Discovering our differences

As the new year begins I have been taking some time to reflect on everything that happened last year. It was a big year for our family. It was a big year for me.

2015 felt like an unravelling of myself. I peeled back many layers, and I discovered things about myself that I never even knew existed – thoughts, beliefs, feelings….so many feelings!

So I thought I would put together a top 3 Highlight Reel:

‘Officially’ Unschooling

Discovering our differences

A healing birth

I want to talk about these things because they have all shaped and changed my life in a wonderful and real way.

This post is about the discovery that some of our family members are Autistic, and the many wonderful things that have happened as a result.

In 2015 our eldest son was officially diagnosed as Autistic. This diagnosis confirmed what we already knew, and was a wonderful thing for our family. It has opened up our lives to some truly amazing people, thoughts and ideas.

We started the diagnosis process in mid 2014. We got a referral from our GP to a Paediatrician, who then referred us on to a Speech Pathologist and Psychologist, and we received the diagnosis in April 2015.

During this time I started making  connections with some awesome Autistic people, thanks to one very special person.

These people helped me come to the realisation that being Autistic is not a bad thing. It is not a disorder, with ‘high’ or ‘low’ levels of ‘functioning’, and it is absolutely not something that needs to be cured. They introduced me to the Neurodiversity Paradigm, they educated me on ableism and they continue to inspire me with their tireless advocacy work to change people’s beliefs about Autism and disability. (You guys rock!)

So when our son was diagnosed I was not sad or despairing, I did not seek out therapies to make him appear more neurotypical, and I did not mourn or fear for him. I was happy that he was part of an amazing community of people.

It was during this time that I also learned that Autism is genetic, and in many instances one parent, (or both) is also Autistic.  My husband and I decided to get assessed. We both saw Autistic traits in ourselves, and felt it was important for our son to look in to a possible diagnosis for us.

This led me on a very empowering journey of self discovery. I read as much as I could about Autism (and made sure to only read things written by Autistic people, or those who do not pathologise it). I asked many, many questions, and the amazing Autistic people I had met online patiently answered them all. I began to see parts of myself in so much of what I read about Autistic women – I began to wonder if I could be Autistic too.

When we went back to the psychologist to get our final report after the initial assessment, we discovered that my husband is Autistic. I, however, did not meet all the criteria for Autism.

I wasn’t happy about it, and I wasn’t sad about it either; I don’t really know what I felt about the outcome. I guess I am still processing. But I did feel grateful for the process. I felt grateful to have undergone the assessment. It really made me think about myself, my ‘real’ self. Not the person I present to the world, but the real me, underneath all the layers.

The person who lives with an underlying level of anxiety, particularly in social situations.

The person who scripts conversations in her head, before uttering a word, and then often never says anything at all because the moment has gone, or the words might not come out right, or someone might get offended.

The person who hates to talk on the telephone to all but a few people.

The person who has a head full of thoughts, whose brain is so busy that thoughts can become fixations.

The person who is sensitive to sounds, and cannot filter what is going on if there are too many competing noises in one place.

The person who finds particular fabrics or too many layers very uncomfortable and would rather be cold than have to wear certain things.

The person who can articulate eloquently in writing or in her head, but finds it so difficult to speak these words in the company of others.

The person who loves to sort, categorize and line things up.

The person who is a bit of a perfectionist, but has executive functioning difficulties, so is a disorganized perfectionist.

The person who is highly sensitive and can pick up on the moods and emotions if those around her.

The person who is pretty sh*t at small talk, and the idea of having to mingle at a party makes her panic on the inside (although a beer in hand makes this infinitely easier)

The person who needs regular time out from people.

So, where does all this self reflection and knowledge leave me now?

Well, learning all this has given me permission to be kinder to myself; to stop the negative self talk, and to embrace what I can and can’t handle. It isn’t good or bad, it’s just me. It has also given me more confidence in setting loving boundaries for myself and others, to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.

But the ‘work’ on myself is never done, there is always more to learn and unravel about myself….one door leads to another. That is the human experience.

Do you know, I ended 2015 shaving my head, after a lifetime of long locks! I mainly did it out of curiosity and for convenience, but it was also symbolic – a statement; shedding the old and uncovering and embracing the new, uninhibited and liberated! Bring on 2016!

Image: Two pictures of the same woman. One with long hair looking at the camera, and the other she has shaved head, looking in to the distance.

To become more enlightened about Autism (from #actuallyautisticpeople) check out this post from The E is for Erin. Here you will find an extensive list of wonderful Autistic resources.

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