Finding my Autistic Tribe
So, I have been a bit busy, I have been writing multiple assessments for my university modules, but the term has ended now, and everything is submitted so can fully focus on writing some more posts for you all.
This post is about after realising I was autistic and how I managed to process this information and became accepting of it, while also mentioning the support I got to help me with this.
When I took the initial AQ test with my support worker at university, and it was looking likely that I was in fact Autistic, I started off by telling those closest to me, so mainly my immediate family and close friends. A couple of my friends said, “I knew you were autistic” my response to that was the question “Is it really that obvious?”
I began looking for community spaces online so I could start engaging with other autistic people. Fortunately, one of my housemates that I live with also has an autism diagnosis, so I learned a bit through them, which was a good starting place to begin meeting with other people like me.
I then started looking for autism support within my university, to see what provisions they have for autistic students. I found an autistic Facebook group for all the students in my university, so I joined them, they welcome all diagnosed, self-diagnosed, waiting for diagnosis and even those who think they might be so they can explore it better. It was the start of the Pandemic in 2020, so they posted regular check-ins to see how everyone was doing and could organise student support to talk to us if we were struggling, which I used a couple of times. They also have weekly socials; it took me a while to join these as it was online, and I struggle with being in big groups and with people I do not know. But eventually I started going and got to know other students. This group is run by two autistic academics within my university, I got to know Dr Chloe Farahar really well, I would speak to her during the group regularly and in private 1-2-1 sessions, and this is how I found out about the So, You're Autistic (think you are)? program which she runs for newly diagnosed autistic students. I participated in the summer 2020 program which was online, it was 6 two-hour sessions exploring the core elements of autism, from meltdowns to stimming and going further into autistic language. I found these sessions quite challenging at times, I struggled to find similarities with the people I was with and often thought on the basis of that, that I am not autistic, and I do not belong there. I had to be reminded quite a lot that I am in fact autistic and they could see a lot of it in me. Someone then pointed this out to me that it was Imposter Syndrome, that I did not feel good enough to be autistic and regularly believed this train of thought.
The support from this group is wonderful, I can come to them with a problem, and everyone would try to give suggestions on how to help, the autistic community is a lovely thing because we all know what it feels like as many of us have experienced it, in one way or another and everyone has their own way of helping. By sharing our problems and experiences, it is also how to find commonality with people. This is how I began to find similar connections, mainly through talking with Chloe, she would often point out that I do something she does, and I would not have known I was doing it or knew it was an autistic thing. For example, she noticed that when I try and explain something difficult, I close my eyes to help me think. Chloe does the same thing and I, myself never knew this about me and find it pretty cool!
With trying to accept my own diagnosis, I started looking back through my life, trying to work out what events were actually me being autistic and which were not. I started to wonder why I was not noticed when I was in school, why I kept failing my exams at GCSE and A-levels. I knew I had anxiety for a few years before autism came into the picture, so everything I knew prior to this was in relation to my anxiety, and introversion. But it was not. I was just an undiagnosed autistic person going through life without the proper support and understanding of the world and myself. The autism diagnosis opened my eyes to who I was and now everything seemed a bit easier for me as I could understand what was going through my head.
I still have these imposter syndrome thoughts, but I know not to listen to them as much because I have the diagnosis and I am still learning about myself and connecting with other autistic people.