Autism and Self-Realisation
Updated: May 20, 2022
By Definition: Autism is a complex, lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviours and is a “spectrum condition” that affects people differently and to varying degrees.
I have always found it so difficult to exist in this world, and to embody what it means to be human. It feels like I’ve been on the outside looking in, washed over with confusion and uncertainty. It’s been that way since as long as I can remember.
As a child, I was always overwhelmed by my own emotions, and I found it very hard to discern what I was feeling – a challenge that has so far been lifelong. I was also so sensitive to what was going on around me, and I felt like I needed extra support in school, and it was very belittling in a way, because I couldn’t recall my classmates ever having the constant approach from a teaching assistant sitting at their table, going over everything with them to break it down into simple words. It all felt so complicated, and I felt so complicated, too.
I probably came off as a very stubborn child; I was set in my way about not wanting to go into school, and morning after morning, I would cry because I didn’t want to go in. I was a picky eater, as I couldn’t stomach the texture of so many foods, and I’d go as far as hiding my food in the drawers of the table we ate our food at as children. I would wait until my brother and sister had finished their meals and left the table, and then I’d hide my food. There was a time as a child, that I would only eat store bought pancakes and hot dogs at teatime, and my other meals were also very limited a lot of the time.
I had trouble with my speech growing up, stuttering my way through conversations and mistaking one word for another, and it was something that I saw a speech therapist for. Even as a teenager, I remember getting on buses and stuttering as I asked for a ticket, and I felt so embarrassed afterwards. There was an overwhelming sense of shame that made a home inside of me, and it really made itself comfortable.
There was always a challenge, and most of those challenges have stuck around and have only grown more intense as I journeyed into adulthood. I always took things so literally as a child, like when I was told to move my big head out of the way when I sat in front of the television, and I took that as I was told that my head was literally big, which propelled me into a journey of body dysmorphia. I didn’t get the punchline of a joke, and although I’m much better at reading between the lines now, it can still take me a while to process what other people are quite quick at understanding.
I learned to mask my struggles, and looking back, I feel like life presented me with so many obstacles, that they also acted as a mask of some sort. I was bullied for years because of others’ perceptions of my sexuality and problems with my skin, and those two factors (as well as my worsening body dysmorphia) really became the main focus of my life, that the challenges became somewhat of a norm that I was so used to that, over time, I was able to mask them with other things that were creating turmoil for me, but as it still does nowadays, the periods of masking didn’t last as long as I’d hoped, and I would breakdown.
My social challenges, my awful eating habits, my speech and inability to understand and express my emotions – they all felt like a weak white noise for the years that would follow, and the years that I would spend having to focus on other parts of my journey in this life. They definitely tipped me over the edge at times when the inconsistent masking came to halts, as I’m sure my mum would express that there were so many times where I had emotional breakdowns, but they’d still be drowned out by bigger events and lessons that I had to learn.
I tried so many times to be the person that I was expected to be. I shamed myself and told myself that I was a bad person who didn’t deserve love or the life that I wanted. I didn’t know that my experiences and the challenges I faced meant something. I went through an emotionally and physically abusive relationship, and then I jumped straight into another relationship while failing to suppress my inability to function, and then I ended up spending three years without social interaction, except my mum and my best friend.
I went through an honest spiritual journey at that point, and I started to meditate and read about spiritual awakenings. During that period of almost-isolation, I was able to keep myself safe from a lot of what overwhelmed me, and I was able to function in the four walls that became my comfort zone. I had structure, I had more quiet days than I ever had before, I had the familiarity of just seeing my mum and my best friend, and I had animals around me who always anchor me when I don’t feel grounded.
I recognised that long term, the routine I had wasn’t healthy and that I had to try and do something more fulfilling. I charged further into adulthood and threw away the structure that I had, but I still had the same wall four walls that I would return to after starting work at a new job, and I had a fallback if I decided that I couldn’t continue with my new adventure. I met my partner, I started to slowly socialise with new people, but I had him to steady me and to support me when I didn’t feel like I could be a functioning member of society.
The question of me being on the Autism Spectrum crept up from time to time, and my partner started to notice certain traits that a lot of Autistic people experience. I had questioned if I was on the spectrum before we met, as I worked with people who were, but I always ended up dismissing my own questions about it because I was comparing my own journey with non-verbal people who needed 24/7 support. Then as my partner and I decided to start looking for a house together, I switched jobs but remained in the care sector, and I ended up working with Autistic people who I was so alike that it opened my mind to what it really means to be on the spectrum. I had only ever known the media driven image of an Autistic person, who was good at maths and always wore noise cancelling headphones and would never look someone in the eyes, and I also had the image in my head of the people I previously worked with who were non-verbal with 24/7 care. I didn’t know that there were Autistic people who held CEO titles, who were managers, musicians, parents and who maintained 9-to-5 jobs.
Something else I’d like to add is that I knew people who were on the spectrum, and yet I ignored their progress and their achievements, and instead I believed in that media driven stereotype. So, I hold my hands up to my own ignorance. If I had paid more attention to them, I believe that I would have recognised my own traits sooner, instead of labelling them as my flaws and deciding that they were things that made me a bad person.
While I started to unlearn the stereotype that I previously believed, I was going through a whole lot of change. I moved in with my partner’s family, as they lived a lot closer to my new job, and I knew it would be temporary during our house hunting adventure. So, I left the house that I called a home for almost 20 years and moved somewhere foreign to me, while settling into a new job that revealed how much I resonated with the people I was supporting. I didn’t have the comfort and familiarity of seeing my mum, my dogs and sleeping in my old bed. I didn’t simply step into the unknown, I leapt into it.
I could barely mask my struggles anymore. I had panic attacks on my way to work because I didn’t know how the day would pan out and what would happen, I had no routine, I didn’t have a stable work rota to reassure me, I didn’t have my mum in arms reach or my dogs to cling onto after a bad day. I started to reveal the truth of my experiences, because I didn’t have the foundations of my comfort zone. I had my partner, his wonderful family and their kindness, but I felt so guilty and undeserving of everything they were doing for me. I felt as though I was always withdrawing from being around people, and I was living through one continuous burnout. It was bittersweet, because it was supposed be a coming-of-age experience, but it mostly felt like I was continuously failing at fulfilling something great in life.
Change was inevitable at this point, as my partner and I had secured a house and we were moving away from our families and into a whole new world – okay, a whole new country. We had to take charge of our own lives, and we had to live for ourselves. We didn’t have the distractions that we previously had, so all we could do was adjust to our new life. I had a new job – again – to adjust to, and it was so out of sync with my routine, and I never knew how long I’d get to spend at home and process this new way of living that we were diving into, and I started to crumble. I took on more responsibility than at my previous jobs and I started to socialise more, which was all so overwhelming. The thing was that in our new community, people were so kind to us that we didn’t want to waste the opportunity to develop relationships with them, but at the same time it really took a lot of energy for me to all of a sudden adjust to more socialising.
So much started to become clear to me, and I was constantly researching Autism and building up a portfolio of information that matched my experiences, from childhood right up to how I live today. I met a wonderful woman who I’m now very close with, who identified Autistic traits in me which confirmed more of my own thoughts and feelings. I became so overwhelmed at that time, and I felt that I was letting people down in my personal life and my work life. I worked with wonderful people, but I didn’t have the routine that would help me function at the same level as them, and I knew that I wasn't performing at my best. It wasn’t doable in the care sector, so I did what was best for me and I took a step away from that kind of work for a little while.
I have had open conversations with my mum, my partner and people that I used to work with, and there are so many things that are falling into place. The research that I have done, the DSM-5 Criteria Assessments that I have completed and the information that I’m gathering and personal notes that I’m documenting have all been combined into a portfolio that is still growing, because I have been told that I have to explain why I’m Autistic, to have an assessment. I have also been told that it’s going to be very difficult for me to even get assessed as an adult, and I have had to accept that there is a possibility that I might never get assessed, and that if I go through the process privately that it might not be recognised if I were to seek access to resources to support me, which is something that is necessary for me.
When I sit and think about it, I continuously wonder that if I didn’t experience other things growing up, such as the years of bullying, chaotic relationships and isolation, if I would have recognised sooner that I’m Autistic. There’s also a part of me that thinks I had to experience all of those things to get me to where I am now with this greater understanding. Changing just one of those things could have prevented me from being in a place where I would have my own epiphany about something that is so critical to my identity – because it is critical to who I am.
The social challenges that I experience, my obstacles with speech, my need for structure and repetitiveness, the sensory challenges that I face, the constant struggle with eye contact, not being to recognise and discern my emotions, and so much more… yet Autism in the media is portrayed in such a cliché and narrow-minded way. I believe that there are so many people that could resonate with this journey, but who are dismissed and misdiagnosed. We are the experts of our own experiences, and although extensive research needs to be done when it comes to being your own advocate and putting your case forward, we have a greater sense of what will help us, and what kind of accommodations will help us individually and in a person-centred way.
We’re managers, musicians, teachers, care workers, doctors and so on… but our ability to go out into the world, to share our talents and to fulfil our duties and our way of living does not mean that we are “high functioning” or “not that autistic”. No single journey is defined by a “this or that” attitude. Let’s embody a more inclusive society that accepts and nourishes people who don’t navigate the world the way other people do, even if one way of living outweighs the other.