It had not crossed my mind that there was a World Autism Awareness Week every year to raise awareness of people living on the autistic spectrum disorder. Having written about the topic extensively in the past on my blog, I wanted to explain my story of being an individual on the spectrum in-depth and how it affects my everyday life.
Unlike previous posts where I briefly explained about how being autistic impacts upon the way, I view the world, this post is different from my usual posts on Makeover Monday, data visualisation and Tableau. It was until now that I felt the time was right to write about it and I hope this inspires other autistic people to be proud of who they are.
When I was three-years-old, I could not even speak, let alone string a sentence together. My mum and dad would take me to see a speech and language therapist in the hospital so they could help me improve not only my speaking but also the way I pronounced words and consumed food and drink.
In the early stages of my life where I was officially diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (now part of the autistic spectrum disorder), I struggled to relate to other people, let alone trying to speak for myself. Regular isolation was part of my early childhood although I had my family speak up for me if I needed any support or guidance.
As my speech improved over time, I was able to construct sentences and conversations slowly although I had a therapist during my infant and junior school years. Also, I had been put into a speech and language unit from the age of 3 to 16 which had benefited my time in education.
This presented challenges for me as someone who was interested in the 90s subculture, rock music and motorsport as I was exposed to constant bullying at secondary school. Being on the autism spectrum meant name-calling and verbal abuse were the unfortunate reality for me at the time.
Over time, the bullying reduced gradually as I went through college and three years at Birmingham City University, getting my degree, as well as gaining valuable media experience and contacts. Those experiences growing up have helped shape the person I am today both professionally and personally.
Embracing my autistic traits
I must say I am proud of embracing my autistic traits now than I was in secondary school and college. More often than not, society tells us people who are on the spectrum need to change themselves to fit in with people who are “normal”. Over generalising autistic individuals is not poisonous, but further isolates them from society.
With an autistic person, there is no one size fits all category as everyone is within a spectrum. I would be classed as “high-functioning”, whereas other people would have “classic autism”, which means they are unable to speak, let alone function as members of society properly.
There are occasions where I think quite negatively about my autism, although those thoughts have subsided and gone out of existence. Harnessing your talents can be a wonderful thing as it allows you to create the life you want, whilst finding and creating your dream job.
One of my most amazing skills is I have a photographic memory. If I’m going somewhere that I have never been before, I do not rely on Google Maps to take me to my destination, but the power of my navigation skills would enable me to get to one place to another very quickly without using technology.
Also, I have an innate ability to spot details that other people would not find. As a journalist, this is important when investigating or covering a story of high importance as it allows you to understand the different parameters behind the content that needs to be covered in my article, vox pop or video/audio package.
Never let others say you cannot achieve big things
From a young age when I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, I was told that I would never go to university, let alone secure employment. Having that chip on my shoulder from a young age has helped me do things I never thought were possible. Silencing the doubters has helped me become a confident individual and professional.
The number of times I have lost count of the things I have achieved over the last five years in the media and dataviz sphere is astonishing. To think I can do public speaking, attend networking events, produce media content and win awards is quite unbelievable considering I never let my autism define who I am.
If you think you cannot achieve big things as an autistic individual, then start developing an optimistic mindset, one day at a time. Dwayne Johnson (also known as The Rock) has a quote that will inspire you to take control of your lives: “If something stands between you and your success, move it. Never be denied.”
One of the reasons why I have close-knit friendships and remain part of the media, journalism, dataviz and Tableau communities is the fact that they accept you for who you are and not your limitations. If you let your autism take hold of you, then it will hinder your progression in life.
I’m a big advocate of breaking the barriers for people on the autism spectrum in the media and journalism industries. According to the National Autistic Society, 16% of people on the spectrum are in full-time employment. Instead of being apathetic, why not raise your voices as Chris Packham has done and fight for your voices to be heard.
I hope my story inspires others to embrace being part of the spectrum. It may have taken me 22 years until now to write this post but if I inspire one person, then I will be full of unlimited contentment. It’s important that autistic people continue to look out for one another to create a better world for everyone that is living on this planet.