Before 2020 started, people shared their ’10 Year Challenge’, exploring personal growth, developments, achievements, and how far they have come in the past decade. People were excited about what the next 10 years would bring, what ambitions they have, and what goals they’re striving for. A lot can change in a decade.
My 10 year challenge started on Friday 2nd February, 2010, at 9:35am, 42 seconds within the minute…. That moment in time was very significant for me. I was 15 years old, sat in a doctors office with my mum. The appointment lasted over an hour, and was a very thorough visit.
“Thank you, Mrs Nixon, for all the information you have provided. I can confirm, that she has High Functioning Autism; Asperger Syndrome” (1)
It’s been 10 years since I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome… and what an amazing, roller coaster of a decade of personal growth it has been!
When I was diagnosed, I was in Year 11 – I was in my final year of school. I struggled going through a mainstream school with a hidden condition. My sensory processing was also very different. I struggle with sensory overload with touch and hearing. I’ve had meltdowns due to sensory overload, of which are very distressing. A sensory overload is where one sense (or senses) becomes so overloaded, it’s overpowering, overwhelming, distressing and painful (3).
- DO NOT INVALIDATE THIS! I’ve had people who fail to understand what a painful experience it is to have sensory overload, and have further aggravated it!
Prior to my diagnosis, I isolated myself, didn’t speak to people, and could not understand friendship. I liked having a routine, and would really struggle to cope if it was interrupted. My social skills were non existent, and my social awareness was very poor (social awareness is understanding how to behave in different social situations) (2).
When I was in my teenage years, I did not care what other people thought of me. I was content in my own little world away from everyone. I preferred being on my own… always. My diagnosis was a big shock to many of my teachers when I spoke with them individually.
They were very keen to help and ensure that I was included. My drama teacher encouraged everyone in the class to include me, and make me feel welcome in all activities and socials. One of the English teachers called me out of afternoon form to discuss other educational sites that could aid my learning before I took my GCSE’s. My religious studies teacher sat with me and discussed how affects me, and what else was being done to support me.
In class, I absorbed all knowledge and information that I was taught, and could very easily regurgitate it. However, I struggled with essay writing and getting the right information for the specific question. I would write down all knowledge I had absorbed and not answer the question. I would often miss the point, and misunderstand what was being asked. My history teacher was aware that I was on the autism spectrum before my diagnosis. This was due to my social skills, my drive, focus, and the way I interpreted everything.
Word went round the staff room of my diagnosis and all my teachers did their bit to support me in my last 5 months of being a secondary school student. I was an average student with average grades, and was happy with how I did in my GCSE’s.
When I started Sixth Form in 2010, I was doing Science, Travel and Tourism, and Media Studies. At first, I was quiet about my diagnosis – I felt that it was a label and wanted to be accepted for who I am. Due to not having much academic support to help me during my school years, I was encouraged to get any sort of help that would enable me to achieve my full potential.
I spoke with my media teacher about extra support, and he said that he had full faith in me completing and passing the course. He would sit with me on a 1:2:1 basis and explain everything to me, and gave me the chance to discuss my progression.
One of my science teachers noticed that I was still isolating myself from the rest of the class. I had been asked by some of the girls if I wanted to go out with them one day, of which I refused. On multiple occasions, I was asked to join them on various outings and weekend meals out. On a quiet morning when I was alone, my chemistry teacher approached me and said “you know, all they’re doing is extending their reach to you. They think about you a lot and want to include you”.
This completely changed the way I saw everything!
I had one science lesson with the same teacher (I had 3 teachers for the 3 sciences), and myself and the other girls in the class arranged a birthday meal out for one of our classmates! My teacher observed and did not interfere! My teachers in Sixth Form were more keen for me to interact with people more, and to develop my social skills.
During Sixth Form, I wanted to learn more about Asperger Syndrome so I could better understand myself and the condition. I embraced my Aspergers and began trying to find ways of growing as a person.
I dedicated my A-Level media video on raising awareness of Asperger Syndrome, and explained to my class how we perceive the world more differently than neurotypicals (non-autistic people), and we want to be included and treated with respect like everyone else. I contacted Edgar Froese; the band leader and founder of the German music group Tangerine Dream, and asked for his permission to use some of his band’s tracks in my video. He emailed me back permitting me use his music, as long as I share my video with him and his band for their archives!
When I got to year 13, the final year of Sixth Form, I got into the swing of applying for universities and getting the right grades to get enough UCAS points. Academically, I had really picked up and I was answering my course questions directly and providing the information needed for the answer, instead of writing everything I knew.
Fast forward, September 15th 2012… I left home and went to Northampton University!!! Being at university was the best thing I have ever done! My experience at university helped me to blossom and thrive, and I did things I never imagined I would do, such as run my own society. I previously blogged about my time at university here: On being a University Student with Asperger Syndrome
It has been 10 years of growth, of learning about myself and pushing myself to grow. Here’s to the next 10 years!
Here’s a picture of Edgar Froese; Band founder and leader of Tangerine Dream!