I Remember The First Time I Realized I Was Different
I was about three when my teachers suggested that I might be “gifted”. My preschool warned my mother about the fact that I would be eternally messy, because my brain ran on a different frequency.
However, nobody really thought too deeply about it. My mother called me “quirky”, just a weird little girl with weird preferences. In school, I was both a chronic over achiever and an underperformer. I graduated high school with honors, but I graduated 6 months late. It took me two times to pass my driver’s test, but I passed with a near perfect score.
This was a trend for most of my life, and I was constantly labelled as lazy, a smart kid that wouldn’t apply myself. If I could complete high level thinking tasks, why couldn’t I do the basics?
By the time I reached my 20s, I had convinced myself that I was just a chronic basket case. I didn’t understand the way that my brain worked, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t fix it.
I had one friend, who had sensory issues whose husband constantly joke that she was autistic. I, being the good friend that I was, looked up symptoms of autism in adult women and told her we’d go over them together.
The night before, I’d looked it over and marked all the things that I related to, in hopes to make her feel better.
The next day came and we went over the list on the phone. However, shockingly, she related to almost none of the traits. Me, though? I related to almost all of them.
“Maybe you have a little bit of autism,” my friend said before she hung up, and that was the first time that I realized that I might be different.
Earlier that year, I’d started on my road to being (re)diagnosed with ADHD, after one of my best friends SWORE that I had ADHD, and that I could stomach, but autism?
How could I be autistic? My first line of defense, of course, was that I am way too funny to be autistic. And way too sarcastic. I didn’t have HUGE deficits in the way that I communicated. Like, sure, I didn’t understand if my hilarious friends were setting up bits, and questions are very difficult for me to answer unless they have a very specific verbiage, and yes I do not make eye contact and hardly ever look up from the floor, but autism?
After that, I became obsessed. I wanted to prove myself wrong, while also having a door opened up where everything about my head made sense. “Oh, so that’s why,” I said to myself over and over again.
My first question was: If I was autistic, how could they miss it?
The answer to that is simple. Although statistics say that autism in men is 5x more likely than in women, most markers for autism are from the perspective of male heteronormativity.
My second question was: What does this mean?
That was a hard one for me. Like most people, I had so many misconceptions of what autism was. To my shame, if I’m being completely honest, I thought of Disney obsessed, recluses. I thought of infantilization, and lack of humor or normal relationships.
The internal grappling that sat with me for months is a period of time that I’m the saddest about. I knew I was different, but I didn’t want to be different like that.
I think that’s what sticks with me the most, about the first time that I realized I might not be allistic. It was such a shock, when it really shouldn’t have been. It was like the kind of epiphany that you only get once in a life time, and I didn’t want it.
Autism is so much different than what I thought it was. It’s so much different than what most people think of. Most of that is due to society’s perception of autism and neurodivergence, in general. Even the term, autism spectrum disorder, is so demeaning. The way my brain worked was a disorder, even though I guess it wasn’t disordered enough for anyone to catch it.
Part of my journey to self acceptance is to shed the label of “disorder” that came along with autism. It’s only a disorder within the confines of current societal norms. It was only a disorder because of the fact that the things I could do were always outweighed by the things I couldn’t do.
After awhile, I realized that I loved who I was. I liked how my brain worked. My functionality in society was so normal, even though I am not. And, it helped me understand other people better, too.
For most of my life, different was wrong. It took me a long journey of figuring out how my brain worked to realize that different is just different.
And although I’ve come a long way from then, I will always remember the moment I realized I was different. I will always appreciate it.