Weirdness, difference and the power of acceptance
Like any part of a personality, it has upsides and downsides; I’ll research a topic for hours on end, just for fun, but if you threw me in a party and told me to make friends, I would have no idea what to do (I’d probably go and find a cat or dog to hang out with. They’re easier to understand than humans).
I do not often consider myself a disabled person; but I am a person whose abilities (and inabilities) are unusual.
I am quite proud of my initial diagnosis: Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or PDD-NOS. Basically it means I do not fit fully into the category of autism, making me a non-typical non-neurotypical person.
I like to be different!
But of course, throughout my life, my autism has made me an outsider.
After a few years in a mainstream grammar school, I still hadn’t made any friends, and was utterly miserable. My peers sensed I was different. Some of them treated me as if I had a contagious disease.
I didn’t really understand how I was different, only that I couldn’t have conversations the way normal people could. My contributions, I think, were often non sequiturs, monologues on obscure subjects, or just weird.
Some people say that normality doesn’t exist, but society’s norms very obviously do for someone who does not, or cannot, conform to them.
I started thinking that I was somehow an incorrect person, since I was unable to be the person my peers seemed to want me to be.
I retreated into myself. It’s easy, when you are classified as an outsider, to start disliking yourself.
Nowadays, though, I consider myself lucky. Being unable to conform meant that eventually I had no choice but to be myself, and I know that most people have trouble being themselves.
I can still try and be someone I’m not, but it fails – badly – and I’m generally much happier being me.
Though, as an autistic person, I am, according to classifications, meant to lack social imagination and empathy, I’ve always known that my way of thinking is not the only one; something which a lot of neurotypical people don’t seem to understand. Being so often on the outside looking in, a lot of ‘normal’ human behaviours have seemed absurd to me, but this causes me to make an effort to really understand why people do what they do, instead of making assumptions.
I like people, I find them fascinating, and I’ll do anything I can to help them. I am lucky enough to have great friends now.
I got my diagnosis, which helped me understand why I was different, and I moved schools. The school I attended was for people who had struggled in mainstream education for a variety of reasons. They were people like me, but not like me, and not really like each other.
Everyone was different, and suddenly that was acceptable. The staff at the school helped build up my confidence, and I understood that I was a person worthy of respect, and that I deserved the same opportunities as everyone else.
I reintegrated into mainstream education. There was – and still is – a lot I don’t understand about social interaction.
I used to ask people I didn’t know very well “do you have autism?” in the same way someone might ask “Do you like music?” I thought I was just asking them about a personality difference, not insulting them, but of course people were offended.
I learned from my mistake. I’m still learning from my mistakes – and there are a lot of them! I will not change my personality for people, but nor do I want to inadvertently upset them. That’s one autistic trait of mine I’m not a fan of; accidentally upsetting people and having no idea why. Fortunately, most people recognise I have good intentions.
I’ve finished University now, something a lot of people thought I might never do, and I am fairly happy with my life, despite big challenges ahead.
I am often the weird one, and don’t fit in neatly to any social group, but most people accept my ‘weirdness’. I am still an outsider, but no longer an outcast; different, but not rejected for being so.
I’ve had tons of support, but my life is so much better than it was because of acceptance.
I still enjoy being alone, I have unusual interests, and I tend towards social awkwardness, but I am not picked on or scorned for being this way.
At least, not by the people who matter.
Rosie is taking a degree in English with Creative Writing, and has just finished studying at Lancaster University. She is a volunteer for the Outsiders’ Network, is about to begin training as an E-befriender for the National Autistic Society, and has also volunteered at an animal sanctuary. She loves to help people, and is looking for a career in supporting others.