By Haydn Elmore
When you meet someone and they say “I’m a part of the autism spectrum,” a water pool of questions comes to your mind. Like “What is it like being on the spectrum?,” “Can you function as well as other people?” and “Does being on the spectrum make you special?” These questions and more have been pledged to me throughout my life. In this piece, I would like to dive into more about my own experience with being on the spectrum and how I managed to live my life to the fullest despite the spectrum limitations.
It all started back when I was first diagnosed when I was 2 years old. Dealing with being on the spectrum was a hard time for both me and my family. I couldn’t speak verbal words, thus making it difficult for my family to understand exactly what I was saying. I also had trouble trying to learn a lot of basic manners like patience, boundaries, and talking out loud (which is something I still sort of struggle with today). It was not easy to live with, because not only was I acting differently than those living outside of the spectrum, but I wasn’t allowed to be fully myself. Granted, I was only 2 at the time, but it was still hard for a 2-year-old to live with this mental problem.
Thankfully, by the time I was 5, I was able to learn how to speak more functionally, but that doesn’t mean my autism fully went away. It was somewhat more difficult to keep my thoughts and what I was trying to say to myself, and I often spokemy thoughts pretty loudly. Most of the time when I do talk to myself, I get various reactions from other people (mostly kind of awkward), and sometimes my mother tries to tell me to keep my thoughts in control. I didn’t know a lot of this when I was young, but as I got older, I learned to keep my thoughts inside whenever I’m out in public and not speak out loud for the most part.
Also around this time, I was also a little un-functioned with my ability to control my emotions. So in order to keep them contained, I would often use two sets of hangers or Barbie legs or whatever two things I found lying around as stimming sticks to keep me energized and functional to express my emotions and inner thoughts. If I didn’t have those stimming sticks, I might have gone insane. But I have learned to keep my stimming in control as I have gotten older, even if there’s a little bit of the stimming still in me to this day.
But the older I got, the more I started to feel alone. Sure, my parents put me in classes with other kids who also have autism, but I felt like a trapped box. Like I was only limited to my disabilities and people would stereotype me like I’m stupid or one of those “special” people who should be super smart and all that jazz. This led me into a state of confusion and isolation for a good portion of my life, and I often tried to hide those feelings when I was around other people because I didn’t want to be viewed as weak when sharing how I felt a bit depressed and isolated because of my autism. Even when I was a part of social groups for autistic people, I felt like I was trapped in a bubble that didn’tgive the chance to see who I would be if I didn’t have autism.
My parents quickly understood my situation and my problems. So throughout my 12 years of school, they allowed me to be a part of classes that included kids who weren’t on the spectrum, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I could be my true self. Sure,I still wrestled with the fact that I had autism, but it never crossed me as a burden. If anything,it was a way to do the things I wanted to do and what people said was impossible for someone with autism to do.
I have been doing a lot of things like socializing with a lot of friends, doing cross country running in high school, sharing my love for films with other people, and even being open with my experiences with autism and not viewing it as a negative trait. Thesewere all many factors in terms of helping me to get through life and not worry about the fact that I had autism as a negative trait. It felt like I was alive, and I was so happy to be around the family and friends who loved and cared about me.
But that feeling alive didn’t last. After my senior year of high school, I had to start all over again. I wanted college, but how does that all work? I jumped to the Transitions program and all of my fears of being labeled with the “autism stereotype” came back. I was not very happy about it. I mean, in my first few weeks at the program, I felt trapped in a bubble where I didn’t really communicate with others and had a struggle of fitting within the present times. Then it became everything I needed. Before Transitions was something special that no one should ever take away from me, I feared the feeling of being different would consume me through the rest of my life.
However, it wasn’t until the second half of that first semester that I finally started to burst that bubble and allowed myself to become my own person. An adult with autism. I did this by living in my apartment with a couple friends for a long period of time, getting the help I needed and socializing with many people at Transitions and when I attended Fulton-Montgomery Community College (where I eventually obtained an associate degree in Digital Media). This led to me achieving other goals I wanted to achieve, like getting my driver’s license, having a job for the summer, and living in my hometown of Albany while currently attending The University at Albany to obtain a major in Journalism. Being different wasn’t all-consuming anymore.
Having autism has been a weird ride for me so far. There are days when I wish I didn’t have autism and go through the struggles and confusion I have because of it. But at the same time, I’m glad to have autism. Because I have learned that going through life isn’t always easy (autism or not), I can still do great things through the support of loved ones and services that want me to keep moving forward one day at a time. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it by the end.
So to parents out there who might be fearful of their child being on the autism spectrum, don’t worry too much. Do some research on autism so you won’t feel confused or shocked by the news, and if your child is on the spectrum, try to understand them and give them the love and support they need. Because they are not special creatures, they’re still your son or daughter.
And anyone who has autism and is reading this, you are not alone. You can achieve so much more than you can imagine. You being autistic is not your only definingtrait. You are who you choose to be, and I pray that whoever you decide to be will be something truly beautiful. Because the world needs more people who are true to themselves without anything holding them back, whether they are autistic or not.