"We're all a little bit autistic"

"We're all a little bit autistic"

A statement which this time last year would have meant nothing to me, or I would have agreed with for the sake of the conversation. But now, it angers me and makes me want to combust. Reasons for this, you shall find out if you continue to read.

Now what exactly is autism? Autism is a complex, life-long developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, relationships, communication skills and self-regulation. Note that I have underlined early childhood, because for many women like myself, we weren’t diagnosed until adulthood. Why so you say? Because ‘typical symptoms’ don’t present themselves in females the way they do males. Furthermore, early studies and research were primarily done on males whose characteristics are not like females.

Recent studies have shown that many females slipped through the cracks of diagnosis at an early age due to our ability to mask and copy the behaviours of others in order to fit in at a young age. This is something that resonates with me big time, as it is something I am aware I did in my childhood as I didn’t know how else to be like my peers. However, females with autism tend to show more and more traits the older they get and the harder it is to mask and self-regulate. Usually appearing as mental health problems to begin with.

For context, I am 27 years old. I was only diagnosed this time last year after undergoing a rigorous assessment over a couple of days. I would never have imagined it was something I had, even though as a teenager I worked with autistic kids through horses. I thought I was just a broken person not meant to fit in anywhere. After spending countless months in St Patrick’s University Hospital, it was a query they had along with my multiple diagnosis’. Autism would have exacerbated the symptoms of anxiety and depression. At the time, filled with so much emotion I told them where to shove their idea at the thought I may be autistic, but curiosity eventually got the better of me after spending an entire night googling and reading about it, so I spontaneously booked myself in for a private assessment. Interesting type of impulse shopping, and not a cheap one at that!

In relation to my opening statement, “we are all a little autistic”, you may wonder why it frustrates me so much. I suppose...

 it is a very invalidating response to when someone is clearly struggling with something. It is the equivalent of saying we are all a little bit pregnant if we present with one of the many symptoms of pregnancy.

It makes one feel guilty for struggling with daily tasks/emotions because everyone apparently feels them and to the same extent. Utter shite in my opinion, everyone deals with things differently and when your brain is wired differently, it is even harder. Coming to terms with a diagnosis such as autism is hard, there is so much emotion and anger, primarily because you cannot help but wonder how much easier life might have been growing up and through school if I had extra support, had it been noticed by my family or teachers? But also, on the other hand, you ponder how sheltered my life might have been.

Over the past year I have been notorious for imposter syndrome. For most of my life I have been learning to mask and cover my feelings up, and now that I have answers I am afraid to put actions into place to make my life more peaceful in fear of judgement by others because they may not believe my diagnosis is real. Ways I have found to help myself include detailed routines, sensory toys and ear plugs for making the noise in public that bit more bearable. I also stim a lot when I’m overwhelmed – this includes leg shaking, rocking, fidgeting with my hands etc.  I can understand people must think why do you need coping mechanisms now that you've coped your whole life so far without. I’d like to add I just about coped, and I also stimmed long before I ever knew what autism even was, I didn’t even know they were stims. I would also often lose my temper with horses if they wouldn’t stand still, and I was feeling very overwhelmed at the same time due to a multitude of reasons. Before this, I could never understand why I was getting so angry or upset, and I’d feel so guilty for raising my voice to the horses or being passive aggressive. But I understand it now. It was purely a sensory processing problem. So no, I wasn’t exactly coping before, I just tried to plan my meltdowns with nobody around and to mask it. I believe nobody should be judged if they get a late diagnosis. If they can find a way to make their daily life more bearable, they should be admired for it, for being brave and courageous to look for answers to continue in life.

Only close friends and family have been told about my diagnosis purely out of shame and what I perceive as general lack of understanding from most people. But now you, the readers of Equitas, know that I, Laura, am Autistic. I can guarantee there's a few that think this is a sympathy article but I assure you, its not. I don't need sympathy. But I do think there needs to be more done to highlight late diagnosis in adulthood, primarily in females, due to lack of studies that included women. The current ratio of autism in male vs female is thought to be approximately 4:1. That is for every 4 males with autism there is 1 female. In an article I read recently, it said that studies showed that suicide was 3 times more likely in people with autism than that of the general population, and that females with autism were notably higher. Reasons for this include that they were late diagnosed and started treatment far later than the male counterpart. That for me is a worrying statistic.

Life really does throw a lot of curveballs even for your average joe soap, added in the extra stresses of a disability, it can add unnecessary stress to your life. I am seeing this now as I am travelling back to Austria and writing this article while on my third train of the day having left my home 13 hours prior to this. A travel day like this takes so much preparation and a toll on both my mental and physical health. I do not eat while travelling because I’m afraid of getting a tummy ache or nausea, I strategically plan every minute of my day, down to exactly how many boxes I’ll need in airport security and exactly what items need to go in which box hours in advance so I’m most efficient in ensuring there are no hiccups that could lead to a panic attack. I book my trains and buses often weeks in advance so I can familiarize myself with routes and exactly what I need to do and where to go. I always allow myself extra time in case of a delay to avoid a breakdown when a plan does not work out. Yet again, another autistic trait that I cannot control. I just must plan well to try avoiding such catastrophes.

All in all, not much in my life has changed, other than the fact I am more aware of all my little traits and what makes me uncomfortable. Since getting diagnosed I have found it easier to avoid such triggers and therefore making my life run a bit smoother. I guess there is a lot more I could be doing for myself but little baby steps at a time and I might eventually get there. For now, I must keep my chin up and plough on and enjoy my little 4-legged animals that I am so blessed to wake up to every morning. They really do help you to escape the realities of the ‘real’ world for a little while and I am always ever so grateful. Unless they are mischievous and causing havoc then they get called every bad name under the sun and I am wishing I was never involved with them!!

Laura Jackson

Laura Jackson

28 year old International Show Groom and Yard Manager living her life travelling Europe. Enjoys writing articles that can make a difference to people including my mental health journey.
Graz, Austria