Today is World Autism Awareness Day and it’s fantastic to see so much attention being given to Autism in the media and online. As my own very small contribution, it is the perfect opportunity to write my next blog post about my journey as I get used to my Asperger Syndrome diagnosis.
I’m a couple of months into my support with Autism West Midlands and it has been very useful so far. We’ve looked at various areas where I need help to deal more effectively with life, and we’ve put in place some useful strategies, particularly for prioritising, organising my time better and handling stress. We’re currently looking at Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques to help me cope with negative thoughts and be less self-critical. I’ve also been directed to a 3-day residential course in building self-confidence, which I will hopefully be doing in early June. As well as the practical exercises, it has been a huge thing for me to simply be able to talk to someone who understands and can help me put my responses and thoughts into some kind of context.
The biggest issue I face, like most people I would suppose, is acceptance of the diagnosis. Not in the sense of being in denial that I have the condition, but in getting my head around what it means. In one of my earlier posts, I talked about a “battle” and this attitude is exactly what I mean by acceptance. It is hard to overcome the mindset that autism is something “external” that you have to fight with – in the same way that people with other kinds of medical conditions do, maybe people with cancer or serious physical injuries. For them, externalising the illness or problem is fine, perhaps even beneficial, as this helps them to muster up the strength and determination to recover. Initially, I took a similar stance to my diagnosis. I was constantly trying to separate “me” from “my autism”, to draw dividing lines between one and the other (I do this because I’m me, I do that because of my autism) as a way to develop coping strategies. But I have quickly realised that it simply doesn’t work. It is not external, it is a deeply-rooted part of me and influences how I think, how I react, what I say and do. And the same traits can have both hugely positive and negative effects in different areas of life and at different times.
My support worker described it as being like a rope – there are different strands that make up who I am, and autism is one of them, but they all make up one rope. I understood what he was saying, but this analogy didn’t work for me, because I know you can see the different strands in a rope and I was still trying to pick them apart. My wife put it another way – I’m green. Not in the sense of being inexperienced or environmentally friendly, she meant in a metaphorical way. Imagine making green paint by mixing blue and yellow. You know the green paint has blue and yellow in it, but you can’t possibly identify which bit of it is the blue and which is the yellow. I know autism is part of me, but it is absolutely impossible to isolate it. That makes perfect sense. It’s not easy, but every time I find myself trying to make the distinction, I keep telling myself “I’m green!”. Anyone with autism will sympathise that I wanted to be blue really, as it’s my favourite colour, but that doesn’t fit the analogy, so I’m getting used to being green. I’m starting to feel less agitated about battling Asperger Syndrome, and to focus on understanding what makes me unique and how I can make the most of the qualities I have.
Enjoy today’s celebration of Autism, and I hope awareness continues to grow.