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Autism and me

21 March 2022

In support of neurodiversity celebration week, social worker Sarah Clarke is sharing her story to help shine a light on the strengths and accomplishments of our neurodivergent workforce.

On reflection, there were clear signs that I was on the autism spectrum throughout my entire life. For the longest time I just thought of myself as a bit odd and I didn’t know that what I was experiencing day to day, was completely different to other people.

I wasn’t diagnosed until the age of 37 and it was, what can only be described as liberating!  All the dots had suddenly connected, and I wondered how on earth it had taken so long for this to come to light.

I’ll admit, reading my report for the first time was difficult. It's uncomfortable to read what someone else has observed about you that doesn’t fit ‘the norm’ and I did cry. However, after the initial shock of it all, reading through it all again, I found it extremely helpful. My diagnosis and new understanding of myself and how I experience the world gave me a newfound sense of peace and acceptance that I’ve never had before. I used to chastise myself for struggling with certain thoughts. I used to feel guilty for cancelling plans last minute because I felt physically sick or tired. I used to call myself ‘mardy’ for being unable to let go of things that were irritating me. I thought I was flawed, unworthy and an unjustifiably anxious person.  

My life has completely changed since being diagnosed. Because I understand what is going on inside, I feel better equipped to deal with my daily life. I understand now why I sometimes feel a certain way or feel anxious, and I can now address those feelings and utilise strategies to support me through them. I understand that sometimes I need quiet time, just for me, to recharge my social battery. I am comfortable with saying no when I need to, and no longer feel the guilt that used to come along with that.

I have so much more acceptance of myself now. Though I still find certain things difficult, I do not use my diagnosis to shy away from challenging myself to step out of my comfort zone. In fact, since being diagnosed, I’ve been able to achieve things that I would never have attempted prior to that. This is because I have better learned to pace myself. I understand how to maintain my social battery and avoid draining it to the point that I can no longer function. I am able to understand why I am feeling a certain way and can now utilise strategies to address those feelings.  I capitalise on my strengths and accept that there are things that I am not so good at, without feeling that old guilt and shame.

I initially didn’t tell many people about my diagnosis because I was scared. Scared that people would treat me different and have a pre-conceived idea of who I was and what I can do, based on the diagnosis. Fast forward 4 years later, I’m rapidly losing that fear. Family, close friends and colleagues know that I am on the autism spectrum, and I have received nothing but acceptance. With my family, it has helped them to understand me better and I feel that our relationships have improved as a result of that. My friends and colleagues haven’t treated me any different since telling them. Some were surprised, others were not (my autistic traits are often not immediately apparent as I am very good at masking them, having spent an entire life doing that), but all were accepting of who I am and I haven’t regretted sharing this with them.

So all in all, being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder was one of the best things to happen to me. Life changing… in the best way.

Sarah Clarke, social worker, Adult Social Care and Health.