I wasn’t diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum until the age of 19. As a result, I didn’t grow up thinking of myself as autistic. In fact, I knew virtually nothing about autism before my diagnosis.
Instead, I was labelled as “gifted” from a young age, and this gave me a very positive sense of identity. I took great pride in having a special talent for writing.
As I entered adolescence, it became increasingly obvious that there were things that I found more challenging than my peers did, such as socialising. And while I did start to wonder if something was wrong with me, I still saw the positive side because I did well at school.
When I finally got my diagnosis, it was something of a relief. I could finally put a name to this mysterious difference that separated me from others my age. But for a while, I did tend to see it as this external influence trying to sabotage my life.
One of the key turning points for me was meeting and joining I CAN Network, a support organisation run by people on the spectrum, for people on the spectrum. Here was this group of people who were just like me, but who had this wonderfully positive view of Autism, treating it more like a superpower than a disorder.
This August, the I CAN Network are running an AWEgust for AWEtism; a month-long campaign that brings out the AWE in AWEtism. People crowdfund the achievement of a personal ‘I CAN’ challenge over AWEgust to raise funds for the I CAN Network.
Not only did this help me see the good aspects of my autism, but it made me want to share this “rethink on Awetism” with others, so that they could benefit from it as I had. In particular, I thought about how much it would have helped if I had had access to such a fantastic program when I was a freshly diagnosed 19-year-old. I now work for I CAN Network as a writer and mentor, and I absolutely love my job. It has taught me to appreciate myself, and it has given me a sense of purpose. A few years ago, I never imagined I’d be working in advocacy, but now I can’t think of any other career I’d rather have.
I no longer see my Autism as a drawback; instead, I see it as an integral part of who I am, and I wouldn’t change it if I could.