Director’s Perspective (part 1) – Autism Acceptance Week

A post written by Dates-n-Mates Aberdeen Director - Sarah Paterson

My experience living with Autism

I was diagnosed with autism at aged 3. I’m grateful and thankful to have received my diagnosis in early childhood but it was a very difficult journey for me from the start. It was always a struggle for me growing up to understand my emotions which meant that I couldn’t articulate words to describe how I felt and what I was struggling with. I found it extremely difficult to recognise the triggers that led to sensory overload or even knew what sensory overload was. I never included myself in group activities and social situations especially in a world that I couldn’t understand as I always saw things from a different perspective as a neurodivergent person because I was always misunderstood and judged in a negative way.
These things made it difficult to not only understand myself but to accept my autism. The main thing I mostly tend to struggle with is eye contact but I am happy to have a conversation with someone and I would reassure the person that just because I lack eye contact while listening to them speak, does not make me ignorant or uninterested.
But now as an adult, I am happy and proud to say that I have finally built my inner strength and full capacity to understand my needs by practicing different self-love techniques, I am now able to contribute to a group where I can share my creative ideas and most importantly I surround myself with amazing people who have given me the best support, guidance and reassurance I have always craved for.

I tend to hyper-focus on things that are important to me such as making sure that I have a clear routine every day and have structure in my life because it helps me cope with my anxiety a lot better. I like to plan out my week in advance and if my plans change, especially at the last minute, I can sometimes become distressed but at the same time there are now moments where I can accept change and I always keep an open mind and understand why changes happen for a reason and have since learned how to adapt things better.

What is the difference between Autism and a Learning Disability?

Not only I am autistic, I also have a mild learning disability. It is important to know that having autism and a learning disability can occur together and people tend to get confused with the fact that Autism is NOT a learning disability and they are completely different from one another even with some similarities to each other.

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the way we communicate and interact and a learning disability is a neurodevelopmental condition which can affect a person’s ability to process everyday tasks.

Important things to know about Autism

People experience Autism differently! We sense the world around us differently, we socialise differently, we manage stress and difficult challenges differently. People should never assume or underestimate our abilities, we should be listened to and treated with respect. We also deserve to be recognised and celebrated for our achievements.

My advice to other Autistic People

I understand that the term “be kind” to yourself is easier said than done but self-care is very important in times where you feel stressed and overstimulated. Focus on things that you are passionate about and what makes you happy. Remember that you have people in your life who love you, care about you and want the best for you. If there are people out there who don’t understand you, that’s on them not you. Celebrate big or small achievements you have made. Always remember to take a break from something if you are feeling burnout.
Please note, this post is by one of our colleagues on their personal experiences. As a reminder, autism is not a learning disability on its own so autistic people are not eligible to become members unless they also have a learning disability.

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