What I Have Learned Since My Autism Diagnosis

Since being diagnosed as Autistic in December 2020, my life has changed significantly. I’ve slowly been able to start understanding so many things that previously didn’t make sense. I’ve always struggled to maintain friendships/relationships with people, very often I prefer my own company. I struggle socially, I’m not good at doing ‘small-talk’ so I think sometimes I can be quite blunt and to the point which may be off-putting to others. My difficulty to maintain conversations means that some may consider me to be ignorant sometimes whereas in reality it’s just that I don’t always know what to say or how to get my thoughts across succinctly.

After a few months feeling angry and confused, I kept thinking that if only it had been picked up earlier, I could have gotten so much more support in school. I fell into the trap of thinking how different my life would have been if I had been diagnosed at 5 rather than 25. During lockdown(s) I lost myself in the Football Manager world, I have played the game for many years but during this period of my life it became more than a game, it was my way of coping. I couldn’t make sense of my diagnosis yet and then the pandemic happened so I couldn’t make sense of the world anymore. Getting immersed in the FM world helped me forget about everything for a while.

It dawned on me that I would have to ‘unlearn’ a lot of things and essentially retrain my brain with this new information. Being diagnosed allowed me to understand my behaviours a lot more, for example I know WHY I get anxious now so it is immediately less scary. The not knowing why I felt certain ways was the most difficult thing for me, this subsequently made my anxieties worse.

Here are 3 things I have learned since my diagnosis:

I am different, not less than anybody else: Growing up I always felt like I didn’t fit in, I never knew why and this made me develop the belief that I wasn’t ‘as good’ as others. My behaviour patterns didn’t comply to the social norms, as a kid you just want to fit in, be accepted and I never was. Now I understand that my brain just works differently to other people’s, my thoughts/opinions are no less valuable.

It’s about marginal gains: I learned this from the king of performance athletes, Dave Brailsford. I have been applying this concept to my university work and now to my life. The idea is to think ‘what ONE thing can I do differently next time to make my work/experience/performance better?’ In terms of my autism, I don’t have many friends and I would like to develop the ability to maintain better relationships with people. So after some thought, I plan on joining a disability football team this year. I want to meet others like myself and also boost my own confidence at the same time. The overall idea behind this concept is that if you make enough marginal gains then they eventually become a big gain.

I like myself now: yes, it’s that simple. I am Autistic and I’m okay with that.

I am in no way an expert, I am simply writing what my experience has been. I have found writing things down to be a very helpful way of processing things. I wrote this post because I feel like the last few weeks have been very pivotal, like I have turned a corner in my understanding of myself. I am thinking much more clearly and have a vision for the things I would like to accomplish this year. Autism is a part of me but it does not define me.

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