I'd struggled with Autism for most of my life, mostly due to lack of support or early intervention.
From the 'discovery' of Autism in 1905 to the early 00s, it was nearly impossible to diagnose a young girl with Autism unless they had at least two co-morbids and Medium-High Support Needs. All of the early studies had been done on young boys, and the symptoms presented differently between genders. Unless there was very obviously something 'wrong' with them, women only got diagnosed late in life, usually after years of struggle.
My twin, Sally, fit the 90s Criteria for Autistic Girls, with Learning Difficulties, Dysgraphia, and significantly more noticeable symptoms.
I masked well enough that I was considered 'quiet and anti-social', 'a bit weird' and 'struggles to make friends', but the round hole was just big enough for my square peg self to squeeze in.
I was assessed for Disability, and at the end of it, was ruefully told by the interviewer that I definitely needed supports, but didn't quite make the cut. Finally, Mum found someone willing to do a diagnosis for what was then known as Aspergers Syndrome, characterized as the Social-Emotional difficulties of Autism, but without the Learning struggles.
(Hans Asperger may have saved a lot of 'Little Genius' boy savants from the gas chambers, but he was still a Nazi, who had no problem sending Autistic Girls and 'non-useful' disabled people to die, and is largely responsible for propagating the myth that "Autism is a Boys' Disease")
Aspergers Syndrome was folded into the larger diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2013, and is now considered Level 1, or Low Support Needs, ASD.
At first, I was resistant to the idea of being diagnosed.
All the experience I'd had with diagnosed Autistic people didn't line up with my experience at all, particularly not the popular stereotypes prevalent in Media. A strong trait in most Autistic people is pattern recognition, and I wasn't matching up with the 'known' pattern.
There was also a lot of stigma surrounding an Autism Diagnosis, and I already struggled to fit in; did I really want to make it worse?
But a diagnosis came with the promise of support, and a piece of paper I could wave to get people to take me seriously. (It was proof that all the things I'd been bullied or penalized for during my school years, all the times I'd struggled with unclear instructions, were not laziness or lack of motivation.)
I dressed in one of my nicer shirts, and the comfortable lounge pants that masquerade as office slacks if you don't look too closely, and met Mum to go to the Therapist.
She asked me about my friendships (one close friend, a wider circle of people I socialized with through shared interests, but wouldn't classify as friends), what I had trouble with (I don't people well) and my interests (I happily chattered about Historical Re-enactment, textiles and Fanfiction for over an hour).
Conclusion: "Yeah, she's definitely on the Spectrum. Here's your official piece of paper, and a hefty bill."
A piece of paper seems like such a small thing, in the grand scheme of life. Words on a page. Acknowledgement of what everyone who knew me had known for years.
In reality, it was life-changing.
"Autistic Social Strategies" gets far better Google results than "how to be social". Job agencies and employers spend far less time demanding that you stop fidgeting and look them in the eyes when you can produce a piece of paper and say "I'm Autistic." People actually take me seriously when I tell them that I'm not great with reading social cues, please tell me if I say something that you find offensive.
A piece of paper is a small thing, but for me, it was a turning point in my life.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions