Growing up in 1970’s England, meant no one knew I was autistic. It simply didn’t exist.
What did was a tantruming toddler, odd child, bad boy, lazy teenager, boring man.
All these labels stick.
To this day people say with visible shock on meeting me, ‘But you seem so normal!’
What they do not see is the result of growing up with an enigma. I endured the school bullies like everyone else and the lifestyle of a social outcast. However, I did not understand why I was being mocked or, for that matter, different.
I finally received society’s forgiveness in the form of a diagnosis and a job in social work to help another ‘me’. My career in this sector lead to an NVQ Level 3 qualification in social care, a degree in theology and experience of being in life changing situations for over thirty years.
We Autistics shut down or meltdown. My type of autism means I see minute detail all around me. For example – when ‘normal’ people look at a tree they enjoy the awe and wonder of nature. I see the same thing but also become fixated on its current photosynthetic state and surrounding ecological system or the exact number of leaves on its branches. I forget to speak until I have absorbed all this detail and carefully processed the data mentally into my pre-sorted ‘mind’ compartments.
When people engage in conversations with me, they are unaware that I take every spoken word earnestly and have a heightened sensory perception that results in their meanings being taken literally. I explain this when showing parents how to talk to their autistic children.
Over the years I learned to handle the way I see and deal with life. Outbursts of rage born from the ridicule of not being valued led to self-harm and low esteem. I need not spur your sympathy.
I survived… many like me end their lives rather than live it.
So what about me… did I marry and live happily ever after? Well, an obsession with bicycle maintenance played in my favour and I found a way to talk to interested bystanders without engaging eye contact. My wife (yes, my wonderful wife of 30 years) tells me she remembers a non-communicative schoolboy that could so easily be our son today. However, Josh is aware of his strengths and that his parents love him – because we tell him daily. So many ‘syndrome-people’ think they are not worthy of life or love.
I now help other young autistic adults to feel valued and take their place in society.