I was first diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome when I was 12 years old in my first year of secondary school. At the time, I was given very little information on what this actually was, other than I was different from the others. In my school, difference was rarely seen as a good thing.
I was already teased and bullied at the time, and knew that revelation of my diagnosis would be handing the bullies extra ammunition. I kept it a closely guarded secret from my peers, known only by my parents and teachers. In truth, I was ashamed of my diagnosis. I believed there was something wrong with me – and nobody told me different. Or if they tried, it was half hearted enough that I’ve forgotten even the attempt.
The school signed me up for ‘social skills’ classes, taking me out of other classes to attend them. There were four of us in the class, of different diagnoses, and of those I was the only female. The classes were of little use, teaching a theoretical model of how to use small talk and make friends is of little use in practice. I could (and have) memorised pages of stuff about how to interact with others, but in the moment is is useless.
Considering I kept my diagnosis secret, and I was ashamed of attending social skills classes, I would tell my classmates multiple lies about why I missed this class or that. I don’t remember what I said, but I’m sure it was a mix of plausible and so fantastically far-fetched they were laughing at me for a week afterwards, though I was oblivious.
As far as the ‘secret’ part was concerned, the only part that was secret was the specific diagnosis. In the words of a ‘friend’ whom I mistakenly trusted to share my secret, “everyone knows there’s something wrong with you, they just don’t know exactly what it is” (for full story see twitter thread here).
By the end of secondary school, I had shared my secret with a select few (I think four, though I could be misremembering), one of whom I’m still friends with, the others are no longer in my life. Yet I still thought of myself as defective.
It was only within the last year or so, discovering the online autistic community that I began to realise there was nothing ‘defective’ about me. I was different, yes, but it was not this massive negative thing I’d believed since 2009. I was ashamed in a different way – ashamed that I’d fallen for their propaganda, that made me believe I was something less than my neurotypical peers.
Over the past year, I’ve been on a journey to accepting myself, and understanding myself also. I discovered the idea of neurodiversity, a wonderful concept that says different neurological conditions including autism are normal variations of the human genome, rather than disorders. What I once shamefully believed to be a defect has become a proud part of my identity.
I do not want some miracle cure for Aspergers. Being autistic is part of who I am, and if I was not autistic, I would not be myself. Though it presents me with a large amount of challenges in a world built for neurotypicals, including sensory issues (I had to request a room transfer in my first year at university because of a loud ventilation system that completely stopped me from sleeping while my NT flatmates could ignore it completely), I would never change who I am.
It’s been a long journey for me to accept myself, but today I am here, I am autistic and I am proud.