“Having autism is awesome. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Claire Atkinson, the Operational Administrator for Employment Support, celebrates being autistic:

I live in my own little world. I like it there.

Last month I was 50. Most people would have had a big party to celebrate with lots of friends and family. That would be my worst nightmare. When I was 42, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. The diagnosis changed my life. Suddenly everything seemed to make sense. I was able to look back on my life and see why things had happened, why I had reacted the way I did, and why I wasn’t able to achieve what I wanted.

I’ve come a long way in 8 years, but I would like to share two things that I’ve learnt about myself that may help you to understand the autistic people in your life:

  • Firstly, I learnt that there are more than two emotions. I genuinely thought that you were either happy or sad and that was it! I had to learn how to recognise these new emotions: anger, joy, frustration, envy, guilt. As I recognised them, I vocalised the: “I am feeling …” Then a real light bulb moment happened; I realised I didn’t need to act on how I was feeling. It was ok to just have the feeling and not kick off. Slowly, I became an easier person to be around.
  • Secondly, I heard the phrase “brain wired differently”. As it learns, the brain creates neural pathways or shortcuts. In someone with autism this process is affected. Either a shortcut can’t be learnt (despite years of trying I will never be able to successfully fry an egg), or the shortcut stops short of the intended destination (I know the outside world is dangerous therefore I won’t get out of bed) or, and this is the best bit, a warp drive occurs – a jump across the unknown to a brand new location (think Alan Turing, Bill Gates and Temple Grandin).

So if you are around autistic people please try to remember this: the person may not understand what they are feeling and you may not understand how they are thinking.

Having autism is awesome. I wouldn’t change it for the world.