Photograph of an owl by Jean van der Meulen from Pexels
Yael Judah shares her insightful perspective on living with difference
I was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. I’m now 17.
Autism is a neurological condition, relating to the brain, which affects things like social skills, sensory sensitivities and a whole bunch of other stuff which varies from person to person. For me, this means, among other things, that I’m not too comfortable with change or spontaneity so like routine. It also means I have a good memory, I’m a very visual thinker but I don’t have a lot of friends at school.
First of all I’d like to say a few words about the language used to describe autism. Its official medical name is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, I strongly dislike the word ‘disorder’ because it implies there’s something wrong with us, that we’re ‘out of order’, which is not true at all. Many autistic people, me included, would prefer it to be called Autism Spectrum Condition, or ASC, as this has fewer negative connotations.
Also, ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ was once (and sometimes still is) used to describe some people on the spectrum, but I strongly dislike this term as well. This is because: a) the person it was named after, Hans Asperger was thought to have worked with the Nazis during WW2; b) the word ‘syndrome’ makes autism sound like a disease or something negative, which it isn’t and c) it doesn’t cover everyone on the spectrum, only those with Level 1 Autism (aka ‘high-functioning autism’; another term many autistic people don’t like).
Now I will talk more about autism itself. On the one hand, I like it because it makes me who I am and has some strengths. On the other hand, there are some embarrassing or burdensome aspects of it I’d rather not have. Also, many people have preconceived notions about autism or treat me differently just because I’m autistic, which I don’t like either.
I used to think autism was only negative, but my perspective is continually becoming more positive
One of the issues I face is that people can behave a bit funny around me. For example, they may act all ‘nicey-nicey’ like I’m someone to feel sorry for. In the past, I didn’t realise this is what people were doing and thought they actually liked me for being me. At the time I wasn’t certain what friendship meant. I’d only read about it in books and didn’t know the difference between a ‘friend’ and an ‘acquaintance’.
I only made my first ‘real’ friend (who is also autistic) two years ago, which has helped me realise what a friend is. It’s somebody who I feel comfortable being myself around and they feel comfortable around me. There is no power imbalance and most importantly we are both there for each other when one of us is struggling. It has spurred me on to raise awareness about autism since I have overcome issues around friendship.
I used to think autism was only negative, and that if I was ever granted one wish, I would wish to not be autistic. Since then, my perspective has changed a lot, because I have learned that there can be positives about autism as well!
Some of my positive qualities are that I have a flair for languages (I’ve been doing Spanish since year 8) and I’m great at photography.
Being good at Spanish is pretty cool because it’s one of the most widely spoken languages in the world and means I can be more engaged with Hispanic culture as I can learn about it in its native language. Someday, I hope to be able to meet new people from Hispanic countries and have conversations with them in Spanish.
I study Media at school and for an assignment, I took photos for a magazine cover and double-page spread. It was loads of fun and the photos came out really well. My favourite subjects to take pictures of include: people, plants, and animals, and I like editing them. For example, I enjoy making animals talk by putting speech bubbles above them.
Two of Yael’s edited animal photos (taken at Cotswold Wildlife Park)
From these positives, and talking to my mum and dad, I have learnt to accept that autism is an important part of me and that it isn’t all doom and gloom. I have also learned that being autistic isn’t better or worse than being ‘neurotypical’ (not neurodiverse).
It has really helped me to read online about the experiences of other people like me. I’ve also read books by autistic authors, including this one called The Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide: How to Grow Up Awesome and Autistic by Siena Castellon. I would highly recommend it for autistic girls who want to find out more about their condition.
There are plenty of good websites by autistic people which give advice and information about the condition. Here are some examples:
- Autistic & Unapologetic: An autism awareness site founded by one lad on a journey (James Ward-Sinclair) to find out what makes him (autis)tic
- Quantum Leap Mentoring: Siena Castellon, a neurodiversity advocate, offers loads of advice and info about autism and other learning differences.
- The Curly Hair Project: An organisation that helps people on the autistic spectrum and the people around them, founded by Alis Rowe. They use cool things like animated films, comic strips and diagrams to make their work interesting and easy to understand!
I think it would benefit the autistic community to have more support at schools and colleges. This could be in the form of a counsellor or wellbeing practitioner that the autistic person could talk to in a safe space, where they could relax and unwind.
All students, whether autistic or not, should be taught about Autism. This could be done by using resource sheets that visually represent our strengths and struggles. I recently gave a presentation to raise awareness about autism in a school assembly. It was received well but I think it could be a more regular event. I don’t want other people to get the impression that autism is all negative, as I used to think. I want everyone to have the confidence to be themselves.
My advice to young people like me would be to pay no attention to those who don’t let you be you, or try to put you down because of your autism. You dance to a different beat, and that’s something to be proud of!