Welcome back, dear readers, to the return of A2L’s blog after a long absence! Suffice it to say, 2020 has been a very strange year for all of us …  and a very difficult one at that. Never could we have imagined this year would turn out quite like it has. For many of you, it might have meant that you have been off work for what has seemed like an eternity. For all of us, it meant the sacrifice of our nightly freedoms in the name of safety when lockdown was enacted. Suffice to say, we have all had the comfort of repetition and our sense of routine pulled from underneath us in the most emphatic of ways! For some, the disruption has hurt more than others I daresay, but nevertheless it is important not to lose sight of what is important to us – and a certain special day has served as a powerful reminder for me!

That’s right, it’s Autistic Pride Day!

Autistic pride logo

3 years ago, I wrote a very similar blog to this one, which also celebrated this day. Entitled ‘Why I am proud to be Autistic’, it remains one of my best blogs, if I do say so myself. A lot has happened since then. I’ve since been formally diagnosed with severe Anxiety and I strongly suspect Depression and PTSD. I’ve attended therapy regularly in the 3 years since. I’ve had a major mental health breakdown that cost me six weeks of work. My parents have had serious health problems in that time. I’ve struggled for years to adapt to the changes necessary to implement a self-care routine that is healthy and allows me to do my job. At one point, it got so difficult to sleep that I almost had to leave my job. Then as now, my Autism (and mental health) has presented seemingly insurmountable obstacles in my path and coping with the struggles has been mentally and emotionally taxing to the point where I often felt like giving up. This year in particular, with the destruction of my weekly routine thanks to the Coronavirus and the constraints of the lockdown, has presented no shortage of challenges itself. But now as Autistic Pride Day 2020 rolls around, I’m reminded of the good, as well as the bad.

Being Autistic, I have only ever been able to muster any interest in a few things. I have few hobbies, few pastimes and few passions. But for those things I do feel passionately about, the intensity of my interest in those things is such that they are intrinsic to who I am as a person – and I daresay I could no more give them up than give up breathing or eating! One such interest that I doubt I’ll ever be able to let go of is my desire to help others like me. Ever since my university days, which changed my life so profoundly for the better, in no small part due to the efforts of those who supported me, it has been my life’s ambition to give others like myself the same transformative experience that I had. The memories of my university days and the support I received are so profound that I will no sooner forget them than enter my grave, and until that day I intend to help others like me.

Tom, our Student Consultant, pictured with Lynda and Tina of the DMU Disability team

This passion for what I do has played a major role in bringing me thus far, allowing me to overcome all the trials put before me by mental health. There came a time when my mental health got so difficult to bear that I considered walking away. From my work, from my ambitions, from my friends … from everything. But I simply couldn’t. I just couldn’t bring myself to walk away from what I cared about, even with the seemingly perpetual panic and melancholy I found myself trapped in. Were it not for this interest so intertwined with my identity – and certainly without the support of my friends and family, I’m not sure where I would have ended up. Suffice it to say it is very difficult to get someone with Autism interested in anything, but when we do find something we care about, it is very difficult to find anyone with the passion to rival ours.

But that’s only one way my Autistic mind has helped me – remember in the last blog I talked about my analytical Autistic brain? Then as now, my analytical thinking has been a big help – though admittedly from time to time, overanalysing everything has also been a weakness of mine! Nevertheless, being able to objectively analyse my current situation and come up with potential solutions when I am attending my therapy sessions has been a big help in coping with my mental health over the years – and seems to have impressed my therapist! However, back to the salient issue – mental health can obscure how we perceive things, make us believe there are simply too many insurmountable tasks to complete and that there is no point trying. However, if one is able to analyse the situation objectively, examine why they feel as they do and determine sensible courses of action to take (under the guidance of a therapist of course, or even talking it out with a friend), they can perceive problems more clearly and act accordingly, taking sensible measures that make life easier. Having a naturally analytical mind has helped a ton in this regard.

True, Autism comes with its share of negatives too – it’s difficult getting us to talk about anything save our deeply held interests … and even more difficult to shut us up once you get us talking about said interests! There are times too when I lament that I struggle to have a conversation with my non-autistic friends and colleagues, lacking much in common in terms of interest and not being born with the same social instincts. Being Autistic can be pretty lonely at times … though when I’m with my “Aspie Wolfpack” (don’t look at me, I didn’t come up with the name …), or simply with people who understand the needs of someone with Autism, I never want for conversation or company. Plus, being gifted with a brain with such a proficient command of the English language (at the expense of mathematical aptitude admittedly), I can always express myself clearly and artfully while writing, if I do say so myself!

Frankly, dear readers, I can say that the Autistic brain has near-limitless potential once we find something that inspires us. How do I know this? Because I have one myself! At university, I scored first classes on my assignments left and right, only narrowly missing a first overall. Albert Einstein had an autistic brain too and let’s be honest – his name is the first to spring to mind when we think of ‘brainy’! Or how about Michelangelo, arguably the greatest artist of the Renaissance? Or Eminem, who can rap at a speed of 11.3 syllables a second?

Yet despite this hidden talent, the National Autistic Society reported as recently as 2019 that only 16% of autistic adults are in employment. Not only that, but they also claim that that figure has remained more or less static for a decade! Why might this be? Given my own dreadful experiences of looking for work prior to Access2Learn, I have to think most employers still consider autistic people to be unemployable. Perhaps we still judge one another by our ability to talk the talk, rather than walk the walk? Like I said, autistic people often find social interaction very difficult, thus making a first impression in the conventional way is that much more difficult for us.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for a big showcase of our individual abilities? Perhaps it’s time for autistic people to mark this Autistic Pride Day by showing just why we should be proud of our autism on the global platform of the internet? Anything from a tweet, to a blog, to a video demonstration on YouTube – and then share it to Twitter with #AutisticPrideDay attached to it! Why? Because, ladies and gents, actions speak louder than words. A CV only says so much, and I daresay that because of our inherent lack of social instinct, employers only see the proverbial tip of the iceberg when they meet us for an interview. Perhaps it’s time they saw us at our best, when we’re applying our unique talent, so that they may finally understand the full scale of the untapped potential of the autistic talent pool!

The bottom line, ladies and gentlemen – I don’t think I would still be here if it weren’t for the strength of character afforded to me by growing up and living my life with Autism. True, having Autism by itself doesn’t make you a superhero, but growing up with it, enduring the challenges it presents, learning to use the strengths it gives you and make it your own? That is what makes every autistic person out there a superhero in their own right. That’s why, ladies and gentlemen, 3 years since my last blog on the subject, and coming up to 30 years of life with Autism, I am still proud to be Autistic – and I daresay I’ll be saying the same thing in another 30 years’ time!

Happy Autistic Pride Day!

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