Following Autism Awareness Week last week, Gaming Editor Kyle Moffat offers us insight into life with autism and encourages us to take the time to better understand the experiences of those who have it
World Autism Awareness Week took place from 29th March – 4th April this year and it was an important week for many living with autism. As a result, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share my experience of living with autism. Many people know that autism creates difficulties in social situations and creates certain behaviours, but there is much more to it. I also want to say that every autistic person has a different experience, so I cannot completely speak for everybody else living with autism. Without further ado, this is my story.
In 2007, I was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Even before this diagnosis, it was obvious that I was not a ‘normal’ child. Ordinary social situations were very difficult for me. I spoke very little until I was at least five; I often had tantrums; I struggled being in rooms with many people. Now from the outside, this might seem like I was just a naughty child, which is just not the case. Social anxieties sometimes crippled me, causing me to break down when in social situations. Tantrums occurred because I felt there was no other way to communicate, so it was the only way I could signal that something was wrong.
While I had friends, having relationships outside of school was difficult and thus I was a lonely child. Part of this was due to a lack of social skills making it difficult to create close bonds. Being perceived as weird was a common occurrence because of my habits, behaviours and more. Video games took up many thousands of hours due to not playing with friends in school holidays or even being outside.
In secondary school – at least until year 10 – things were perhaps worse. I was often on the receiving end of bullying and this made me feel like I didn’t deserve friends. This made me trust people very little, which was just another reason to be in my bedroom and not go outside often, aside from school. Many people thought I was strange and saw it as a reason to pick on me or to just stay away from me. Again, I struggled to communicate with other people, and I often meant well and worked hard in school. It is just a shame that people could not see me for who I really was, because of my lack of social skills and due to a lack of understanding for autistic people.
When I was around 15/16 years old, I somehow found myself able to begin creating close friendships with people. So, was that it? Did my autism just fade away? Autism does not work like that and I still struggle daily in social situations. Rather than autism disappearing, I now find ways to hide my true feelings. Even with people I am comfortable with, I still have moments of awkwardness because of things I have said. I may think about these kind of moments for hours, just wishing that I said something differently. Knowing what is appropriate to say and how to act in any context can still be challenging.
Social anxieties exist from a lack of knowing what to say but also due to the contexts in which social situations happen. Loud noise can often be painful and extremely stressful, alongside a large quantity of people surrounding me. As a result, I often avoid clubs and festivals because these situations can scare me. In my eyes, people can often be very rude and sometimes violent at these events, making me not want to attend even more because of a fear but also due to wanting to spend my time away from people.
I mentioned habits and I have some that people may perceive as odd. Much of the time, I can enjoy analysing things that do not matter to other people, yet they interest me. Also, stats for football or video games are very intriguing to me, and I could spend hours researching them. Ordering and listing things can be very therapeutic as well, with to do lists and alphabetical order just the beginning of it. Routine is massively important in my life and it makes it difficult to enjoy spontaneous activities. In relation to studies, I often try to stick to a specific plan. If that gets interrupted or something spontaneous comes up, it can be stressful. This is because I will have to reorder my schedule all over again and sacrifice dedicated relaxation time.
So, what you may be able to gather is the social difficulties, anxieties, and habits of somebody like me. It is one thing knowing these elements of autism, but understanding an autistic person is much more difficult. What can you do to help us and what should you avoid?
If somebody reveals to you that they are autistic, do not say ‘you don’t look autistic.’ I have had this on several occasions, and it is a stupid statement, because autism does not have a look. Every single autistic person is different, and I know for me, my internal conflicts due to autism are much more challenging than they may seem.
We are different from the average person, so please take the time to understand us. I do not want any other person to go through the loneliness I experienced at a young age.
Other mental health problems such as depression and particularly anxiety are very common in autistic people. If you have a friend with autism, check in on them occasionally, to make sure they are coping fine.
Slowly but surely, the autistic community is becoming more accepted in our society. Strides have been made, but there is still more to be done. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope that you have learned something about autism that can help you to make autistic people feel more comfortable.
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