What if I told you that receiving an autism diagnosis can be positive? What if I told you that it can be a validating or even liberating experience?
You might be puzzled at such a notion but that was exactly how I felt when, after years of isolation, confusion and loneliness, I finally received a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome at 19 years old.
To greater understand why I felt this way, it's important to know the journey that brought me to that point. As a young child I was happy, chatty and seemingly rather bright due to my early ability to read (aged two) and retain knowledge of history, literature, pop culture and general facts. However, it was also apparent that I was struggling in other areas.
From the time I entered pre-school, exclusion from peers became the norm for me. I didn't quite understand unwritten social rules and conventions despite my best efforts to abide by them. I often resorted to observing and mimicking people around me in hopes of fitting in, but to no avail.
Accepting the unique brains, learning styles and views of the world that the autistic community has to offer is the way forward for all of us.
From the age of nine I was targeted for bullying on an almost daily basis with ever escalating name-calling and violence. Each day going to school filled me with dread, to the point where I became morose, depressed and even experienced suicidal thoughts. I hated myself for being bullied and I felt like a worthless and defective creature.
As this was all happening my parents started taking me to doctors, specialists, psychologists and even neurologists to find answers and hopefully some help for me. They wanted to find out why I struggled so much with finding friends, sensory processing issues, meltdowns and miscommunication.
At each turn their concerns were dismissed and I was left feeling even more confused about myself. It was in late primary school that my parents first heard of Asperger's Syndrome and, upon reading the list of symptoms, felt it explained me very well. However, when this was raised this with the specialists they were told outright that it couldn't be that as "girls don't get Asperger's Syndrome".
Secondary school was a more positive experience for me and brought about some changes within my view of myself. I still made many bungled attempts at fitting in but my peers were more accepting of my quirks than those in my primary years. My high school emphasised the importance of accepting diversity and so it was easier for me to find groups of friends who were geeks and oddballs like me.
During this time my family and I came across more information about Asperger's Syndrome, its place in the Autism Spectrum Disorder and how it affected girls and women in particular. We soon realised that the specialists had been wrong in dismissing this possibility outright. After I finished high school we sought out a diagnosis and, in 2011, two months before my 20th birthday, I was finally diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.
Receiving the diagnosis was such a positive turning point in my life. I finally had answers as to how my brain worked, why I struggled so much in many areas but, more importantly, why I excelled in many others.
I no longer had any reason to view myself as defective or worthless, no reason to hate myself at all. This made me a more confident person, accepting of my quirks and idiosyncrasies. With this newfound confidence I gained a more active social life and became particularly involved with the autistic community (both online and off) and the goth scene in Sydney.
I am currently undertaking a bachelor of Disability Studies and Inclusive Education at the Australian Catholic University, as I hope that I can help other young people, particularly young girls, on the spectrum have a better start to life than I did.
Too often some in society can make Autism Spectrum Disorder and autistic people seem scary, but I know from experiencing fear, rejection and hostility that this needs to change. Accepting the unique brains, learning styles and views of the world that the autistic community has to offer is the way forward for all of us.
Amy is a guest on tonight's episode of Insight at 8.30 pm on SBS, which explores the impact of autism diagnosis on individuals, families and the system.
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