04-30-2024: Embracing My Autism

(Warning: This is very long blog that mention ableism, self-ableism, bullying and self-harm. Please take care before reading on.)

As today marks the end of Autism Acceptance Month, where autistic and neurotypical people work together to build a large inclusive community for everyone, I look back on how being autistic made me for who am I today. The funny thing is that even thought I was diagnosed with autism when I was 3 years old; it wasn’t until I was 25 & 1/2 years old when I finally accepted my condition. I think the reason for that is because I masked for the longest time in hoping to blend in with the neurotypical people. While it worked most of the time; when it didn’t, I tend to have a huge meltdown, which then led me into a deep depression that can last up to days, weeks and even months!

As today marks the end of Autism Acceptance Month, where autistic and neurotypical people work together to build a large inclusive community for everyone, I look back on how being autistic made me for who am I today. The funny thing is that even thought I was diagnosed with autism when I was 3 years old; it wasn’t until I was 25 & 1/2 years old when I finally accepted my condition. I think the reason for that is because I masked for the longest time in hoping to blend in with the neurotypical people. While it worked most of the time; when it didn’t, I tend to have a huge meltdown, which then led me into a deep depression that can last up to days, weeks and even months!

My parents knew there was something wrong with me. I was 2 years old and haven’t spoken my first words yet. The only way I communication is by pointing that stuff that I wanted. I also refused to look at people in their eyes and tend to walk on my tiptoes. I was also very clumsy, which caused me to bump and fall all the time. It was because of that, I didn’t learn how to walk until I was 18 months old.

It was one of my mom’s friends who told her that there was something wrong with me and she knows why. She thinks I’m autistic and tell her to get me tested, where the sooner I get diagnosed; the better. Mom took her advice as she and daddy managed to find a clinic where some psychologists did a bunch of tests on me and have my parents fill out a questionnaire on all the milestones that I missed out on. Thankfully, my parents had good paying jobs (at the time) and health insurance that they can afford to get me tested. I was 3 years old when the test came out: it said that I have PDD-NOS, a “mild” version of autism (which was merged into autism in 2013) as I was a girl and didn’t have the stereotypical autism traits that they see on boys.

Shortly after my diagnose, my parents and the psychologists put me in a special preschool at my school district in fall of 1999 for students with speech and developmental delays in hope that it can help me to improve my condition. I don’t remember my time there, besides looking at the pictures and reading all the notes that the teachers wrote on the progress that I made in a big black binder that my mom had. There, I was just a normal 4 years old who just think, talked differently and doing all the things that preschoolers do in a classroom full with neurodivergent preschoolers

I didn’t think I was different and I didn’t care.

Eventually I graduated from the special preschool and was allowed to start Pre-K at an elementary school that was not too far from my childhood home. I attended in the fall of 2000 with the neurotypical students and did all the normal Pre-K stuff, such learning our ABCs, 123s, coloring in the lines and going on field trips, such as to the farm and to the zoo.

But what I stand out from the students that I was taken out of class, twice a week, for speech therapy because I couldn’t pronounce certain words and vowels. Of course, I wasn’t the only autistic student in that class, three boys (later two as one of them moved to Vermont at the end of Kindergarten) were there too. We weren’t the closest friends, but got along just like the rest.

At that age, nobody cared you were different. Some might question why you talked or do a certain way differently, but they don’t care as long you’re not too weird about it. I think this was how I survived (mostly) Pre-K and Kindergarten, even thought I had meltdowns and used get mad over people not following the rules, but nobody (mostly) cared. They see me as a shy student, who wants everyone to be happy. The fact I was a girl also helped. It freed me from the public shame over being different, compared if you’re a boy where your conditions are more obvious.

I didn’t think I was different and I didn’t care.

Later on in elementary school, people starting making friends and starting forming groups. Me being a shy person, I didn’t have any groups or any friends and when I did have friends; they ended up transferring to different schools after the 2nd grade. I still have meltdowns, but this time it’s from getting grades below a C- and the class getting in trouble, in where it causes our teacher to yell at us, which I HATE!

I remembered that used to pick my nose in school, but some the students scolded me for being weird and gross. So, I stopped doing that for the fear of shame. I also have a bad habit for saying strange things that makes no sense. It was echolalia and usually felt good, repeating those words…even though people gave me weird looks over it! I also liked to daydream about my special interests and other things, which it nearly got me in trouble in class a few times, just for not paying attention. Despite that, the students see me a shy, a little odd, but mostly a harmless and friendly person.

I didn’t think I was different and I didn’t care.

Come middle school, people start becoming harsh towards another. The bullying gets worst, the cliques are the most powerful at this time. Its middle school, what do you expect? The friendships that were made in elementary school, mostly died in painful effort of fitting in. You have start paying attention to trends, media and everything so you don’t looked dated and lame. Peer pressure was the king of middle school. I was one of the many people whose middle school experience was rough as it was when my echolalia and me being odd, was starting to backfire to the point, (I think) people started saying mean things about me behind my back.

In the 6th grade, my daddy died and the two friends that I used to have in elementary school, left again after reuniting with them. Then an autistic guy in my grade started to bully me by calling me dumb and told me that I will never make it far in life! That’s because he was in the gifted program that the school district had and thinks anyone below him (including autistic people, like me) is not worth his time. I hated him for making me feel bad about myself and I usually dread every time he was in one of my classes!

Then in the 7th grade, two more people started to bully me for just being different in general. One was a fat black chick who was in half of my classes and liked to call me names and a fat redneck that rides my bus and like to throw paper balls at me, just to see me yell at him as he laughed at me! It was bad to the point that when I complained to my mom about the bullying, it was the very next day; we had to spend the entire recess at the assembly, where our stern black principal tells us the danger of bullying! I remember seeing some of my classmates get annoyed that we can’t have recess that day due to someone being butt hurt over being picked on. I think if I told them I’m reason for the assembly, I think they would’ve gone after me. And the worst part about it, it wouldn’t hit me on why this would be bad idea, until it’s too late!

It was after that assembly, that’s when I decided to be a little careful on what I say or do. Despite the bullying and people were secretly judging me, most students still see me as a normal and friendly student, who might be a little strange, but (mostly) harmless. Thankfully, getting on the Honor’s Roll in the 7th grade and being on the Girl’s Scouts (which the troop treated me as one of their own); helped keep me from being seen as one of the weirdos.

I didn’t think I was different, but I was starting to care a little bit.

Then at the end of the 7th grade, my family moved to Germany; away from our intermediate family, friends and old neighbors. This was a big change that I wasn’t prepared for. Mom only announced this in January 2009 and by late May; the movers came in and took all the furniture out of my childhood home. The fact we’re going to live thousands of miles away from here didn’t hit my autistic self yet. But one thing I knew about that is this meant going to a new school. No more bullies or people secretly saying mean things about my behavior! I’ll have a fresh start that most bullied kids would dream of! This means I’ll finally be accepted for who am I!

Oh, how wrong was I…

What I didn’t do when preparing to move to Germany is learn about the culture, language and the rules of Germans, such as most stores are closed on Sundays, as it’s a national law. I remember that in our the first few weeks living in a German hotel, I have several meltdowns, which then led to mom scolding for having them, saying I’m too old to cry and that it’s going to make your face look ugly or something she would use to say (look, I love my mom, but still…)! Once we moved into our new rented house in a small German town that on a hill, things have calmed down to the point that I don’t have any more meltdowns for a while. But I remembered spending the rest of summer break in the house, as I didn’t feel comfortable going around town, due to me not knowing the German language at the time and didn’t want to look as a fool around the Germans.

Then I started 8th grade at a DODEA (Department of Defense Education Activity) school on an American base, where you have to show your military/civilian issued ID to get in. At first, things were okay at my new school. Majority of the students at my school have parents who are in the military. Parents getting deployed to dangerous places (such as the Middle East), were very common at the time, which tend to bring down their moods. Being in middle school, where you have to deal with puberty and peer pressure as well did not help. The rest of the students have parents who were either civilian contractors (like my mom) or were just teachers.

Then I noticed a big difference about attending school is that there were two autistic girls in my grade! This was never the case back home they were mainly boys. They were my people that I needed to get through the up and downs of school and bullying! I thought this would be great!

Too bad this wasn’t the case as I noticed that some students tend to stay as far away from the two as much they can, which worries me. It was probably because they tend to stim a lot and act wired around others, which make some students feel uncomfortable as I tried to hide my own stims due to getting flashbacks of being bullied back at home from doing them myself. It was that they like wear sweats and frumpy clothes for comfort, compared to me who wore jeans and stylish clothes, just like the rest of the neurotypical students in the effect to fit in. That they don’t look cool with the side bangs and the fluffy hair that some the popular girls wore at the time, that I wished I had, but was stuck having curly hair and had to straighten mine (which I still do to this very day).

Then one day during recess, I was hanging with the first autistic girl for some reason when a guy in our grade, walked up to me and asked if I’m “friends” with her. You mean the one whose special interests was Jesus Christ and Justin Bieber (yes, this was back when he was a teen pop star)?

“Nope”, I nervously told that guy, “We’re just classmates…that’s all.”

The guy then walked away as I have a huge sigh of relief. Well, this could’ve end poorly. I could’ve got bullied once more, I thought to myself!

It was after that it was when peer pressure started to kick in as I start to worry that I might be next. So I start paying attention on how the social hierarchy of school works. I noticed that the popular and the athletic kids were always on the top, while the nerds, geeks, loners and disabled kids (like me), are on the bottom and tend to be a favorite bullying target for them. When those in the bottom tires to call for help, nobody listen before saying:

“Well it’s your fault for not being cool and sociable. How about you change that?”

I didn’t like, I don’t want to be bullied for being me. And I feared that nobody would listen to me when I do complain about it. Or if they do, they’ll make another assembly about it and every gets mad as it took the entire recess for the adults to shove down in our throat on why bullying is bad and that you should care. Then when the students find out it was me, it’ll be all over!


I’m not letting that happen again.

I’m not going to get bullied for my appearance and behavior and get punished for calling out the bullies. I don’t want to be like the kids on the bottom.

It was at that moment that I decided that I don’t want to be like the two autistic girls in my grade, who get weird looks for being themselves. That I don’t want to be associated with them, no matter how many times our case worker want me to talk to them (and the other autistic and ADHD students) in the group circle in our Social Development class, that I was forced to take by the case worker and the school psychologists. And that I don’t want the two to even be near me whenever one of them is in a normal class with me!

It was then I noticed something. Something that never came to mind before; something that has been following me since Pre-K and it didn’t hit me until now. It was that moment is when I realized:

I was different and I HATE ITTTTT!!!!

It was when I needed to do something to keep me from being the next target of just because I think and do things different, compared to the neurotypical students. Where they have better social skills, can read the room better, can understand sarcasm and that it doesn’t take their minds HOURS to get the point! Where they don’t have meltdowns if the lights are too noisy or wore that shirt the wrong way and now they can’t focus on their work. Where they like normal things and won’t get scolded by their peers for still liking that preschool show that everyone grew up with and moved on.

It was at that moment is when I started to mask. I masked HARD, hard enough so no one knew that I’m autistic; just like those two girls in my grade. I thought to myself that if I mask hard enough, then the students at the school can see me as a normal, neurotypical student, who doesn’t have low self-esteem issue and worries that she have to do things differently because of her disability! /s

To my effort, I think it worked. I remembered that I studied hard (but not too hard) in my classes and managed to get on the Honor Roll, four times in the 8th grade! I didn’t see the two autistic girls get on the Honor Roll that much, so I feel like that I might done something different, compared to them.

I made sure to pay attention to the latest trends that my classmates follow such as listening to the most popular music at the time, which was electric pop, hip hop and pop punk on its’ dying days (even though I prefer classic rock and oldies). Read all the celebrity gossip that happened in America and rolled my eyes whenever the Jersey Shore crew did something stupid and wished for them to vanish, like majority of my classmates (I didn’t like reality shows, but prefer a parody version ((Total Drama)) instead, which was my special interest at the time). See what movie and TV show that the students watched; me liking Glee (the only live-action show that I liked), helped, as it was popular at the time. I also made sure to get the latest memes and jokes that are spread on Facebook, back then when teens used to be on it.

As the result, most of the students in my grade see me as a shy, quiet, mousey student, who keeps her distant from others in order for some strange reason. I think it was the best result for me and this was how I (mostly) survived the 8th grade.

Then high school came, where things expected to get hard for neurodivergent people. From harder classes to popular people have more power to decide what’s cool and what’s not; it was basically a sink or swim moment as I need to continue to mask as hard and often as I can. At least the “plus” side of all this is that I don’t to take that Social Development class anymore as the case manager saw that I made enough “progress” on being social! But I was still stuck with the two autistic girls as I ended up in three (separate) classes with them. Then an autistic boy from another middle school joined the group, which made it “worst” for me. Just great… it’s the last thing I need: a way to remind of who I’m really is.

At least I have a group that respected me for who I am, compared to the other three who (mostly) end up eating lunch all by themselves. I know that the group I hanged out was some weebs, who talked about anime (which I didn’t care or understand at the time) and some of the honor classes that a few of them took. Even then, I made sure to listen to them about the things they talked about and that I was in some of their other classes, is what kept me from getting the boot. Then there’s the fact they know that I like Hello Kitty (my main special interest), makes things better as it’s very popular in Japan AND has an older fanbase, which spared me from getting bullied.

As for the rest, not so much as in the 9th grade, I remembered seeing the first autistic girl getting picked on by another group I sometimes hang with whenever she mentioned that she love Justin Bieber as much she loves Jesus Christ. I also recalled that some of the students snickered whenever the second autistic girl in our grade, stutters whenever she talks or get scolded by our teacher for her not paying attention in class due to being distracted by life.

Then there was the first autistic boy in my grade, who was a huge target for bullying as he was known to have a bad temper. I remember seeing in the cafeteria that some boys in our grade like to rub two Styrofoam lunch trays together, which causes him to snap at them before the boys laughed and run away from him! He also tends to get picked on for correcting someone in class whenever they mispronounce a word, grammar or anything trivial. I remembered not liking him as well either as one time; he angrily corrected me during speech therapy secession when I said “Indians” instead of “Native Americans”, which made me, feel mad and stupid because none of my teachers at my old school told me that! Then another time, some kids were talking in class while the teacher was talking; so he angrily threw a chair across the room and tells them to be more respectful! That one caused me to have a meltdown as I was there when it happened and panicked that it won’t be long until he might start hurting people for just breaking the rules!

Despite the all of that, I tried to focus on my classes, try not to have any meltdowns (as much as I can) and just survive high school. It worked as not only I got on the Honor Roll, once more and by the end of the 9th grade, I got selected to do an AP class due to my good grades, which means me working hard and “studying” has finally paid off! And that I don’t have to near the other autistic students in my grade, right?

Well, sort of.

You see, I have a bad habit of not studying, in hope that I can ace the tests. I did that in the 9th grade when my IEP (Individualized Education Program) allowed me to use open book on my tests. That’s how I got the good grades in the first place! Then the next semester, they took that away and I was now forced to take the test normally, just like everyone else. My grades end up slipping a bit at the result, but at least it won’t be that bad in my AP class, right? Not really as when I took my first AP class (AP World History) in the 10th grade, I used to score badly on the tests for not studying as you’re supposed to, but everything else in class (homework, essays, and projects), I tend to score higher. It all end up at a C, which made my autistic self, mad and keep blaming myself for not working as hard as I want!

It also didn’t help that after spending all day masking, as soon I go home, I immediately take a nap, in hoping to gain some of my energy back. When I did wake up, I rather do other things instead of studying. Ditto on the weekend too as I rather do fun things, instead of WORK! Even then, I still would (mostly) make the Honor Roll and no one would expect a thing or two from me not studying.

During all that, the first autistic girl moved back to the States at the end of the 9th grade, which made me feel a “little better”. But then in the 11th grade, another autistic boy (who was a smart, stereotypical tech geek), transferred to my school and joined my AP US History class. I got worried as he’s basically going be like that gifted autistic boy back at home, who bullied me for being dumb. Thankfully, he wasn’t as he was actually nice and I got along with him well. Then it helps that the all the AP students treated the two of us well, which I think spared us from the bullies that the second autistic girl and the first autistic boy faced.

However in the 12th grade, all the bad things in my personal life happened all at once, which caused my mask to break, little by little. It was where I start having more meltdowns, both in and out of school. Then I turned 18, which means I have to take responsible for my actions, which I never have to worry about before and that I have to start thinking about my future more since I’ll be graduating in a few months. It gotten bad to the point that I end up dropping out of two advanced classes due to my mental state not being there anymore. Then one month before I graduated, I had a mental breakdown and end up cutting myself out of despair!

That one almost sent to the mental hospital, which means no prom or graduation for me! Thankfully, I got out of that dark phase real fast and afterwards, things calmed down and everything went (mostly) back to normal. The fact none of my neurotypical friends knew about this, helped. Or if they did know that I had a mental breakdown from the masking and being in a non-autistic friendly environment, I feel like they would have no sympathy and would mock me for thinking the world works in your way, when it doesn’t.

Fortunately, I survived the last few weeks of school and manage to graduate on time. It was a big deal as afterwards, I’m going to attend university that fall; even though I got a lot of rejections early on due to doing poorly on the SAT exams and that the only club I was in was the Going Home Club due to having to nap from masking all day. And I think, along with the second autistic boy, we were the only autistic students in our grade to even attend university! The other two, I think just went to live with their parents, where they might even go straight to the working field (depending if their disability allows them). Don’t know, it’s been years thought as I last heard from them.

But what I know is that the “worst years” of being autistic were over as I moved back to the States to attend university. I feel that university was the only time that being autistic was GREAT! Like, nearly everyone wore baggy clothes due to it being comfortable, so now you won’t get judged on what you wear! Where I was attending, the winter there was brutal and rather wants to keep warm when walking in the 20 degree weather to their next class.

While autistic people were judged in school for eating beige food due to having sensitive tongues and prefer sameness, nearly everyone in university does it too as it not only cheap, but also will keep them through the night when they had to study for their exams. As for the special interests, there was a chance that someone in university likes the same thing as you do. And there might be a club or two on it! So, no more getting judged for liking that kiddy thing as there are people in university who like that thing too!

However the downsides of attending university as an autistic student is that there might not be support or any accommodations for your type. Hell, you might even come here, not knowing your autistic and might end up dropping out because it’s too much for you found out that university worked differently than to high school, where you did well! Even if you’re diagnosed with autism and that have accommodations, university can still be challenging as there some professors who won’t be forgiving when you have to extend to assignments as you had no energy to do them or if you need more time to do them. There was also some bullying from some of the students too, if you get real unlucky.

Despite the downsides, I think I feel better being autistic in university to the point I didn’t mask as much. But I still did whenever I’m in class or have to do the dreaded group presentation. I remembered my first year was (mostly) great for both my mental health and for my grades as I had to take all the core classes in order to allow me to study my major, which means I didn’t have to study that hard (or not study at all). I even made friends at my first university by joining a table-top club, where I feel comfortable being myself as there were a chance some of them were autistic.

Then in my second year is when I hit several walls. There was drama at home, which involved with my oldest niece that stressed me out. My bad habit of not studying for exams was really starting to backfire as I took some hard classes for my architecture major, where you have to study and memorize the formulas, equations and codes that you have to follow in order to build houses and buildings. As the result, I end up having Cs’ and Ds’ in some of my classes in one semester and an I got an F in another one, which means I have to repeat that class (if you ask, it was a math class for architecture and engineering majors). But at the end of the second year, one of my friends from my Girl’s Scouts troop from home, died in her sleep, which threw me into a big meltdown and it caused me to develop a fear of sleeping as I remembered my daddy died in his sleep as well!

My third year is when things got real stressful. I took harder classes; that sometimes I had to stay in the architecture studio during the night in order to complete my assignment and projects when I really wanted to go back to my dorm to rest. That my mind was starting to get distracted by my special interests to the point that I don’t want to anything related to my major. Also having a part-time job did not help either as it was in a noisy cafeteria and had to wear an uncomfortable uniform that itches. And it was when the 2016 Election happened, which caused my biggest meltdown in years! Thankfully, that one took place in my dorm and that no one was there to see it!

At that point, it was when I decided to transfer schools to another state (there were other reasons beside for my mental health) and had to change to a less stressful major as well (which I suffered a meltdown from after I finding out the architecture school there rejected my portfolio and that I had no choice, but to switch to a new major). It sucked as this means I have to leave the friends I made behind in both my major and at the table-top club. The move also caused me to stay in school for an extra year, which sucked, but it’s better than to drop out and is forced to pay a huge fine over it.

When I attend my last two years of school at my second university, it was mostly smooth and less stressful, although I did suffer a few meltdowns such the time I have to change my major (that I mention above) and from that one time, where I didn’t receive a package at the mailroom, even though I got a notification, saying that it’s there! Despite that, I know that my mental health improved, my grades were better since I learned how to actually study property and even made some friends in the anime club. When I graduated from university in 2019, I actually cried as I was going to miss the education structure that I was used to since 1999 and the carefree style that some of the university students had, which made me not mask as much as I used to.

Then I moved to back to Germany with just my mom (which was allowed because of my disability), but I couldn’t find a job, despite having a Bachelor’s Degree. I blamed myself for not getting an internship or have experience thanks to me who rather spend time in my dorm recovering from the day, than do some extra work for my major. Despite that, I feel freer when I was in Germany as I started to embrace my autism a bit more than before. And I was less stressed out than before since I was away from whatever the hell the Trump Administration is doing to our country or having to deal with neurotypical issue as an autistic adult who actually have a job.

But then 2020 came and it forced me to stay cooped in the rented townhouse that me and mom lived at the time, for out safety thanks to Covid. Some say that the pandemic was the best time to be an autistic person as this means you don’t have to go out and socialize. The downside is it made you more paranoid on when you do go out and wondered how long until it’s going to get you. That was me, as my mom has a bunch of health problems to the point if she caught it, she’s as good as dead and I’ll end up blaming myself for getting mom killed for just going outside for a bit. Around the same time, the Black Live Matters movement took off along with the #MeToo 2.0 during that summer, which caused me fall into depression and had to get off of most social media for a while. At least by the end of the year, Trump lost reelection and brought some hope back to our country again.

Then in May 2021, I was browsing Instagram when I stumbled on to the #actually autistic tag, where I found that there were people like me and that it was okay to embrace your stims for the sake of your mental health and to rest how much you can, in order to recover from going out for the day. Reading the posts made me realized that the reason why I was always so tired in middle and high school was because I masked to hide my autism in order to keep me from getting bullied. And that there were reasons why I had my meltdowns, which wasn’t caused because of things didn’t go my way (well, most of the time).

It was when I released that I was a bit too harsh on those two autistic girls that I went to school with in Germany and that it was both peer pressure and my low self-esteem is what made me who I was back then. If I would go back in time and told myself to not be hard on myself and to ignore the peer pressure, I think I would’ve been friends with the two and that my mental health would’ve been in a better place.

Then I remember not all the kids at my high school were terrible to the disabled students. I recalled in the 11th grade, one of the popular guys in my English class was chatting with the first autistic boy (the one with the bad temper) that he was looking forward to that new the Marvel movie (back when people used to like Marvel movies) as he know that first autistic boy’s special interest was Marvel superheroes. Then I got sad that if I would found a group similar to the one on Instagram back in high school, then things would’ve been different.

Even when I decided to embrace my autism, there were times that my self-ableism strikes such as in late 2021, when mom told me that we have to move back to the States, I end up having a meltdown as I didn’t want to leave in Germany. Later on, I feel ashamed for getting upset for something that I have no control of.

Then in 2022, I end up putting my mask back in order to work at “a famous pizza chain that I won’t name for reasons” to see if I can handle with customer service. I didn’t and I end up quitting that job after 5 months due to having meltdowns from not having support for my needs (and for other terrible reasons that that place had). Once in a while, I tend feel guilty that I have over $30,000 in student loans and no job as I keep thinking to myself that no one want to hire me because of my disability (which I feel they can tell by looking at me). But in reality, it’s because the job market sucks and that I need some experience, (even it’s for an entry job…).

At the end, there were times I wondered what would happened if I didn’t fall into peer pressure and fully embraced my autism or that if I was a bit more sociable to the point I didn’t have to worry about getting picked on for being different. But whatever the outcome is, at least now neurotypical people are becoming more aware of autism and are trying to do anything to make autistic people lives better. Of course, their efforts are either a hit or a miss depending who you talk to in the autism community, but at least it’s better to be autistic now, compared to nearly 20-30 years ago.

I hope autistic kids now these days don’t have to mask as hard as I did growing up and they can allow being who they are without getting bullied.

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