There is a common misconception that people with Asperger’s wish to be cured. I don’t ‘suffer’ from my condition, but rather I use it to my advantage.
January 2015. I’ll always remember this date; two months prior to my sixteenth birthday, I was (at last) diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I use the words ‘at last’ because it was an accumulation over several years, of events signalling that something wasn’t necessarily right. And it was like I finally had an answer I needed.
I knew for a long time that I was ‘different’ – something seemingly impossible to articulate. I could talk about ‘special interests’ for hours, I would ‘stim’ (tapping fingers together, clapping, etc) to calm down. I was also a ‘loner’ throughout my education; more likely to be reading in the library at break time, I didn’t have a lot of friends. I was very literal (if you told me to ‘pull your socks up’, I would) and prone to flamboyant ideas.
The one thing I have always found very hard is the lack of a sensory filter. I can’t regulate my senses very well; if it’s hot, I’m more likely to wear woolly tights and a cardigan. If there’s a lot of noise – like on the Underground – I travel with headphones in, to block it out. Some foods I avoid, because it’s hard to digest or chew. (Sweetcorn anyone? Not for me; the popping sensation is horrible.) I also don’t wear a lot of heavily scented things; I only wear skirts and dresses. (Trousers are for Pilates or Badminton. Nothing else.)
Then there’s people, the hardest thing of all
I’m not good at reading faces; a smile can mean a thousand different things asides from being happy. (I’m still learning how to identify emotions, as well as tricks to overcome this in interviews and conversations.)
When diagnosed, there were differing reactions, largely falling into two categories: the ‘it doesn’t change a thing’ demographic, and the ‘I never want to speak to you again’ kind.
Going from this, I started to change my attitude slightly; I believe that, in spite of needing help for various reasons, learning disabilities and mental health problems should not be seen as a hindrance. They give us traits that can be utilised.
Because (can I be honest?), I was fed up with being told I wasn’t worth the while; I was angry at being told I needed to be ‘cured’. Feeling unhappy was not what I wanted; people sometimes react badly to me saying I’m on the spectrum, but I didn’t want to worry about that. I am still a person, in spite of being on the autistic spectrum. I do not ‘suffer’ from it; I use it to my advantage.
Two years on (2017 at the time of writing), I am training to be a journalist on a local diploma course recognised by the National Council for the Training of Journalists. The Journalism Diversity Fund supports me to do this.
I still think that attributes given to me by having Asperger’s Syndrome (I prefer the term autism), have helped a lot with my training. For instance, my ‘special interests’ allow me to focus on particular subjects for hours at a time – which is helpful for longer-form stories – as well as retaining information for long periods of time.
Alongside this, I am also a blogger at mademoisellewomen.com , in order to document life with Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as my journalism training. I am also a freelancer for various publications; I have contributed to Disability Arts Online, The Brighton & Hove Independent, and more.
Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like without a diagnosis, but I think it brought everything full circle for me.