Growing up undiagnosed unarguably had its fair share of challenges. It was very akin to being left in a maze blindfolded expected to find my way out. The growing expectations arose from the fact that there is no phenotype look when it comes to Autism Spectrum Disorder. People were quick to assume instead that I was just a problem child, weird, defiant, stubborn, et et cetera. Navigating school years never understanding what caused reactions to and from people, what made me an easy target for bullying, ridicule, and derision; and why the school staff perceived me the way they did made going to school particularly more challenging. I spent a lot of years very depressed and lonely.
When I was finally diagnosed at age 20, it was like the blindfold was lifted off me. Everything that happened up until that time started to make sense. However, I felt like I was still stuck in the maze and left to find my way out; but this time, further in the trenches. It took several years to find mental health professionals who understood what Autism Spectrum was; particularly, how Autism Spectrum portrays in females. Females often do not follow the black letter text in the DSM (Diagnostic Statistics Manual).
It took a lot of practicing with interactions in undergraduate and graduate programs, in real life learning from different people, and attaining feedback from others where I finally understood about human interactions. I finally learned about something that did not come naturally to me. I also took classes in social psychology and general psychology to try to understand what makes people connect to one another and figure out why people act the way they do. Even though socialization and friendships were things I missed out on, I gained opportunities to experience personal growth with regard to empathy and compassion for others. This is much contrary to the myth that people with Autism lack empathy.
I learned from my own pain and being made left to feel all alone to not want that same thing for others. I learned from being bullied, in conflicts with others, and set up to be ridiculed from others to not treat other people that way. Furthermore, I learned to embrace what Autism Spectrum had to offer and go from self-hatred to self-acceptance and love. I never realized how much I internalized the messages of self-hatred from early life experiences and toxic friendships I built along the way. In fact, I hated myself so much that I made myself believe that I deserved all that. It was not until I worked with some very good mental health professionals who brought it out and helped build me up from the inside out.
With time, I built up my confidence. I built up my self-esteem so that I could finally see what I am worthy of and what I deserve. Alongside my increase in self-esteem, came along my courage. The courage I built led me to pursue a career that was more suited for me: psychotherapy.
In my years of going to various mental health professionals, I learned that the ones I had the most connection to were the ones who were patient, compassionate, and empathic. I connected most to the professionals who were conversationalists and gave me feedback. I connected to the professionals who were able to help me process my pain in a patient manner, but yet were able to reframe my experiences so that I could grow and learn from them. I used to leave sessions feeling more empowered out the door than what I felt walking in. From both the therapists I connected with and those I did not, I aim to emulate the ones I felt empowered by while staying true to myself. I aim to help give clients the same kind of hope and aspiration.
One last important thing: as a counselor, I hope to give clients the message that he/she could be whomever he/she wants to be. There were many people who tried to dissuade me from pursuing a mental health field because I was on the Autism Spectrum; many of whom were psychotherapists. They were afraid because I would be slow in understanding the social cues and picking up on certain things that I would not be good in the field. The piece that they clearly missed was the fact this stuff was so difficult in navigating and took a lot of time to learn is the same exact stuff that would make me more conscientious as a counselor. After all, isn’t counseling about taking the time to understand our clients and helping them process through their hurt? Isn’t counseling about helping our clients feel more empowered and able to learn self-acceptance, love, and self-care? Sure thing! Therefore, if someone has a passion for something, and that passion is strong enough; why not pursue it to the fullest? One is not confined to the box society thinks people should be placed in. The only box you are confined to is the one you create for yourself. Yes, you do that!!!