Autism is often thought of as an ‘invisible’ difference in people living with it. Many of its key traits aren’t always obvious in daily life, making it difficult to spot for friends, colleagues and even family members. Equally, thinking in rigid definitions of autism can limit our understanding of what is a complex condition.

Laura is a young woman who has been wondering if she is on the spectrum for some time. She shares her experiences growing up and how life doesn’t define always us by labels. 

I have always felt different. People would laugh at me when I wasn’t even trying to be funny. I would make friends but could not keep them. I did not always understand when people were joking with me or being sarcastic. I would take things very seriously and get hurt or offended when other people did not. I got upset when things changed. I did not dress like other girls my age. I hated certain foods. When I tried to eat them because I was told I had to it would make me feel sick. I was obsessed with certain TV programmes (I’m embarrassed to say which ones). But I can say I would refuse to miss them and I still remember all the words and nearly every episode. Sometimes I thought that was how people should be in real life.

At school I was good at remembering things. I could write even if it was slower than others. Later on, I started writing everything in block capital letters because I was afraid teachers could not read it when they were marking. I passed all my exams and did not need any special help; yet I always felt I could have done better. I felt tired and stressed a lot of the time. I became withdrawn, I lost confidence in myself. I stopped eating properly. I lost friends. Some teachers encouraged me because I was a quiet kid and always eager to learn. So I put all my energy into just passing exams.

I went to college I managed to get a degree in Occupational Therapy. But there were times I felt I was the one who needed Occupational Therapy. I felt like a hypocrite trying to be peoples Occupational Therapist. So I took a career break and since then I have completed many different courses. But the reality is I don’t have many friends. I struggle sharing a house with other people. I have not really managed to find suitable employment for some years now. There could be lots of reasons for why I am the way I am. Now I do not believe it is all my fault. I am just a difficult person who’s learning to adapt. I am tired of trying and trying to behave in a way that is not natural for me. It is exhausting and has not helped me or anyone else anyway.

The more I learn about autism, the more I understand myself and other people. I do not feel as alone or weird as once did. I have never been given a formal autism diagnosis (I do have a condition called Turner Syndrome and a non-verbal learning disability), but I do believe that I’m somewhere on the spectrum. And that’s okay. It is just a label. It is not me. I am a person like everybody else and I have not met anybody who is perfect.

What is perfect or normal anyway?