Celebrate your undiagnosed achievements!
This week is going to be completely different to my other posts, I decided to change the topic last minute because I realised something about myself, and it actually applies to a lot of us.
As autistic people, we can be quite hard on ourselves, at least I am anyway, and a lot of people can vouch for that. Especially for those of us who are late diagnosed. But actually, late diagnosed people are amazing! We have accomplished so much as undiagnosed autistic people and we need to give ourselves credit for that because it is so hard masking every day, conforming to society and appearing natural in social situations. We had to do all that while not knowing we are autistic. And I think that is pretty cool.
So, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 20, and so by then I had gone through education, GCSEs and A-levels as well as many family situations without my autism diagnosis. I am not saying I was not autistic then, because we all know that’s not true. I was still autistic, but it was just really well hidden. But it was all still there, it was the unsuitable reaction to the passing of my great great grandpa, and the uncomfortableness of being in social situations and the complete lack of understanding humour and sarcasm. But there’s a couple of things which stuck with me from when I was undiagnosed that I am quite proud of.
In 2018, I went on a 3-week expedition to Southern India with a team of students from my secondary school. It was the best experience ever and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of it. This is what I realised, I did this expedition as an undiagnosed autistic person and that is awesome, and not only did I cope with it, but I also really enjoyed it too! I had to face many challenges while in India. Each day our team leader gave us job roles, so twice I had to lead the team by myself, some days I had to manage the budget and even phone up and book accommodation, and I really hate phoning people. India is so different from England, the sensory input is so different too, the smell is heightened because of the heat and pollution, the noise from all the vehicles beeping at each other, and the amount of people staring at us, coming up close because we are culturally different to them, it is so different sensorially. The expedition also threw up a lot of changes too, one evening we were told that the plans had changed, and we had to be smuggled out of the county as a militant leader had died and there were riots, we had to escape without being noticed because of the colour of our skin. Jeeps were coming to pick us up at 3 in the morning so we could get out. I freaked out and had a panic attack, my team had to calm me down. Then on the last day, we were caught in severe floods that our airport had closed down and we had to quickly find a new flight, but there was also the risk that the roads may be too severe that we would be forced to stay in India, this also freaked me out. I also spent 2 days on houseboats, and I have a phobia of boats, but I handled this well too, freaked out at first but then eventually enjoyed the experience. India was the greatest experience of my life and I will never forget it. Now I have my diagnosis, I look back at this and think about all the things I did and how I overcame all it as an undiagnosed autistic person.
(Left: travelling in jeeps. Centre: Street in India. Right: Uncomfortable me on a houseboat clutching a lifejacket)
I recently asked a friend of mine what she first thought when I told her I was autistic, and she said, ‘the first thing was, omg everything makes so much sense now’ It’s the looking back and suddenly everything clicks into place. The other big thing I looked back on was when I had job. For 2 and a half years my family owned and ran a pub. I trained up for working behind the bar and waitressing. Working this job did help my confidence and interaction with people but I did struggle with a lot of things. Dealing with the customers was difficult for me because I am quite blunt, if they asked me a question, I would answer straight and would not offer up any other alternatives. I also didn’t like dealing with the large numbers of people on busier nights and just wanted to stay behind the bar instead. I think the most noticeable thing about me working there was how frequently I experienced information overload, If I were given too many tasks to do, I would get all flustered and panicky and it would end up with my colleagues telling me to go and calm down for 10 minutes. I also kept a script in my head about what to say when I had to answer the phone or take an order from customers. Before I was diagnosed, I just assumed that me working in the pub was just due to my social anxiety, learning I was autistic opened up everything into a new light and it did make so much sense to me about certain things when I was working in the pub. But again, as an undiagnosed autistic person, dealing with a full-time job and interacting with lots of people is such an extraordinary achievement.
If you are an autistic person, what things did you accomplish as an undiagnosed person? Give yourself credit for that, look back and remember what you achieved without the diagnosis because everyone will go on to achieve much more now we have it. My first achievement as an autistic person will be to get a degree in politics, the sky is the limit after that!