Lyric appears on the edge of a cliff at sunrise, their purple hair and red garment matching the red dirt and pink and purple skies nicely, as they pose, teeth exposed in a HUGE grin for the photo.

Autism, Understanding, Rebirth, Disclosures, Loss, & Love

My rebirth was in September 2016, upon receiving my autism diagnosis at the age of 29. It wasn’t an easy rebirth, as I mentioned in my previous entry.

After living the first part of my life not knowing I was Autistic in a world full of nonAutistics (and not understanding what Autism was, outside of Autism + combined intellectual disability + motor and vocal apraxia, which some, but NOT all, Autistics experience).

I’d seen other Autistic children in my special education classrooms (the ones who were diagnosable in the 90s), and remember how they were treated by teachers, and our peers.

I wasn’t treated better by most teachers, but the special education teachers seemed to appreciate my sweet and cuddly nature. Too bad my peers (whose harassment was relentless) weren’t as impressed (and seemed to resent) my use of big words and delicate sensitivities.

Growing up, not knowing I was Autistic/ADHD/Hyperlexic/was suffering from anxiety (and possibly more), but thinking that my brain was the same brain everyone else had really was a mind f*ck (to say the least).

I found myself talking to one of my childhood best friends, reflecting on our lifetime knowing one another, after she had finished participating in one of the four autism assessment interviews that had helped me to receive my Autism diagnosis officially.

“It all makes sense now” my friend admitted, upon my disclosure that I’d just “officially” learned “on paper” that I was Autistic.

“All of it” she continued.

One of the first people I told about “my Autism” and one of the easiest disclosure, setting unfair expectations for how the rest of these disclosures with my close friends and family members would go.

Things wouldn’t be as easy, when sharing with others in my life, or asking for workplace accommodations (the main reason I’d decided it was worthwhile to have Autism listed on my medical record, in a time when having pre-existing conditions was grounds for exclusion of medical coverage).

This friend was one who had seen me struggle, and had known me since preschool, long before I learned to camouflage my NeuroDivergent traits. This friend had witnessed the bullying, harassment, and exclusion that I experienced in elementary school, and seemed to be aware of the pain and isolation I felt inside.

Alone in a room full of people, human adjacent, tolerated barely by the other children.

I was struggling, but frequently (due to being labeled “gifted” in other areas – reading, music, art, and vocabulary), my difficulties were often missed, ignored completely, or labeled as laziness, refusal, or indifference, and treated as behavioral problems.

“I’m proud of you!” my friend continued. “For what?” I asked, confused.

“Because, you used to be this sad person, who couldn’t do anything, and now you’ve turned into a person who can do whatever they set their mind to.”

The words came with the weight of both a compliment and a punch in the gut. Was this an insult, a compliment, or simply a hash truth?

On one hand it hurt, due to the sharpness, but, in reality I saw my life in those words. To this day there are very few people have ever made me feel so seen.

Growing up I often felt inferior, not understanding why I struggled with things that my peers seemed to learn with minimal effort.

“Basic” things were difficult for me, like staying in my chair for class lectures, remaining still and quiet, and giving good “attentive eye-contact” to the teachers, without doodling on the margins of my papers.

Then as an older child, knowing when people actually liked me, or when my peers were manipulating or being dishonest with me, and feeling like there was nobody I could really trust.

All this after the lifelong struggle of having people tell me every day for most of my life that I “was not living up to” my potential and “need to apply” myself when I was already trying my hardest (probably working harder than most people).

It really messes with you to constantly have people telling you your best isn’t good enough. It made me feel like nothing I could ever do or say would be enough for anyone (including myself), and the perfectionism and self doubt (and loathing) ate at me for many years.

When I was younger I didn’t believe I was capable of things, so often I wouldn’t take action on my goals, hopes, and dreams.

Why try for something when you are convinced failure is the only possible outcome?

I wasn’t REALLY helpless, but I believed I was, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy, with me stuck as a prisoner in a mental cage of my own mind.

At some point in my adult life, I had learned that I COULD reach my goals, even if they took me longer to reach than it took people around me, as long as I kept moving forward (no matter how slowly).

I also started applying a few of my favorite metaphors to my life, as mantras (Random fact about me: because metaphors are silly to me, paint funny pictures in my head, and make me smile, I like to “collect them”).

Below are a few of my favorites, that have become my life mantras:

  • Just Jump – You never know what will happen if you don’t take the initial “leap of faith” and give things a try. For years I wasn’t even trying – because I didn’t see the point.
  • Eating an Elephant – “How do you eat an elephant?” – one bite at a time. Because I can struggle with big goals or tasks, I break all tasks and goals into “just the first step” and “eat” only ONE bite or TASK first. Then, when the first step/task is done, I move to the next step or task.
  • Pruning low hanging fruit – Related to “Just Jump”, if the order of tasks doesn’t matter, I will pick the easy, “low hanging fruit first”. Like weeding a garden, I’ve found that the more fruit or weeds I clear, the easier it becomes for me to reach the roots of most issues.
    • If the order of tasks DOES matter: I pick the task with the soonest deadline first, and knock out time sensitive tasks in order they’re due.
  • No competition – I don’t compare myself, or my success, to other people, or their success. As someone who spent the first part of my life comparing myself to NeuroTypical people, thinking they were default, and using them as the template model of “success” (which didn’t go well for me)… I REFUSE to be in completion with anyone.
    • I’m in completion only with myself, always striving do do and be better than I was yesterday. I want to cheer everyone on, and see us all succeed (whatever that success looks like for the individual).

These mantras, some adapted just before my Autism discovery and some since my revelation, have been like a guiding light in my life (and were the reason my friend had seen such a change in me).

A lot of effort, struggle, pain, suffering, and hard self work has gone into transforming me from the person I was in elementary school (who “couldn’t do anything”) to the person I was in the moment of that conversation (someone my friend saw as successful), or even who I am today (someone who is STILL learning and growing).

I am not the same person I was growing up, who didn’t know what they were capable of, nor am I now the person who had that conversation with my friend over 6 years ago.

Hopefully, I have grown and still am growing evolving. That’s one of my personal goals, anyway.

This friend had the ability to really see me, because they were someone I’d never tried to “keep out” or “hide from”.

I had trusted and been venerable with this friend, more vulnerable than was with most people, even my guardians (mom, grandparents, and, eventually, my step father).

Disclosing an Autism diagnosis, I’ve learned, is a tricky process.

People can react in a multitude of ways (mostly dependent on the person’s stereotypical ideas of Autism).

I’ve learned that:

  • If people have, firm, preconceived ideas about what “autism looks like” and you don’t fit it… they likely won’t react well.
  • If they, themselves, are Autistic, but don’t know it (plus the above), or are in denial about it… they likely won’t react well.
  • If you’ve been hiding your Autistic traits around someone, and they’ve been unaware of your struggles, or how being Autistic impacts you… they likely won’t react well.
  • If they have a combination of any or all of the above… you guessed it… they probably WON’T react well.

Unfortunately, though I was excited to share this new, life-affirming information with others, MOST of the people in my life were NOT as enthusiastic, as my friend had been, when I attempted to share my Autism diagnosis with them.

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Thank you ALL for your support over the years!

With love,

– Lyric

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