield between me and the real world, lots of autistic people self-medicate, my forms of self-medication were alcohol, drugs and sex.
Working with so many autistic people I have noticed that the kids who are the good children tend to go off the rails hardest, the demands of the school environment increase, social expectations increase, more and more demands are placed on us and then we snap, we can no longer mask, we turn to substances. Society conditions us to work hard at school, get good grades, get a good job, settle down, have a kid or two and that’s typically what people do. Unfortunately, when neurodivergent people follow this route, the responsibility of having another person whether that’s a partner, a child or both can cause real strain on the individual and when you’re not aware that you are autistic this can lead to hospitalisation and what looks like mental breakdowns when in reality it is massive overload which then causes burnout.
It doesn’t have to be this way, with the right tools, the right support and the right people around you, life can be a much richer experience. For me I stopped caring so much about what people thought about me, I started to understand why I did some of the things I did, I had many aha moments and realisations that ooh that’s an autistic thing, I worked out what my strengths were and I worked out the things I wasn’t so good at and I put systems into place that supported me as a person and supported me to develop and grow. I’m lucky as my long-term special interest is personal development, I’ve had interests in spirituality and one of my first languages isn’t verbal communication, it’s the language of energy. We’ve all walked into a room where someone has had an argument and the phrase commonly used is “you could cut the atmosphere with a knife in here”, what causes that feeling in the air? Energy and autistic people are more receptive to energy than they are to emotions.
Emotions are simply another form of energy, but what mainstream education doesn’t teach us is that energy is emotion or energy in motion. I’ve struggled over the years to identify my emotions, which is another common challenge for autistic people, a lot of us struggle with alexithymia which is emotion blindness. We are taught from such a young age to label our emotions, as children going to school for the first time or doing something new that makes us feel anxious, we might have said that we have a funny feeling in our tummy, like there are butterflies whizzing around in there, when we’ve mentioned this we’re then told “don’t worry sweetheart, that’s just a little bit of anxiety, it’ll pass” so from this young age we are taught not to focus on the sensation but to label those sensations so that others are easily able to understand what we’re experiencing. If we ditched this way of thinking which I have done and instead focus on the sensation and location of the discomfort within us, this can offer up so many clues. Putting this into a practical example if someone said are you OK? You don’t seem like yourself today, as the autistic person may understand that you’re not OK but you’re not able to identify why that is, if we are with someone we can openly talk to, maybe a partner or a close friend, you might so “no I’m not OK, but I’m not sure why that is. But I do know that I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach, this can then open up the pathway to understanding what is happening, with the help and support of a trusted person, or even with your own journal you can start to unpick what emotion could be running in your system.
For me realising that I am autistic was the greatest gift of all, though my younger years I gained labels of lazy, stupid and weird, when I gained the correct label of autism I felt like I’d been handed the keys to the kingdom, life finally started to make sense and in my future articles I will cover ways in which you can help yourself to become the best version of your authentic autistic self because we all deserve to be proud of who we are and not frightened or fearful.
This article was originally written by myself for Brainz magazine, where I am an executive contributor, you can find the original work here.