For 36 of my 40 years, I was disabled. I was cut off from the world but for the tiny bubble that was my bedroom. Barely able to care for myself, angry, scared and lonely, I felt hopeless and broken. Suicidal thoughts were a daily reminder of my inadequacies and failures. I was certain there had been a mistake. I was clearly not meant for this existence. That is until autism entered my world and saved my life.
I’m certain you must be wondering how a deeply depressed and suicidal, disabled person could have been saved by an autism diagnosis. I’m sure it sounds even more strange to say I was disabled until my autism diagnosis. But that is the truth. I was living a paralyzed life of misery, mistakes, inevitable failures and disappointments. Forget succeeding, I was desperately trying to just survive. And just when I was certain it was time to give up, autism turned on the light, handed me a pair of glasses, and said “Here. Can you see now?”
And see I could. With my autism diagnosis came a new, giant vocabulary to describe my experiences. Meltdown, sensory overload, anxiety, social blindness, theory of mind; the list was endless. There were books, endless books. Workbooks, textbooks, memoirs, and guides filled Amazon boxes deposited almost daily on my doorstep. Each box packed with valuable information. With every page, my confidence grew and so did my world. Armed with facts, I was unstoppable. Suddenly, I could change things. Brimming with new data, I was finding I could make informed decisions for the first time in my life. One educated decision after another and I was gaining momentum. Each time I recognized an opportunity for change and took it, was a small success to be celebrated.
Autism colored my world with vibrant possibility which before had been a swirling vortex of chaos and confusion. The world was making sense to me through the lens of autism and I was finally ready to live life on my terms. Layers of society’s constraints and demands piled high over the years were slowly peeling away and underneath was me. Who was this new person? What made her happy? What excited her? What did she like? What was she good at? I was getting to know myself in a way I had not been able to before and I liked this version of me. I liked this version of life. I liked this version of MY life.
I powered forward. Learning along the way. Making changes. Having successes. Having failures. All the while getting to know this new, unrecognizable me. A me that was motivated, empowered, and confident replaced the shell of a human that I had once been. I tried every strategy and support I could find. Keeping the ones that worked, modifying those that didn’t, and tossing the utter disasters. I was rebuilding a life that I could enjoy. What a concept! I could make choices and decisions to not only live, but to live better. It started with sunglasses to limit light sensitivity. Then diet changes to ease pain and aid digestion. Exercise worked but I didn’t enjoy it, so it got stored. The grocery store was a non-negotiable. The horror of that place was replaced with online grocery delivery. Out went the pomp and circumstance of society’s “supposed to’s” and in came mindful living. Becoming a distant memory were the days of “I have to” as they were far inferior to the new days of “I want to”. One by one, I was adjusting and tweaking every component of my life. From sleep habits, to nutrition, to work and play. Each behavior, activity, chore, need, and desire, was mindfully contemplated and adjusted for maximum comfort and success. Goodbye old habits, hello new intentions.
The life I was creating was barely recognizable to the 36 years before autism. I got up every day with purpose. I prioritized my needs. I set goals and crushed them. I made impactful change to my daily living improving my quality of life with each day. The critical and undeniable fact that I was autistic was not destroying my world but shaping it. It gave hope to dreams thought long lost. It gave strength where weakness was once comfortably residing. It gave insight to memories filled with pain and sadness. It gave power to a voice once silenced by fear. Autism liberated me from the prison I had created to protect the little lonely girl living inside. Autism let that little girl thrive and develop. Autism gave her value. Autism did not come in like a shadow in the night and steal from me. Autism gave in abundance. There was not a moment that could not be improved when looked at through the lens of autism.
That was 5 years ago. Today, my world continues to be colored by autism. I am constantly adjusting the hues and contrast of my life in search of that perfect shade. Mindfully, I fine tune the tones and brightness of my world until I am satisfied with the result. I can actively seek joy now that autism has helped me define it. Happiness is attainable because of my autism, not despite it. Autism is not a bully. Autism is not an epidemic. Autism is not a burden. Autism is empowering. Autism is choice. Autism is living. Autism is me.
Becca Lory, CAS, BCCS, was diagnosed on the autism spectrum as an adult and has since become an active autism advocate, consultant, speaker, and writer. With a focus on living an active, positive life, her work includes autism consulting, public speaking engagements, writing a monthly blog, Live Positively Autistic, and the bi-weekly podcast that she co-hosts, Spectrumly Speaking. Becca has published multiple articles about life on the autism spectrum with the goal of spreading acceptance, understanding, and encouraging self-advocacy. She spent four years supporting the autism community in the non-profit sector in her work for grass-roots organizations that provide resources and services directly to individuals on the autism spectrum. Becca left non-profit to pursue dual certifications as a Certified Autism Specialist (CAS) and Cognitive Specialist (BCCS). Currently the Director of Communications at the Center for Neurodiversity, Becca also sits on the Advisory Board of the Nassau-Suffolk chapter of the Autism Society of America, the Board of Directors of Different Brains and the Foundation for Life Guides for Autism, the Community Council of AASET (Autistic Adults and other Stakeholders Engaged Together), as well as, the Scientific and Community Advisory board of SPARK for Autism. An animal lover with a special affinity for cats, Becca spends most of her time with her partner, Antonio Hector, and their Emotional Support Animal (ESA), Sir Walter Underfoot.
This article is reprinted with permission. You may view the original article, published on April 20, 2017, at http://www.spectrumwomen.com/my-life/autism-saved-my-life-by-becca-lory-cas-bccs/.