Trigger warning: This post discusses suicide and mentions rape. If you are having thoughts of suicide please contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
This Autism Awareness/Acceptance month, I revealed on my social media accounts that I’m Autistic. I’ve shared the struggles of going through life unaware of the fact I have Autism. And I didn’t go over all the specific instances that made life harder for me. I didn’t cover minor instances such as, being called retarded in middle school because I couldn’t talk to peers I wasn’t familiar with. To major instances such as being raped by an ex, (looking back I feel it could have been avoided if I had read the social situation better) not that I’m justifying what my ex did. And I could honestly write a book of all the negative things that happened due to not having an early Autism diagnosis. But I don’t want to invoke pity, I want to raise awareness of why more medical professionals need to be better in recognizing Autism symptoms in girls. But I realize that sharing what I’ve been through is going to be tough for some people to read. While I’ve been through a lot I consider myself lucky because I’ve had adults, while I was growing up, care about me and I’ve almost always have had good friends in my life. Without support of these people in my life I realize my life could have turned out much worse.
I find myself still angry about the lack of knowledge medical professionals have of Autism especially autism in girls and women. If a pediatrician couldn’t recognize my symptoms how could my parents, who were immigrants with little education? And I wasn’t raised in the best home environment but I know my parents loved me and still love me. I was lucky I had teachers look out for me from preschool to middle school. From a teacher who pointed out I need glasses to a teacher who got me in to see the school’s speech therapist. Many teachers were invested in my learning and my classmates’ learning. During the middle of my 7th grade year my family moved to the suburbs. My Dad was making more money and just wanted us to live the American dream. Unfortunately the teachers didn’t seem as caring, yes there were a couple of great teachers. But I just disappeared in the classroom setting. Looking back, a lot of my behavioral problems became worse at home. For almost a year an a half I struggled to adjust to the suburbs. I rode out that hard time eventually finally good friends and a good church community.
Having all those teachers care for me when I was in the city helped build me up. Having teachers who care set me for success up in the classroom. Eight grade was the first time my grades suffered. If I had my autism diagnosis early in life, I could have been given support after we moved to the suburbs. And in theory I wouldn’t have harmed myself during 8th grade. I do know those teachers in the city built up a foundation to help me love learning. By 9th grade I was in the groove of things and ready to learn again. I would have suffered much more if my former teachers hadn’t cared so much. The other thing that helped me get out of my slump was one friend who reported a bully. I was constantly bullied in the suburban middle school. I remember the counselor and vice principal didn’t really do anything about the bullying after I talked to them. But the counselor called my parents because I’d admitted to cutting myself and considered suicide. The counselor recommended I get seen by a therapist. My parents never took me to a therapist. But having one friend who cared was the start of when I started to turn around.
I could have suffered more in life if I didn’t have people throughout my life show up at the right time. Throughout high school and college it was friends and people at church that helped me out. I had a couple good teachers in high school but luckily I had many helpful professors in college. In adulthood I’ve made more friends. And family and people from church have helped me out. And once I started my journey in motherhood I joined a amazing post-partum depression support group. My whole life I struggled because I’m terrible at communication and my brain processes some tasks at a slower rate compared to others. These struggles have damaged my self-esteem but I’m so lucky I had people keep me afloat when I wanted to give up on life. In a Medical Press article, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, from University of Cambridge, is quoted:
“It is totally unacceptable that autistic people are born into our society as happy individuals and that by the time they reach adolescence or adulthood many of them have felt so battered by society that they no longer see any point in living. It is not for autistic people to change: it is for society to change, to become more welcoming to people who are neurologically different, neurologically more sensitive, and who struggle with disabilities related to socialising, communication, and coping with unexpected change. This urgent change has to start from preschool onwards. A single death by suicide of an autistic person is a tragedy and is one too many.“1
Professor Baron-Cohen is so right about how people need to be welcoming of neurologically different people and people with disabilities. Long before I knew I was autistic, I remember in middle school and high school witnessing all sorts of bullying. But seeing my peers, with disabilities, get bullied upset me the most. I got bullied a lot in middle school for being weird and quiet. It was as if my classmates could pick up how vulnerable and scared I was. The bullying happened less as I got older. Even as an adult though I still get bullied from time to time. Decades of bullying hurt my self-esteem. And it’s contributed to my suicidal thoughts in the past. A study has shown autistic people are 5 times more likely to attempt suicide then people without autism2.
Things have gotten better for me but I find life to be full of ups and downs. Which I suppose is true for all people, regardless if you have a disability or not. My blog is going to mention how having a late Autism diagnosis has hurt me only because I want people to be aware of the importance of early diagnosis. And I want people to understand that girls and women can present with Autism differently than males. There are even boys and men who don’t present with Autism in a stereotypical male way. I don’t want people to think my life has just been an awful tragedy. While I didn’t get all the support I NEEDED I still got SUPPORT! I don’t know why I got so lucky. I’ve read stories online and in books about autistic women who had it way worse. I’ve encountered awful people, and because of my autism I can get fixated on that. But when I take a step back I realize how many people have been there for me and helped me. And for that I am truly grateful.
- Icke, J. (2018, August 21). New research sheds light on why suicide is more common in autistic people. Medical Press. Retrieved from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-08-suicide-common-autistic-people.html
- Sarris, M. (2018, July 24th) The link between Autism and suicide risk. Retrieved from https://iancommunity.org/aic/link-between-autism-and-suicide-risk