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Autism Awareness Day: My Story

In this article, I’m bringing light to a subject that affects me (and many others) directly. It’s my hope that this will help to educate some and for some to find comfort. 

So, this is a slightly scary one to write.

And, it’s a tricky one to introduce.

This is partly due to the fact that this is something most people who know me don’t know about me. Also, it’s due to the stigma and cruel jokes that comes with the scary A word… autism. Today is International Autism Awareness Day and it has been a background thought of mine for a while to bring up the topic more publicly.

If you haven’t guessed by the intro, I’m autistic. (I have autism? I still don’t know the PC term).

My aim with this article is to shed some light on what autism is, who it affects, how it affects me and hopefully make it a slightly more comfortable subject for people to talk about. If this can educate just one new person or one person can identify with me and feel a sense of normality from my words, then it’s mission accomplished.

Autism: The Facts

There is so much misinformation around autism.

This is largely down to the fact that it’s just not that talked about, at least publicly. If everyone had a basic understanding of autism, we could make the day-to-day life of autistic people less scary and overwhelming.

  • Autism is formally known as Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • People with autism hear, see, and feel the world totally differently to others
  • It is a lifelong disorder – not something you can cure or suddenly develop
  • Autism is a spectrum, however, you’re either autistic or you’re not
  • More than 1 in 100 people are diagnosed with autism
  • No two autistic people are affected the exact same way, although there are typical traits
  • It isn’t fully understood yet what causes autism
  • Only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment, and only 32% are in some kind of paid work

How Autism Can Affect People

One of the most common misconceptions about autism is that everyone is affected in the same way.

While there are certainly many typical and shared traits of autistic people, we’re still as unique as anyone else.

That said, here are some of the most common symptoms and ways that autism can affect adults:

  • Not really understanding social ‘rules’ like turn-taking in conversation
  • Finding it difficult to make or keep friends
  • Rigid/black and white thinking
  • Feeling emotionally drained after social interaction
  • Difficulty with eye contact
  • Feeling anxious and overwhelmed in group settings
  • Asking questions or saying things that may seem offensive
  • Feeling anxious or stressed at changes in routine
  • Very focussed interests
  • Hard to understand abstract concepts (time, open-ended questions)
  • Difficulty understanding non-verbal communication i.e. body language, tone etc.
  • Over-sensitivity to sounds, smells, sights, and/or tastes
  • Difficulty making small-talk and a tendency to talk more in-depth

I could easily carry on with this list. But, I feel like it gives you enough of a glimpse into what can be difficult for people with autism.

It’s by no means a conclusive list and it lacks context, so in the next section, I’m going to apply my own personal context to some of the areas I have mentioned above.

How Autism Affects Me

In order for some of the things on the list above to make sense, I want to apply context to them.

The easiest way for me to do that is to talk about how autism affects me from day to day. Some of these examples will be the exact scenarios I have faced, or some will be typical scenarios.

Feeling Different

From school age to now, I have always felt ‘different’ in some way. I was never really able to pinpoint exactly why until I learned about my autism in the past couple of years.

At school, I didn’t have a particularly difficult time – I wasn’t bullied, I don’t look any different to others, and I got on with most people pretty well.

However, I always felt like I was on the outside, looking in. It’s hard to explain.

Not isolated, but I often carried a lack of understanding to many things like jokes, teachers explaining new concepts, social interactions, making friends, structuring my thoughts.

One of the things people with autism struggle with a lot in understanding facial expressions and tone of voice. As a result, autistic people can often lack the expected facial expressions and sound fairly monotone.

I specifically remember, in my 2nd year of primary school, one of the girls in my class asking my teacher why I never smile. I never felt less happy than others – I guess my face just didn’t show that I was content.

I only got diagnosed with autism a couple of years ago, so it was a bit of a lightbulb moment when I journeyed through my brain for memories like this.

Difficulty in Group Settings

Understanding social cues and ‘rules’ has always been a struggle for me. Not to the point (usually) where people will think I’m rude or weird, but enough for me to feel totally overwhelmed and lost.

In a group setting, whether it’s my friends or strangers, I never know when to pitch in during a conversation unless someone directly asks me a question or I can really specifically relate to the subject.

Because of this, I tend to withdraw from the conversation. I may be itching to speak and join in but struggle to figure out when it’s ‘my turn’.

My coping mechanism is usually to try to spark up a conversation with the person closest to me. But, even then, I often fear my conversations are a bit intense because I don’t really get small talk and surface-level topics.

The other hard aspect in group settings can be the volume of conversation and multiple people talking at once. When this happens, it can feel as if my brain has turned to mush and I can’t even form thoughts properly.

This isn’t something people should feel they have to avoid, but sometimes trying to engage with people more directly, if you notice they’re quiet, can make a big difference.

Anxiety

There is a wide range of studies suggesting that anxiety can affect up to 84% of adults with autism. For comparison, it’s around 18% in the general population.

Why?

Well, it is likely due to many combinations of the typical symptoms of autism (listed above).

For example, when I go to a shopping centre, I can get very tense and uneasy. Shopping for more than 10 minutes when I was younger was typically avoided at all costs.

For me, it has a lot to do with the very bright lights, a clash of smells, people asking if you need help, the uncertainty of what to buy, and lots of movements and noises i.e. people walking and talking.

This is a pretty clear recipe for over-stimulation of the senses for anyone with autism.

Somebody with more severe autism than me could quite possibly have a total breakdown in situations like this. In young children, it might manifest itself by way of what looks like a tantrum, crying, covering ears etc.

Routine

Routine (or change in routine) is another huge cause of anxiety for me which can lead to me shutting down completely. Even just on Sunday, I started crumbling mentally.

Normally, I work Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday as a marketing consultant in Glasgow.

The other days, I work on my own personal projects or other freelance work. This week, my routine is slightly different because I have a photo shoot for a client, meaning I need to swap my days around.

On Sunday evening, I was beginning to shut down and my brain felt like it was turning to mush. I couldn’t think properly and in times like that, I can even struggle to form sentences.

Luckily, I have an incredibly supportive and caring girlfriend who got out the whiteboard and wrote down (almost minute by minute) exactly what I needed to do the next morning.

If we didn’t do that, it is likely I wouldn’t have made it into the office on Monday like I was supposed to.

Forcing me to focus on my morning routine and forget about the rest of the week was crucial to bringing a sense of clarity and peace back to my mind.

No wonder why autistic people can find it incredibly hard to hold down jobs, huh?

Summary

Of course, these aren’t the only ways autism affects me. They just serve as an example.

And, it’s not something I ever feel sorry for myself about. There are many aspects of autism that I’m sure benefit my life, such as attention to detail, laser focus on certain tasks, and making my girlfriend and parents laugh when I can’t tell if they’re joking… 

Well, I hadn’t intended for this to be as long as it is.

Hopefully, everything I have written is useful to at least some people and help shed light on what is often a misunderstood topic. I also hope that this can serve as a reminder for people to be less judgemental of non-typical behaviours, whether it’s due to autism or not.

And, if you are also autistic, I hope that hearing how it affects me can bring you a level of comfort.

If you have any questions, I’ll always be happy to hear them. 

Useful Resources

3 Responses
  1. Gemma Dalrymple

    Hey Connor I am a ten year old girl who had her diagnosis last year and still trying to recognise my triggers to meltdowns and equally trying to find new strategies to prevent theses meltdowns, taking photos is one of my great pleasures where nothing else seems to get in my head , your photos are amazing but more so tonight you have given me a great inspiration that one day I might just be able to cope with a working life and hey I LOVE the whiteboard idea so stressful having to plan a whole day never mind a whole week

  2. Vanessa Rezende

    Omg! This is one of the best texts I’ve ever read about ASD!
    My son Thomas was diaginosed 2 years ago, he is 10 now. While I was reading, it just felt like you were talking about him!!!
    It is a relief to see that Autistic people actually get to grown so well such as you! As a parent, the news were very hard to digest, as you mentioned in your post, the concepts of ASD are sooo misunderstood yet. We are educating ourselves, and life is getting easier, but reading this post gave me so much hope, as believe me or not, everybody involved with Thomas ASD continuously tell me to lower my expectations about him. After this post, I will never do it, and I will fight even harder to his achievements and happiness. Thank you for this post! 🙏

  3. Tippi

    Thank you so much for sharing. When it’s not a part of your world you have no idea.
    I appreciate your wisdom so much. Consider me one of the people you’ve just educated. Thank you and God bless you.

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