North Texas Daily

Having autism does not make me a burden

Having autism does not make me a burden

Having autism does not make me a burden
February 13
09:00 2020

I am a 24-year-old woman on the Autism Spectrum. When I was three, the diagnosis was Asperger’s Syndrome. In middle school, it was Pervasive Developmental Disorder and in high school, it was Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. In plain English, I’m autistic. For those unfamiliar with autism and the terms related to it, “autism is a neurological variation that occurs in about one percent of the population and is classified as a developmental disability,” according to the Autism Self-Advocacy Network. Symptoms generally impact an individual’s social development, sensory development and communication. ASD is a highly variable disability, symptoms vary in type and severity.

Yes, I can feel empathy, sometimes too much if I’m being honest, and can develop intense fascinations with things like words, trains, mint tea, the films of John Ford and God only knows what else. I can’t stand crowds, harsh noises and I often have trouble reading people’s body language or facial expressions. I engage in repetitive behavior or “stimming” whenever I’m overwhelmed by my environment or bored. I happen to pace around any room I’m in for a few hours or so. I have paced as a means of stimming for as long as I have had the ability to walk.

At the time of my diagnosis, I was non-verbal. As a result of this, I was put into speech therapy through my local school district. Every week, I was taken out of regular classes for an hour to learn how to effectively communicate with people. What many people do without thinking in their every day lives, I was required to learn in a classroom as if it were a foreign language.

I knew of the disconnect between myself and my peers from a very young age. It didn’t help that I am also the only child of older parents. My fellow grade school classmates were not as enthused with my impressions of Richard Nixon as my parents and teachers were. They surely didn’t understand me, and I didn’t understand them. When they weren’t calling me a freak, they ultimately left me alone. I don’t remember much about my childhood other than the isolation and the rage I felt to myself and others. I can remember wondering why I was supposed to learn to understand people when they wanted nothing to do with me. Am I that defective?

While I started hiding or “masking” my symptoms in high school, I doubled down once I entered college. I was one of 20 students in a small theatre program in West Texas. The only person who knew about it was my childhood friend that I shared a room with on campus. I threw myself into this theatrical persona, abusing a lot of alcohol and soft recreational drugs to self-medicate and try to figure out the more “presentable” version of myself. I figured if I worked hard and stuck to this character, maybe one day I won’t feel like a stranger.

When I transferred to UNT, I thought I could keep this up. I didn’t register with the Office of Disability in the first two years I was here. I kept myself busy with various classes and extracurricular groups. I changed my major to English in the first year, but I was still determined to cultivate a more acceptable version of myself. It’s difficult to articulate all the things I was doing to distract myself from seeing how hurt I was, and it only snowballed from there. Finally, I took on too much and broke down two years later. At that point, I knew I needed help. I’m fortunate enough to have insurance, so I sought out a therapist that I see regularly. The next semester, I registered my disability at the ODA. The one thing that does bother me about being in therapy is trying to figure out what part of me is real and what part is just subterfuge I put in place. My problems haven’t magically gone away, but it’s a start in a positive direction.

As disastrous as the times we live in are, it cheers me up to see people like Greta Thunberg, Joshua Collins or Ashley Storrie publicly speak about their lives on the spectrum. Thunberg especially, who refers to her Asperger’s diagnosis as her “superpower in her advocacy. It’s an evergreen reminder that representation matters and motivates us. It’s representation like this that makes me want to seek the best of myself and to fight for everyone else. Even if I may not know what I’m doing, I know I’ll find it.

Featured Illustration: Olivia Varnell

About Author

Taylor Sealy

Taylor Sealy

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