Woman embracing her shadow who is a spectrum of colours

Coming to Terms with My Autism

Written by Isabella Cathey, Mexico

I was 20 years old when I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

The diagnosis helped me make sense of all the incidents that had happened to me in my childhood and adolescent years, which often left me confused, helpless, and unsure of what to do.

People with ASD often have problems with social communication and interaction, as well as restricted or repetitive behaviours or interests. They may have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention.

Once, when I was 18, I was catching a connecting flight at an airport when all the noise and busyness got to me, and my brain started to hurt. My eyes began to sting so much that I began whimpering as I cried. I had never done that before and thought it was weird. Then I looked down and realised I was flapping my hands against my chest. Suddenly, someone nearby fainted and hit the ground with a loud thud, which made me more distressed. Without thinking about it, I ran into an elevator to try and escape. 

I was eventually able to regain my bearings, but that experience left me extremely shaken. 

Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with sensory overload; general environment noise feels incredibly painful to my ears. I would suddenly go mute in distressing situations and would find it nearly impossible to look people, even friends, in the eye. 

This often made me feel out of place in social settings. Where other people naturally conversed with pleasant mannerisms, I practised over and over in my head how I was going to contribute to conversations, all while trying not to fidget or sway. 

I also have a hard time understanding social cues and human emotions. At one point I thought I was a heartless Christian because I didn’t feel empathy; it just didn’t come as naturally as it does to others. Even as I asked God to help me, I continued to struggle, and I didn’t know how to tell others about it, so I shouldered these burdens on my own.

I was also often told by family and close friends that I looked tired, cranky, and irritable. In turn, I would force myself to smile and be cheerful, even though I felt like crying most of the time because my head was hurting from sensory overload I was experiencing. I was very hard on myself and saw myself as a failure for not acting and behaving like everyone else.


A process of learning and acceptance

It was in 2020 when I began researching the different types of disorders online. (It was my sister, who has her own mental health issues, who inspired me to look further into mine). When I discovered ASD, I immediately identified with it. Many of my experiences, even some of my earliest childhood memories, began to make sense. But a part of me couldn’t bring myself to accept this news because I was afraid my family and friends would reject me.

It wasn’t until two years later that I finally cracked from the exhaustion of holding everything together. I hesitantly told my parents that I believed I have ASD. Initially, my parents did not want to believe the news, but they agreed to help me find a therapist when they saw my frustration and sadness at their reaction. 

I did not tell the therapist right away that I suspected I had ASD; I prayed God would confirm this through her. I was overcome by a huge wave of relief when she told me that I was on the spectrum. 

It has been a process of learning, but since the diagnosis, I have been able to integrate new habits into my daily life that help me adapt to my specific set of challenges. Headphones and sunglasses help tone down the sensory input from my surroundings while lifting weights in the morning helps release excess energy. 

I’m thankful that my family and close friends have embraced me with open arms and have been so patient and understanding. Their support has given me the strength to face my challenges at my own pace. 

Some friends still struggle to accept my condition, telling me that they would “pray my autism away” or were “terribly sorry” that I have ASD. I live in a small town in Mexico, and health conditions like autism isn’t something that is openly spoken about, so with the new people that I meet, I often take time to discern whether they need to know about my condition or not. 

Importantly, God has shown me through Scripture that He created me just the way it pleased Him to do so. Psalm 139:13-18 spoke to me in such a personal way—that I am indeed wonderfully made—and I can praise and thank God for creating me!


Being cared for frees me to be myself 

When loved ones listen to my experiences with autism and accommodate me in ways that allow me to implement my strategies, I feel like I am cared for, and that I’m free to be myself. 

On one occasion, I was having breakfast outdoors with a few family friends, whose teenage son also has autism. At one point, a maintenance worker nearby pulled out a chainsaw and began cutting at some branches. I wanted to grab my headphones from the table as the noise felt like a piercing pain in my head, but I hesitated as I was afraid of making my friends feel uncomfortable or that I was ignoring them, even though I could still hear them and carry a conversation. 

Upon realising the situation, the dad reached for my headphones and gave them to me, saying “It’s okay, go ahead and put them on.” I was deeply moved by this act.

More recently at church, I was feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated, and was unable to communicate my struggles. A lady, who knows I have autism and that I needed help, invited me to sit in a dark room so I could be on my own, and she even served me a plate of fruits to enjoy. 

Her action has made me feel loved, and I would like to share with you some of the ways you can love an autistic person.  It varies by person, but our actions of love can include:  

  • Being accepting of our unique habits, manners, and differences.
  • Being patient when we can’t match your speed of life or quick thinking.
  • Not trying to relate to our more intense struggles (e.g., when we express difficulty being in social settings and receive a, “Oh yeah, I get shy too sometimes”, which is not the same).
  • Being willing to listen to our experiences and learn about our specific kind of autism.

Since finding out that I have ASD, I am also learning to be more attentive to the people around me, to listen to them and help them if I can, and to feel empathy. Since I struggle with understanding emotions, I am moved to depend more and more on God to give me a compassionate heart like Jesus. I’m learning to see people through the eyes of Jesus and let the Holy Spirit lead me to serve them as He pleases.

Jesus set the perfect example of love, by laying down His own life for us (1 John 3:16-18). As His followers, we are also called to do the same, and these small acts of service show our friends or those with autism that our lives are theirs, and it’s our way of living out Jesus’s sacrificial love. 

As we move around in our circles at church, work, school, and even in our own families, it may so happen that we will meet or even already know someone with autism. In going about life, may we be welcoming to people with autism and be willing to learn how to care for them. May our love know no bounds, and may our hearts be softened to how God might use us in the life of our friends and how they might be used in ours.

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