Twists, reliefs, and rewards: understanding your autism diagnosis
Geoffrey’s experience in understanding his autism diagnosis
Is it a shock to find out you’re autistic? Or has it helped you understand yourself much more? For example, if you have difficulties socialising and communicating how you feel, receiving a diagnosis can be validation for feeling different and really help you feel less alone and accept yourself.
At first, I was upset about my diagnosis but it helped me see why I had been struggling so much in school and with my identity. I did find it difficult to share my feelings with people unless I trusted them. I was able to talk to teaching assistants and the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) because they were friendly.
I would often seek people who were like me or who were autistic, I would ask questions about their experience hoping to understand myself more. However, in the end, school became a place that brought me anxiety and made me feel uncomfortable. I felt so alone. I couldn’t talk to anyone about how I felt. I didn’t know who to talk to about what was going on at school and looking back now I didn’t understand my diagnosis. I could only share this with my mother as I felt she listened.
I experienced bullying which made me feel too embarrassed to share my autism at all. I would mask and I would avoid anything that would stop me from fitting in. I tried to avoid being supported by not showing my feelings, and was damaging for my mental health. I just wanted all my difficulties to go away. During this period, I struggled to understand my own feelings and it was frustrating because it was difficult to access any support. I found it very nerve-wracking talking about how I felt in public. Mostly, I was afraid that others would not understand, and it would be embarrassing for me.
Communicating my feelings
Outside of school I had ways to handle my emotions. I had lots of freedom and was passionate about travelling by rail. I always wanted to be somewhere busy to keep me distracted and less isolated. On Saturdays, I would travel more than 30 miles away by rail and would spend the morning distracting myself from school to ease the pressure. I felt very comfortable being there. Exploring was a way of distracting myself from all my school emotions, it made me feel strong and independent. I also really enjoyed cycling through quiet areas as there was so much to distract my mind and it was thrilling and healthy.
Now, I’m able to communicate my feelings, I can often feel quite stressed and tense about expressing them, although the pandemic has made me feel isolated and alone at times. Sometimes I struggle to verbally express how I feel even if I know what the feeling is, because I have felt trapped during lockdown, and so much has changed.
My advice is to just give yourself a chance and meet a wide range of autistic people as it can start to really help you understand yourself. Being in an autism-friendly environment really allows you to be yourself and value your different interests. It is an opportunity to access support from people who really understand autism and find a safe space where you feel comfortable sharing how you feel with someone you trust.
Lucy’s experience in understanding her autism diagnosis
For me, processing and recognising my own feelings is really important in my day-to-day life. For example, autistic people may feel particularly anxious in social situations. Some autistic people develop coping strategies to support their emotions.
I’ve found it useful to communicate how I’m feeling, to give others the opportunity to support you. For example, personally, sometimes I tell my friend that I am feeling anxious and I need time to myself to reflect and relax. I have also explained to my friends that it is helpful if they don’t ask too many questions.
Feeling comfortable is really important no matter if it’s with friends or work. For example, in a pressured work setting such as a waitressing job, it is important to express your needs and feelings to ensure you are treated well by your colleagues and customers and are not taken advantage of. Being assertive and confident are good skills to have in a work environment.
Being able to say that you are feeling stressed to someone you trust is helpful and can reduce the pressure you might feel. A person who is new to a job or school may be more nervous, may need to express their feelings more as they may need a bit more support. Previously in my own waitressing job, I have explained to the customers that they were served late because I am new to the job.
About the authors
Geoffrey and Lucy are members of the Ambitious Youth Network.