Tasha, a nursery worker, was diagnosed as autistic at 28. She also has ADHD, sensory processing disorder, depression, anxiety and OCD. Tasha has struggled with her diagnosis due to a lack of post diagnosis support, however has received great support from her work. She has been trying new strategies and feels it is important to share her experiences and difficulties.
Tasha's story really touched me, as I wonder how many other young people are feeling this way and have struggled to see a future for themselves. This is why I think Neurodiversity is so important - so that the other Tasha's of the world are supported from early on, don't struggle with anxiety, and are able to imagine a postive future for themselves.
This is her story.
What was growing up like for you?
I was a difficult child, very aggressive, self harmed, didn't sleep, screamed alot. I was good outside the house and at school but once home, I would erupt.
I was bullied as a teenager, it was a very difficult time for me as I felt different and didn't fit in with others my own age.
What led to your diagnosis?
I struggled with my mental health and eventually sought help from my GP 4 years ago, aged 26, after a traumatic family incident that didn't directly involve me but deeply affected me.
My 11 year old nephew is autistic and my sister recognised his behaviours in me as a child. That's when I started to realise that maybe there was something more than just me being a failure. I had to fight to be assessed and it took me over a year of seeing different GPs for one to eventually recognise that I was autistic and needed that recognition of a diagnosis.
I was eventually diagnosed 2 years ago aged 28 as having ASD (aspergers), ADHD, sensory processing disorder as well as depression, anxiety and OCD.
What support did you get after being diagnosed
The mental health team discharged me as soon as I got my ASD diagnosis so there was no NHS appropriate services for me to help with my mental health.
I now pay privately to see a therapist weekly after a deep, suicidal depression after my diagnosis due to the fact there was no after care on the NHS.
How did you feel after getting your diagnosis
When I first received my diagnosis, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. For quite some time, I had started to wonder whether I had somehow made up the fact I might be autistic.
I felt like maybe it was all in my head somehow and that I deserved the way I had been treated by others my whole life. Having that diagnosis confirmed to me that I wasn't just crazy. That actually there is a reason I'm the way I am.
Saying that though, I'm still in the process of accepting and coming to terms with the diagnosis. It's something I am working on with my therapist and have been for some time. She says to me when I am doing well, that she still recognises and understands that it doesn't mean my day to day is easy and life is still very difficult for me.
Its even harder as if you didn't know me, you wouldn't know. I appear capable and I am intelligent so it's not obvious which is difficult as people don't understand.
Getting the diagnosis has changed my self perception and it's something I really struggle with. I often see myself as broken or defective and I struggle with episodes of deep depression due to this. When I am well though, I can be very accepting of my odd little quirks and I think "oh I'm doing x because I'm autistic and thats ok"
Mostly though, I struggle. I became very suicidal about 6 months after my diagnosis as I thought that there was no hope and I couldn't see a future. I realised that the things I struggle with, are always going to be things I find difficult and that's because of my autism.
I felt hopeless at that time.
Do you work?
I work 30 hrs a week in a nursery and pre school with babies and young children which I love despite the social and sensory difficulties I face on a daily basis. I love working with children because they take you as you are. I relate to them and I find their development fascinating as little people.
Does your work know about your diagnosis?
So before I decided to pursue getting diagnosed, I spoke to my manager at work as I was worried it would affect my employment. To be honest, work have been fantastic in supporting me in the workplace.
I have had periods of being off sick with depression and my manager has been so supportive. She gave me hope when I had none and she gave me a reason to live, she believed in me and told me I could and would get better. Its what I needed to hear at that time and I believe without her, I wouldn't still have a job or maybe even be here. I very nearly quit my job this time last year as I thought I was useless, was letting everyone down and was a failure.
My manager referred me to occupational welfare and they were fantastic too. They put in some reasonable adjustments for me: reduced my working hours from 37.5 to 30, no key children which means no paperwork, pre-warning me if my hours are going to be different and also recommended I speak to my colleagues which was left to me to decide.
Most of my colleagues do know and they just see me as me, which is great. I also relate to children with additional needs and spot the ones that need support or assessments before others do which is an advantage.
I also explained to my colleagues that my body language may be different than expected and also my lack of eye contact and feeling uncomfortable when too close to adults is nothing personal and I'm not being intentionally rude or disrespectful.
Do you have any strategies for yourself?
I have put a few strategies into place for myself.
So I use fiddle toys when I am anxious and carry them with me at all times. I also use music a lot to calm me down and to shut out the noise of the world.
I also like to always have a used 'laundry colour catcher' on me as it smells like home and I also like the feel of them and rub them between my thumb and fingers to calm me.
I also find watching the washing machine calms me down, its predictable which I find soothing. I also wear sunglasses alot as I find the world can be too bright for me.
What do you think other employers should consider?
I think employers need to be more understanding of our social differences and possible lack of tact and etiquette. I'm known for being too honest at work which isn't always a good thing!
I also think the need for breaks away from stimulating environments is important. For me I go to the toilet because it gives me a few minutes by myself, away from everything and everyone and thats how I deal with my rising anxieties in an appropriate way.
I also think employers need to take into account mental health issues that may arise from feeling out of place or not quite fitting in within the work environment.
I also feel its important for employers to 'check in' regularly just to see whether there are any difficulties that can be resolved, and also I feel praise needs to be given when deserved as this would help me to feel as though I am actually doing a good job and would help with self esteem issues.
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.