Rosie, a mum of three, was diagnosed as autistic earlier this year. She has often battled to bring up her family of three whilst holding down part-time or night-time jobs to support her family. It has always been difficult and she had been a "bit of a worrier", then she started having panic attacks. Now she is relieved to understand why she had struggled with fitting in.
This is her story.
Tell me a bit about yourself
I was diagnosed with autism, specifically aspergers, on the 12th January 2018 at the age of 42!! I knew I was autistic intuitively but felt compelled to seek a formal diagnosis. I struggled throughout my life not "fitting in" and I finally knew why....such a relief.
What was growing up like for you?
Confusing and sometimes lonely. I felt different from the age of about 11 but obviously did not know it was autism.
I never really had a group of friends.....I would have one or two but then they wouldn't want to be friends with no explanation etc. I found it very hard to mix to socialise...I was quite introverted and people found me odd! I was not popular people would make comments about my weight etc.
Basically I always felt I had to act like someone else...I would try to imitate other people to try to fit in.
I wouldn't always get jokes, I use to avoid going to places I hated crowded places. I use to dread the school sports days assemblies etc...I would feel awkward. Wouldn't find it easy to initiate conversation or keep one going etc.
It wasn't until I started my A-levels in the sixth form that I felt more accepted....the ones who would tease me had thankfully left and I found myself with a handful of like-minded people who too were autistic( undiagnosed at that time).
What was life after school like for you
I was very ambitious and knew what career path I wanted to take. I had a passion for studying languages and I was determined to become an interpreter but all of this changed when I had to rethink my career path etc. I always struggled with mathematics which use to frustrate me no end because I felt if someone would just take some time to explain certain concepts I would understand!
.... then, after my A-levels I went to Italy to stay with my father's family and met a family friend. He was from the same village, fairly quiet had never had a girlfriend etc.
We agreed to start writing to each other ( before the days of social media) and so the story began. He came to the UK found a job and we rented a council house together. I soon became pregnant ( I was 20 at this point). I had to rethink my studies so I declined my university offer and decided to go into nursing locally. I managed to complete my 3 yr nursing diploma and raise my little boy and look after a home.
I was exhausted and felt very unsupported by my partner....we were raised in two very different cultures and he believed or was brought up to believe that men go out to work and that is where their duties end!
During the course it was overwhelming me and I contemplated twice to leave the course, but I feared people would see me as a failure, so I pushed myself to do it.
Tell me a bit about your career history
I started working on the NNU once I was qualified in the year 2000. I then fell pregnant and gave birth to my second little boy in August 2000. I returned part-time but I found juggling a responsible job, looking after 2 little boys, taking care of our home, and everything else overwhelming. I was struggling!
Money was very tight! We were constantly overdrawn so I decided to work nights. That way I would look after my children saving money, plus my eldest started school so it worked out better. But then I found nights difficult....I was severely sleep deprived and started to feel exhausted and fatigued!
I gave up nursing, and started working at an estate agents just at weekends. Then I worked in a doctor's surgery part-time once my second son started school. It was starting to get too much again, so I handed in my notice and just worked at the doctors surgery 2 days a week.
What was working life like for you?
I absolutely loved the estate agents because I was a viewer showing people around homes but I didn't really need to talk much....just greet them with a smile and show them in.
Some interactions were difficult. Well eye contact has always been a huge issue for starters. Sometimes the clients would be late for their appointments which made me feel very annoyed etc.
I will also mention that I suffered dreadfully with menorrhagia which I was hospitalised for on 4 separate occasions requiring numerous blood transfusions! It really was horrid but I pushed myself because I had no other choice.
You mentioned a daughter, who is autistic
When my boys were 9 and 6 I discovered I was pregnant! Beautiful surprise....my daughter.
I suspected she was autistic at a young age. She was gifted, she learnt to read before she started school. But she would be short-tempered...frequent meltdowns etc.
She liked the same things to be done in exactly the same way. She wasn't a great sleeper either, and had separation anxiety at nursery and school. She was diagnosed by Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. They were outstanding!
What made you seek a diagnosis
Following my daughter's diagnosis, I realised I had very similar difficulties . I think I just knew I was autistic intuitively and wanted closure....it had been somewhat of a mystery and I felt I needed an explanation.
I have always been a bit of a worrier and had anxiety but this came to a head about 2 yrs ago when I started getting panic attacks!
I just remember when we were in the process of my daughter being assessed prior to her diagnosis, it took me back to my younger years at school. I just remember thinking how I wished my Mum could have understood me more and how I felt lonely etc.
So from that moment I was determined to embrace the condition, to be there for my daughter and to support her.
I visited the GP who after tests ruled out anything cardiac and said you are experiencing panic attacks! He then referred me to some counselling! I told the lady about my difficulties throughout my life etc and she refererred me to the adult autism diagnostic centre.
Has being diagnosed changed things for you?
All in all I feel better about myself now but still feel bitter about the past....not fitting in, struggling to have a sincere group of friends etc. But we have to move forward don't we?
I feel that I have become very knowledgeable which is very useful where my daughter is concerned.
Do you thing things would have been different if you were diagnosed sooner?
I think getting a diagnosis earlier may have helped me understand myself more and other people, but back then I think I may have faced prejudiced. So yes and no?
Why do you think Neurodiversity is important
Neurodiversity is so important to embrace because it is an integral part of our society....it makes our community interesting and varied.
What do employers need to think about
Employers should do their best to make reasonable adjustments to enable the autistic person to fulfil their working role.
I would say things like having a break if needed sooner than scheduled. I guess it depends on the working environment too. If it is office based perhaps a quieter area.
Any final thoughts?
I think autistic people bring huge benefits to the workplace.
Firstly they are sincere and usually choose a job which interests them so they are highly motivated and keen to succeed. They have an amazing eye for detail and often go that extra mile. They are usually highly dedicated reliable and honest. They possess invaluable skills and attributes.
If you are autistic, dyslexic, dyspraxic, bipolar, Tourettes, OCD, ADHD, ADD, or Neurodivergent in another way, and would like to share your story and thoughts then please contact me.