I wanted there to be somewhere I could exist as all of me. I made this site for all the facets of myself.
THE LOST AND FOUND GIRL:
I have recently discovered that I am on the Autism Spectrum. I am 35 years old. I am sure that many of you can imagine what a change such a realization would bring to someone. My entire world view has been flipped on its head. I have struggled socially all of my life from preschool on. I have never understood my peers and was mercilessly bullied as a child, teenager, and even as an adult. I take longer to process verbal communication and that has always created problems for me. I have had to drop out of college more than five times at different community colleges. I am not unintelligent, quite the opposite, but I have always had learning difficulties and processing issues that I did not know I had. I do not look like I have autism, because frankly, it is a neurological issue and so obviously it is invisible. I do not appear to struggle socially. I have had many people that know me try to dismiss, belittle, or deny that I am indeed autistic because I am high functioning. That does not mean that I am without limits of perception, understanding or ability to navigate this nuero-typical world.
What people choose not to see, or claim not to, is that in fact this life has been merciless to me. I have struggled with being misunderstood most of my life and in return I have not understood those around me. I have become a recluse who lives through the internet, socializing safely away from my peers in a warm glow of my computer screen. I have very few in person friends. I struggle every single time I go to the grocery store or a party. And though I do not appear to be struggling as I have learned from years of abusive people beating it into me that I must pass as socially adept in order survive, I do not in fact know what the hell is going on within the humans around me.
I was diagnosed at the age of twenty one with PTSD from childhood abuse and neglect from my mother. That I do still have. I am an autistic adult raised by an autistic mother and both of us were indeed traumatized by abusive people and life. Autism and mental health issues often go hand in hand when they are not noticed or diagnosed and this is a common theme in Autism in women. Women with Autism are not, or have not in the past, been diagnosed properly or even acknowledged. It is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed as a mental health issue only. Mental illness such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, Bipolar disorder, and other personality disorders are often given to the autistic woman as a diagnosis but this is not addressing the fundamental difference that these issues are arising because of a neurological difference. As women with Autism do have a neurological difference, mental illness can indeed be caused by this difference but to only treat the mental illness, is treating a symptom of the actual unnoticed underlying issue. Autism, in these cases, is the root of the psychiatric distress and therefore women are not receiving the help and guidance they so desperately need. Obviously, if a child such as myself did not understand social cues or human behavior in addition to sensory issues, she would not fit in or function well and bullying would ensue in a school surrounded by nuero-typical peers gracefully navigating the sights, sounds, and life that is school. For an autistic child such as myself with sensory issues, the sights, sounds, and alarming pace of all that is school can cause meltdowns, learning impairment, disagreements, being sent to the office daily, ditching school, bullying, and then increased bullying, a lowering sense of self-worth, self harm, ditching school, leaving peers, isolating, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. I know this because this is the life I led in school. I was alone left to deal with an issue I did not know I had, and as a result, blamed, belittled, rejected, isolated, and all around hopeless, at least I felt that way.
By not recognizing that women can indeed be on the spectrum, by never including women in any scientific study around autism, and to claim that autism is a male oriented disorder only, is to deny and further neglect female individuals such as myself after a life time of neglect, confusion, and isolation, the help that would ease the suffering of a lifetime. And don’t get me wrong, I know that being diagnosed as an autistic adult carries its own sort of grief and I am in no way saying that it is easy to be diagnosed at 35 versus being diagnosed as a child. And in many instances being diagnosed as a child may even hold one back, but look at Temple Grandin, a woman on the spectrum that was diagnosed as a child, given school opportunities and support and went on to revolutionize an entire industry exactly because she sees the world through autistic eyes. So, to me, I think we need to celebrate the differences and help others to also shine in all that they are nuero-diverse or neuro-typical.
And I can’t help but wonder how different my life may have looked up until now, or how different the life of my mother who was homeless when she died may have looked if we had just been diagnosed properly at a young age. Would we have shined in our strengths as Temple Grandin has? Would we have had the support and nurturing we needed? I will never have those answers. What I can do is write about my experience and use it to say, we must not let one more autistic girl fall through the cracks of the school system, and of life. We must not let one more autistic woman isolate and reject her own glorious and differently shaped mind. We must not let one more sister become lost down a path that so many know how to survive. The path of autism is not for the faint of heart and I am determined to show others like me how they too can become found, they too can know the peace that comes with welcoming their true heart home. I see you sisters. I am the lost and found girl because for so many years I have been lost, but now I am in love with my brain, with the way I experience the world and I want you to learn how to fall in love with your own self too. I am the lost and found girl and I want to help guide others to be found too. Autism is not a sentence, it is a coming home, and I am so grateful to know that feeling. In these pages that I will soon write you will find every facet of my being and all of my “gifts” that come with having autism, in addition to the pain. Thank you for being here. Thank you for appreciating all that I am and all that each of us are, differences and all.
-Angel Marie Russell