I’m Coming Out Of The Autism Closet

{UPDATE: Due to the incredible reaction this post has received from women all over the world, I have teamed up with two other Autistic women to co-found the Autistic Women’s Collective. The AWC will is an online community for women on the spectrum + mothers of young daughters on the autism spectrum. Our aim is to foster acceptance + neurodiversity through sisterhood.}

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This post might come as a shock – it was certainly a shock to me! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about writing this, but mostly I’m excited to share this newfound part of myself with you, my Wild Sister family.

Recently, I discovered something surprising, wonderful, liberating, incredible and utterly life-changing.

I am Autistic.

More specifically, I have Aspergers Syndrome, which sits proudly on the Autism Spectrum.

But, before I get into the nitty gritty of it, let’s rewind and start from the beginning.

The Moment That Changed Everything

A year ago, I didn’t even know it was possible for females to have Aspergers. I’d only ever heard about it in males.

In June 2013, while we were living in Bali, Mike and I went to Singapore for a few days. After an awesome day at Universal Studios, we returned to our hotel and I fell onto the bed, exhausted, and turned on the TV.

Flicking through all the channels, I stopped on an entertainment channel showing the Glee Concert movie.

The movie featured interviews with hardcore fans of the show, one of whom was a girl named Josey. She had bright red hair and geek glasses, and I related to her instantly.

Then, she revealed that she had Aspergers, and went on to describe her life and what having Aspergers was like, and my heart stopped. The clincher was a shot of her twirling her hair, something I have done my entire life. Everything she was saying sounded just like me.

I immediately pulled my iPad out of my backpack and Googled Aspergers, reading everything I could about it.

The more I discovered, the more I knew it was me.

I spent the next few weeks diving deep into the world of Autism and Aspergers in girls, learning about how it affects and presents itself in girls differently than boys, and how to get a diagnosis.

But I was scared. I’d read stories of women going to a doctor only to be misdiagnosed again and again. I knew I needed someone who specialized in AS in girls and women. At the time, it all seemed too hard, so I stepped back from it. I still believed I had Aspergers, but I was content to let it sit until I was ready to find out for sure.

Fast forward to 2014. One of the goals I set for this year was to get an Aspergers diagnosis. I was determined to make it happen. So I dove back into the AS world, searching for the right person to help me.

That’s when I rediscovered a post I’d found back in June, called “Aspienwomen: Adult Women with Asperger Syndrome. Moving towards a female profile of Asperger Syndrome,” written by psychologist and author, Tania Marshall.

Reading through the list of female AS traits was like looking into a mirror for me.

And when I read that Tania was available to assess women who think they may have AS, I jumped on it straight away.

I was so anxious the day of our first session, but it all went wonderfully and by the end of the two hours I was already looking forward to our next session.

On Friday 21st February 2014, the day before my 27th birthday, Tania smiled and said “Congratulations! You have Aspergers!” and I finally had the diagnosis I’d been searching for.

Relief washed over me like a wave that had been flowing towards me my entire life. Finally, I had the answer to so many questions, and I knew why I’d always felt so inherently different.

The next day, I celebrated my birthday feeling more myself than ever before.

So, while this may be a surprise for some, please know that this is a good thing for me. I feel like I’m stepping into a new era, one where I have so much more clarity and understanding of who I am.

How Aspergers Affects My Life

For those who don’t know, Aspergers is a neurological condition. Basically, my brain is wired differently from most people.

From what I’ve read, the AS brain is wired to be anxious, which doesn’t surprise me at all having lived with generalized anxiety my entire life.

I’m still learning about AS, but since discovering it, I’ve been able to look back on my life with a new set of eyes, re-framing my experiences from the AS perspective.

It’s important to note that the following traits, weaknesses and strengths are from my personal experience. Everyone on the spectrum is different. I won’t go into too many details, this post is already destined to be long, but I’ll touch on the main points.

I also want to say this; I do not “suffer” from Aspergers. I do not need to be fixed or “cured”. I’m embracing it with open arms, and I’ll be focusing on my strengths and using them to rock my life.

Social Struggles, Sensory Overload + Stimming

I like to relate having AS with being a superhero – it’s blessed me with gifts, which I’ll get to shortly, but every superhero has their kryptonite. The AS kryptonite is social situations.

Any kind of social event, big or small, is mentally, emotionally and physically draining for me, so much that I experience what’s called a social hangover afterwards. It can take me anywhere from hours to days to recover from socializing, and often the weeks or even months leading up to a social event can hang over me as a feeling of dread.

There’s a few reasons for this. One is that I’m happiest when I’m home, in my routine, by myself or with Mike. Another reason is that I never quite know what to say or do in social situations. I’ve learned how to ‘act’ by observing others and watching movies and TV shows, but I still don’t know how to start or keep a conversation going.

Eye contact is also hard for me. It’s difficult to explain, but making eye contact seems almost invasive to me, so my eyes naturally avoid it.

Sensory overload is another aspect of AS kryptonite. My senses, especially touch and sight, are very sensitive, making busy, crowded places very overwhelming. My amygdala, the fear center of the brain, is triggered by people. Even family gatherings cause anxiety for me.

When I’m anxious, overwhelmed or overloaded, I ‘stim’. Stim is short for self-stimulatory behavior, which is soothing for those with ASD. My biggest stim is hair-twirling, but I also fidget a lot, sway a little from side to side and tap my fingers. When I’m really happy or excited about something, I jump up and down, flap my hands and clap a lot.

Okay, that’s enough of the kryptonite, let’s focus on the superpowers!

Hyper focus, Special Interests + Auto-didacticism

There’s tons more pros to cons of AS, so I’ll break it down:

  • Hyper focus: this is an awesome one. Hyper focusing allows me to get huge projects done in a very short amount of time. Launching Wild Sister is a perfect example of this; from the moment I had the idea, I lived and breathed Wild Sister and worked on it non-stop until the first edition was released, 27 days later.
  • Special interests: mostly, hyper focus is only switched on when I’m working on a special interest. It’s common for people with AS to become obsessed with something and learn everything they can about it until they’re an expert. Wild Sister is my main special interest. My other special interests include fiction writing, art and movies.
  • Visual thinking: I think in pictures, not in words. Thoughts play like a projector in my mind, showing images or movies of whatever it is I’m thinking about.
  • Empathy: I have a deep, sometimes overwhelming, empathy for others, especially animals. But I just don’t know how to express it.
  • Auto-didacticism: this is the ability to teach myself new skills. I can only teach myself things that are somehow connected to a special interest. For example, when Wild Sister became my special interest, I taught myself all aspects of it; from web design and blogging to self-publishing and e-course creation. I also taught myself how to draw from a very young age.

My Life As An Aspergirl

I’ve worked hard to create a very, as my psychologist put it, “Aspie friendly” lifestyle. I run my own business, which allows me to create my own routine and work from home – or work from anywhere I want.

I use my creative talents to earn a living and inspire others. In fact, many of my Aspie traits have helped me get where I am today, such as having Wild Sister as my special interest and hyper focusing.

Yes, there are down-sides to these gifts. For example, when I’m hyper focusing, it really feels like I’m being sucked into a vortex where nothing else exists except the task at hand. This means I often forget to eat or drink or do other daily tasks like cooking or cleaning. If I didn’t have Mike to snap me out of this vortex, I know I would continue working all night until the task was completed.

I think the hardest part for me is verbal self-expression. It’s always been very difficult – and almost physically painful – for me to talk about my feelings. It’s not because my feelings are painful, I just can’t ever find the right words.

Often, my emotions are so strong that I can’t put them into words, and the thoughts that do form in my mind move so quickly that they bottleneck and get stuck as a lump in my throat.

There are so many things I’ve never been able to physically say.

This is why I write.

I write because it’s the only way I can truly express myself. A vast majority of things I write about I can’t verbally talk about, simply because they mean so much to me and are so fueled by passion and emotion that it overwhelms me.

I’m forever grateful that I began to write three years ago, because it changed everything for me. It not only allowed me to gain clarity on my own thoughts and release them from my buzzing mind, but it allowed me to connect with people all over the world. It even allowed the people I love to get to know me on a deeper level.

Why I’m Glad I Wasn’t Diagnosed As A Child

I know there are many women {and men, too!} who wish they’d been diagnosed with AS as children, but for me personally, I’m glad I was diagnosed later in life.

Why? Because I haven’t always been my own hero.

If I had been diagnosed a few years ago, my outlook on it would have been very different. There’s a good chance I would have hidden behind my diagnosis, using it as an excuse to not try new things and give up on life. {Note: I’m not saying everyone with an earlier diagnosis does this, I’m just speaking for my past self.}

But now, after having worked hard to rebuild my life into something I adore, learning to love myself and shifting my perspective on life, I see this AS diagnosis as one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

What’s Next For Me

As I step into this new era, I’ll be learning as much as I can about the Autism Spectrum. I’m not exactly sure what the future holds, but I’m feeling pulled towards being an advocate for Autism, especially for women with Aspergers.

I want to be a positive role model for women and girls on the Autism Spectrum. I want to raise awareness and shift the way AS is perceived in society and the media.

How You Can Help

The biggest way you can help right now is by sharing this post.

There’s a chance that there’s a woman in your social media reach who is living with Aspergers and doesn’t know it.

Creating awareness by sharing this post on your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc, could mean a woman getting a diagnosis that could completely liberate her life, just like it’s done for me.

Another way to help is to interview me for your blog.

Let’s start a conversation. Let’s jam together about Autism and plant the seeds of awareness. Let’s shift some perspectives together, shall we? Email me: editor{at}wildsister{dot}com.

Note: written interviews are best. Words bottleneck in my brain and don’t make it to my mouth on video, and I struggle without visual cues on the phone.

On the flip side, if you are an Aspergirl, gimme a holla!

I really want to connect with fellow Aspies. Also, if you know of any awesome resources, books, communities, events, or peeps involved in the Aspergers or Autism Spectrum world, send ‘em my way.

Thank you.

I just want to take a moment to thank my family for being so amazingly supportive when I told them about my diagnosis.

It’s hard to know what to expect from people when you tell them something so life-changing, and the response I received was better than I could have ever imagined.

Thank you for listening, supporting and encouraging me, and thank you for all you’re doing to understand me better and learn more about the Autism Spectrum.

And lastly, a note to my readers…

As I said at the start of this post, I’m a little nervous to be sharing this. But keeping this a secret was never an option for me, because I know for sure that vulnerability, truth and transparency strengthens bonds and creates understanding and acceptance.

I honestly don’t know what kind of response this post will receive, but I know that Wild Sisters are compassionate, open-minded, open-hearted women, so I look forward to hearing your thoughts, comments and even your own personal experiences with Autism.

If you’re interested in learning more about Autism Spectrum Disorder, here are some resources I’ve found especially helpful:

Tania Marshall + her book series AspienGirl.

UPDATE: For all the women out there who see themselves in my story + are thinking about getting a diagnosis, or for any woman in an area where there is a lack of resources, Tania is able to do assessments over Skype. She has diagnosed hundreds of women from all over the world, including me. She is currently working towards her PhD in Autism Studies. Tania can be reached at tania{at}aspiengirl{dot}com for Skype or clinic assessments, problem-solving sessions and/or support, interviews, articles, + workshops.

Aspergirls: Empowering Females With Asperger Syndrome, by Rudy Simone

Thinking In Pictures, by Temple Grandin

All Cats Have Aspergers, by Kathy Hoopmann

Autism Women’s Network

Wrong Planet

Minds + Hearts

If you made it all the way to the end of this massively long post, you’re a legend. Thank you.

Here’s to a new era,

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