Missing the Signs- A Journey to Diagnosis

Autism – a condition largely defined by social and communication differences – wasn’t

something I knew existed until my teenage years. This was despite my solitary nature, lack

of interpersonal skills and inability to identify with my peers. I spent seventeen years

unconsciously autistic.

‘Just Shy’

Most people have encountered a young child who is quiet and shy. It is almost expected of

girls. The children who cause concern are “misbehaved” in class and seen to cause

disturbance and trouble. Those of us who faded into the background like wallpaper were

overlooked and praised as obedient. The autistic traits of an introverted sole are easily

disregarded as childhood behaviour which will be outgrown.

Won’t eat the school meals? She’s merely fussy!

Crying over loud noises? Oversensitive!

Doesn’t speak in class? She’s just shy!

I glided through my early years with the expectation that any difficulties would diminish as I

matured. My parents anticipated a typical adolescence of rebellion and hormones to

contend with. The reality was bleaker.

‘A Troubled Teenager’

The first time I refused to go to school went smoothly; mimic a sore throat and spend the

day in bed. The fifth time was when the battle ensued.

To enter a high school of 1,000 students when accustomed to a primary school of 50 was

alarming enough for any child. Combine this with undiagnosed autism, and a troubled

teenager will follow.

My routine was in tatters. The simplicity of remaining in one classroom all day was replaced

with a timetable of five different lessons and rooms. The class was filled with faces I’d never

seen before – an overwhelming scenario compared to the daily greeting of those I’d grown

up with for eight years. Whilst my difficulties were previously disregarded, they became as

obvious as the perpetual popularity contest of the pubescent.

Perhaps I was lucky not to experience bullying until the age of twelve. Even so, two years of

constant belittlement were enough to make me wholeheartedly refuse to return to that

hellhole ever again. Incredibly, people don’t need to know you’re autistic to bully you for

being autistic.

“Have you learned to speak yet?”

“It can speak!”

“Weirdo.”

“Freak!”

Comments made in an attempt to rise in the hierarchy of high school were cutting remarks

I’ll remember as the first indication that I was “different” in any way.

‘Mentally Ill’

Whilst some autistic people are diagnosed as children, it is not uncommon for us to obtain a

plethora of labels before learning our true neurology.

After the turmoil of high school, I didn’t leave the house for two years. My teenage

existence was more akin to a voluntary prisoner than the escapades of my peers.

Agoraphobic. Anxiety disorder. Depression. Self-injurious behaviour. Bipolar disorder. These

were the terms I learned before the inevitable conclusion. The latter of the five resulted in

an almost year-long hospitalisation.

Instead of parties, popularity and university choices; I focused on therapy, treatment and

medication. Whilst the depression weaned and my peculiar personality remained, the

nurses detected that an atypical aspect was steering the wheel.

Becoming mentally ill was perhaps a consequence of living unnoticed in an alien world.

‘Authentic Autistic’

4 th of July 2013. Answers to the puzzlement and anguish I so often felt in our normative

valuing world.

“Following the assessment, Rebecca does fulfil the criteria for a diagnosis of Autistic

Spectrum Disorder.”

The answer was not appreciated at first. Confusion and uncertainty continued to seep into

my thoughts.

I’ll never fit in?

I’m inherently strange?

What happens now?

These were the questions my seventeen year old self dwelled upon. There were no autistics

in my family, nor did I know any as friends. The sense of seclusion and self-loathing

submerged me for months to follow.

Gradually, however, slivers of acceptance started to shine through.

Quirks and habits which I’d held for years finally made sense. I wasn’t a strange or defective

neurotypical – simply an authentic autistic.

If people would not accept my contrasts in communication, it was their responsibility to

expand their scope of knowledge into the variations of human psyche.

For so long I had attempted to mould myself into the clone of a character I simply could not

be. My purpose isn’t to copy the masses and become a neurotypical imitation; it is to live as

my nature intended and flourish as an autistic individual.

To release the displaced shame, guilt and rejection which restrained my abilities for years

was the healing needed to see oneself anew.

My peers were not locals who happened to be born within the same year, but autistic

people of all ages who had stories to share and advice to uplift each other.

Our aim should not be to conform with those who wish to shrink us but grow alongside

those who nourish us.

I am lucky to have found my place in a community which achieves the latter.

Rebecca MacLeod

Note: Scottish school years are divided by primary school (age 4-12) and high school (12-18).