Guest blogger Alex says that a good life awaits those who refuse to be defined by Autism
I would describe Autism as a disability which affects your capacity to interact socially, to build relationships. It can make you behave in ways that other people find strange.
Everyone is different but, for example, I used to hum and flap my hands which I’m sure people didn’t understand. The best way I can think to describe it is that people with Autism find it harder than average to connect with the people around them.
"Having Autism means that some of things that I think, or say, or do can seem perfectly normal to me, but other people simply don’t understand."
It can be like you’re speaking a different language. I might think that something is funny where others don’t. For example my jokes might be in riddles, which other people just think are strange and I don’t understand why.
Another challenge is taking into consideration how other people are feeling. I tend to be instinctively self-centred – I can keep going on, talking non-stop at people without realising what that other person is thinking or feeling. I tend to look at what other people can do for me, my own personal agenda, not what they might like to do themselves. Other people’s priorities don’t automatically occur to me as something I need to think about, and when they do it’s often too late.
It goes without saying that it’s hard to forge personal relationships if you don’t tend to consider other people’s feelings and needs. That said, I do have friends but I suppose that’s because I work hard to relate better to people. I have periods of being considerate but I know that sometimes I lapse - there is still room for a lot of improvement, but I do try very hard.
"My family understands me very well, but in society generally there could definitely be greater awareness of what Autism means and a better understanding of the fact that, at the end of the day, we’re just people who want to live a happy and fulfilling life like everyone else."
I’m a supported employee with Endeavour Foundation. The people I work alongside have got to know me and understand me over time, but most other environments outside of those specifically catering for people with a disability find it harder to relate to people with Autism.
For those same reasons I had a difficult time when I was in a mainstream school – my childhood outside our home was pretty tough. I probably did seem strange to other children, but that comes back to the fact that I just wasn’t tuned in to other people. When I moved to a special school, and was able to learn in smaller groups, I felt much more comfortable.
My family have been a huge help – it’s thanks to them that I live the life I do. The truth is that without my mum, dad and sister, and the various therapies I received, I wouldn’t be the man I am today.
It’s so important to work, contribute and socialise – getting about in your community is the best way to make Autism like a background part of your life. It’s a matter of living life despite Autism, rather than being defined by it.
The one message that I think everyone needs to hear is that, with support and encouragement, people with Autism can live really good lives.