I am doing a series of Sunday interviews with autistic adults because their voices and opinions are so important. Hopefully the interviews will raise some awareness and understanding, as well as give parents of children with autism some insight from the answers.
I will not be editing the answers people give me as I feel it is important that the interviewees own views and feelings are shown. Every individual will have had a different experience.
The people interviewed have been extremely brave to do so and the answers are about their own lives and opinions.
Today’s interviewee is Lynn Blair, you can read his blog at The Inked Autist. I would like to thank Lynn for giving such detailed and honest answers, I hope you find them as interesting as I did.
How old were you when you were diagnosed and do you remember being told your diagnosis?
I was 14 years old when I received an official diagnosis, though I had long suspected that I had fallen on the spectrum. I remember lying awake one night when I was about 10 or 11 and some late-night news cast had run a story about Asperger Syndrome (back when it was a separate diagnosis) and had gone through some of the traits. As they mentioned them, I thought to myself “this is so me.” I told my parents the next day about what I had seen/heard and they were quick to dismiss it.
It was not until my middle school counselor intervened my 8th grade year that my parents finally relented and agreed to some testing. I was referred to a psychiatrist who initially diagnosed me with bipolar II and put me on medication for that, but referred me to a clinical psychologist for a formal evaluation. Over the summer I was subject to a standard battery of tests and the fall of my Freshman year I was officially diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.
I was present with my step-father when I received said diagnosis. For me, it was vindication – almost an “I told you so” sort of thing directed to someone who did not believe me when I first suspected it.
How did you find home life as a child?
Let me be quite blunt here – my home life sucked. I mean it totally sucked. My parents (translation: mother and step-father, I have never met my biological father and only talked to him via telephone a few times in my early 20s) were very ill-equipped to deal with a special needs child. I was frequently punished for having meltdowns even though they were beyond my control. They just did not understand me and when my younger sister came along she was very clearly the favorite.
The only person who I had any semblance of a good relationship with at the time was my great-grandmother. She lived with us. She seemed to understand me better than my parents even. She was my rock during those challenging times. She died not too long after I received a diagnosis, which crushed me. The only support system I had was gone at that point. Luckily my parents started to wise up about that time.
How did you find school as a child?
Again, I feel the need to be blunt – school was incredibly painful for me. Being forced to socialize with kids I had nothing in common with, being a “nerd” as it were, you name it. I was always a teacher’s pet which also placed a target on my back. From elementary school until the time I walked across the stage at my high school graduation I was relentlessly teased, bullied and even beaten up a time or two. When you’re “different” the cliquish environment of school is hard. When I finally did start to push back against my bullies I was the one who got in trouble.
It got so bad I contemplated and even attempted suicide on multiple occasions. By some stroke of luck I’m still here today. I do not keep in touch with anyone I went to K-12 with and I never will. They are no longer welcome in my life, for obvious reasons.
Of course, that’s not the only thing I struggled with. I also struggled academically in many subjects, not the least of which were Reading/English and Social Studies. My ability to translate words on a page to a mental image of the story is lacking (for obvious reasons). My English teachers always thought I was just stupid and I never received any accommodations to help me succeed.
What challenges did you have to deal with as a child?
In addition to my home and school life, I had no friends. I was never invited to parties, never went to others’ houses, etc. – I was cooped up at home in that hostile environment. It was quite painful obviously.
Did your parents do anything for you when you were younger, that you really appreciated?
When I was a little kid I can’t say that I appreciated anything they did – they just seemed to not want to deal with me. They told me they loved me but they didn’t really show it. Later on, I’m just glad they finally decided to educate themselves, even though it took some prodding. When they took the time to do so they finally realized who/what I was and I couldn’t help it. Needless to say my home life got much better after that and I actually have a pretty good relationship with my family today.
Do you live independently now?
Yes. I have a decent job that pays well enough that I can live independently and am able to do everyday household chores, cook, clean, etc. just as a neurotypical person would be able to. I’ve never had any difficulty living independently, though scoring a job in order to be able to has been difficult at times.
What challenges have you had to deal with as an autistic adult?
The first and most obvious thing in employment, and that has multiple facets.
First things first, due to my diagnosis I am disqualified from my dream job, even though many of us on the autism spectrum would make fine airline pilots given our attention to detail and regimental, almost “checklist” way we prefer our lives. I understand that is changing now and the aviation authorities are now looking at in on a case-by-case basis rather than a sweeping generalisation, but obviously I’m too old to begin an airline career now. To this day I am bothered that I was dismissed straight away without even being given the opportunity to show what I was capable of.
The other facet of that is just being able to hold down a job. I went through a long stretch of unemployment – nearly four years – after graduate school. I went through jobs like they were water because finding an employer who knew how to deal with me was next to impossible. I slipped into a deep depression, one far greater than my school days, and again came close to ending my life. Eventually a long-time friend put my name in for a job with the company he worked for at the time, and I got in there and kind of took off. He got fired six months after I began work at that company, but I remained there for two full years after that (which was a double-edged sword, I’ll address that in a minute). I’ve since landed an equivalent job at another company that’s going well and, although not my dream job, I’ll say it’s an acceptable level of dissatisfaction that allows me the means to engage in other things I find enjoyable.
Back to my previous job. though I lasted two years, an aspect of it was quite painful: after my long-time friend (who was then my immediate supervisor) was terminated, I no longer had any buffer between myself and the abusive person who was his boss. When this person became my immediate supervisor, he used, abused and manipulated me. That’s not uncommon for bosses to do either, it seems. Powerful people prey upon those with disabilities because they think we’re naive and aren’t onto them. In reality I knew his game. I just played it as long as I could, but I knew his history, his “dirty laundry” and that he was a total wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The other challenges I’ve met have to do with meeting new people and trying new things. I nearly talked myself out of getting my first tattoo (a Project Semicolon tattoo, symbolizing the struggles of my past and that for whatever reason I’m still here) due to crippling fear. When I finally faced my fears and realized it was nothing really to be afraid of it tattoos are now a huge part of my life (as you can tell by my blog’s title). I’ve also grown my circle of friends to what I will call “small” – largely due to social media. It’s a lot less intimidating for me to talk to someone there first before meeting in person. Rewind 20 to 30 years and I don’t think I would have that circle of friends I do.
What do you like about being autistic?
This is a tough one, but I guess the ability to analyze and over-analyze just about anything without getting bored. Also, I feel like I am able to look at emotionally-charged issues based solely on evidence and logic rather than injecting my own personal feelings into it. That’s not to say I’m a robot – but I feel I’m better at that than a vast majority of people. I think that has to do with my internal wiring.
What do you dislike about being autistic?
Well, the obvious thing is being locked out of my dream job and then of course being isolated socially. At times I still do get over-stimulated into a meltdown state, which causes me to cry uncontrollably. “Stimming” (in the form of hand flapping, etc.) is also still a part of me, as much as I wish it wasn’t – it’s so hard to consciously control and I’m sure I look like an idiot to those who don’t understand it.
If there was a cure available and you could give me a choice to accept or reject it, I’d accept it. It’s not self-hate by any stretch, but because my own life would be better if autism was not part of me. I totally understand and support those who disagree with me, though, and should a cure come available I don’t think it should be forced upon those who do not want it.
Is there advice that you would give a parent bringing up an autistic child today?
I guess I’d say that it’s nothing to be afraid of. Let your child explore who they are and be their authentic selves (within reason of course), but I guess I’d say that to any parent. Further, you need to advocate for them, even if that means alternative means of education, extracurricular activities, etc. Also, try to have some empathy when your kids are melting down or acting out – often times they can’t help it. I know it can try your patience but rest assured they mean you no harm nor is it sheer defiance.
If you would like to be interviewed for a future Sunday interview post, I would love to hear from you, no matter what your opinion or experience. You can contact me for a list of questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or via inbox to my Facebook page.
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