Faking Autism? Really?

I sometimes see this assumption that people are faking being autistic or lying about it or exaggerating it. This really irks me. What proof do you have that they are faking it? I like to always believe someone is being truthful until I am given hard opposing evidence. Like, there have been cases of people faking autism, but they are most definitely in the minority.

Sometimes, I even see the opinion that someone is lying about autism because they are a girl and girls cannot have autism. I did not know this opinion still existed, considering all of the countering evidence that shows girls can, in fact, be autistic.

I think it is a very negative thought to assume someone is lying about something so integral to their identity. Autism is a huge part of me and I am not more autistic than before I was diagnosed, I just have a reason now to be myself more. I think assuming someone is lying because their autism doesn’t present how you would have expected, or because it presents ‘too much’ like how you expected it to is a really weird opinion to have.

Why do you care so much about someone else? For me, I have severe anxiety, so I am so wrapped up in how I seem to others, I don’t have any time to worry about whether they’re faking a very big part of their life. Sometimes, I wonder if people were misdiagnosed, as that can be common in the autism community, but I don’t say anything to them about it, because I may be wrong or I might upset them, and I would never intentionally cause upset. There are some people that are so different to me, I laugh about the fact we both have an autism diagnosis. Then, I remember, autism is such a broad spectrum and they may be an extroverted autistic (they do exist!).

Autism is a part of my identity, it is a part of many people’s identity, and I don’t think anyone has the right to take that away from them. With just a few stinging words, you can make a person doubt so much. I have seen multiple instances of ‘you’re faking it’ with autism and other conditions. Fortunately, I haven’t been on the receiving end (at least, not to my face), but it would upset me a lot if someone did say it about me. It’s just not nice.

Thank you for reading,

The Autistic Panda

Anxiety

I have pretty bad anxiety about most things. I have tried to calm it down, but when you have anxiety, you know it is irrational. It’s like when people have certain phobias; those are irrational too, but they still have them. You can’t control your anxiety, but you can learn to try and not let it ruin your life. My anxiety has caused me to ruin good things in the past. I have severe anxiety around abandonment due to bullying and, so, when people do things without me, I feel like they don’t see me as a friend and want to exclude me on purpose. The sad thing is that sometimes this is true. I cannot differentiate between when it is true and when they mean well. That’s the stupid thing about humans: some of them are two-faced and so you start to assume everyone is, but some people are genuine.

I have anxiety about speaking to strangers, due to selective mutism. This makes me unable to travel by myself, currently, because I am anxious of people speaking to me and asking me questions. I cannot go to a shop alone because of this problem aswell. I know that I might be able to purchase something without having to say anything, especially with self-service checkouts now a thing, but I struggle with the thought that a problem may occur and someone might say something.

I have anxiety about sudden changes. They terrify me and can cause me enormous stress. It can literally send me into a depressive spiral when a sudden change occurs, especially when it is caused by a person who knows I’m autistic and had the option of telling me beforehand. The fact that they didn’t think about telling me the change of plans really upsets me, when they knew about it.

I am anxious of every social situation ever, scared of being hated, of messing up but my biggest fear is of saying something wrong. I am constantly saying ‘I don’t know’ to questions because I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I have such low confidence in myself that I even let my mum answer these questions for me, because she knows that I do know the answer, I’m just scared of saying it. I also apologise when I hurt myself because I don’t want to cause annoyance to other people by being in pain. Like, I’ll trip up and graze my knee, and I’ll pretend I didn’t, and say sorry to anyone who saw because maybe I ruined their day by being clumsy (dyspraxic).

I am so anxious, and yet I get by the day. I express these anxieties with my mum and sometimes, she will offer me support and tell me that no one hates me, that they just haven’t replied because they’re busy, that they aren’t doing it on purpose, that it’s going to be okay. Because I also have anxiety about people not replying to me.

It’s okay to have anxiety, and sometimes there is no easy fix for anxiety, especially if you’re autistic. It can come with the territory. What I am trying to do now is to not let it ruin my life like it used to. If someone doesn’t reply to me, I won’t send them a long message about why they must hate me. If someone leaves me out of an event, I’ll accept that maybe they do dislike me, but that’s okay. Not everyone will like me. Maybe my autism is exactly the reason they wanted to exclude me, but that will always be a part of me, and I am not going to change who I am for them.

Thank you for reading,

The Autistic Panda

I Am My Surroundings

People often think I’m irritable or rude. If I am in an overwhelming environment, I will come across this way. However, in a safe environment, which isn’t overwhelming, I am not the same person. I become happier and less irritable. I know that everything is fine there, that nothing bad will happen, so I don’t need to be on edge. Unfortunately, in most other places outside of my home, I do feel on edge. I feel like there could be a change in routine or something could go wrong and that terrifies me because I want everything to stay the same, but it never does. Something always happens to make me lose my cool.

Places are loud, bright, and filled with unexpected changes. The simplest of changes cause me a lot of stress, especially in the past year or so, because of my living situation changing so massively. I had to deal with a big change so small changes that seem inconsequential can even make me cry.

I basically become my surroundings. In a calm, relaxed space, where I know nothing unexpected will happen, I can smile, laugh, make jokes, and become someone quite different to the person you’d meet in a crowded, overwhelming environment. The world is basically built for neurotypicals and I can’t adjust to the world because it was never meant for me. I try my best but the world is designed around neurotypicals, and it’s hard for me to not get overwhelmed.

If I get to know you, and we are in a safe place, you might find my sweet side too. First impressions aren’t everything. Maybe I seem annoyed because I am: annoyed with the fact the world is so stressful. If it were less overwhelming, I’d be the happiest person around, but it isn’t and, so, if I seem irritated, just remember all the extra stuff my autistic brain has to deal with.

Thanks for reading,

The Autistic Panda

I Wish I Could Speak Up

I find leaving the house takes a lot of energy; just going out drains me completely. If something happens that stresses me out there, then that will drain me more than I can cope with and I might start crying or have a meltdown. I get stressed out really easily these days because my anxiety is at all-time high. It has become higher since several significant life changes have occurred.

I went out yesterday to my college and it was more draining than usual. I managed to keep it together but I wanted to break down. I attend a small SEND college and we go out to meet local businesses. There was this singing chef and he started talking a lot, in great detail, about how the meat he uses is prepared. I am vegan and, even after someone mentioned this to him, he just told me to cover my ears. I had already been covering my ears but it was not enough. I could still hear everything. I am fine with people talking about meat but it makes me distressed when I hear about all of the details. I couldn’t stop thinking about the poor animal.

Another thing that happened is that I hate being filmed. A woman, whom I should add is usually very considerate, forgot to ask me to move out of the way of the camera and I just felt so stressed the entire time with this camera pointing at me, but I couldn’t complain. I just froze and tried to move my back around so I was away from the camera.

Another stressful addition to my day was that the water came in a giant glass bottle which we had to pour into our glasses ourselves. It was very hot so I was very thirsty. However, I was worried about spilling it because I’m dyspraxic and always end up spilling stuff. I was too embarrassed to ask for help so I just didn’t drink any water until everyone had left the room. Then, I spilled it, and felt embarrassed about everyone coming back and seeing the spilled water. No one commented on it but I was stressed out about it. I was also too awkward to ask to go to the toilet so held it in, which caused me physical pain, but I just couldn’t speak up for myself.

I wish I could speak up when stuff is making me feel uncomfortable or awkward. I just always freeze and never ask for what I really want. I have selective mutism and it affects me in certain situations, especially when I am already feeling stressed. It’s really hard sometimes.

The Autistic Panda

Don’t Change Plans

A big part of being autistic is that I can’t deal with changes, especially at the last minute. For instance, a week before, we had planned for my brother to come and see me on a Thursday. The Thursday came and he no longer wanted to come because he ‘felt the urge to clean’. He said he would come over the next day instead, which he did. However, this was very stressful for me. He had told me he was coming on Thursday and for it suddenly be changed to Friday was anxiety-inducing and very overwhelming. I even told my mum I didn’t want him to come over at all anymore because I felt so upset. This might not feel like a big deal to some people, especially if you don’t have any plans on the Friday anyway, but for me, an autistic person, it put a lot of stress on my brain to configure these changed plans into the assigned slot where I had put the original plans — and that takes a while to compute. It takes away my energy, resources, and sends me into a meltdown.

Another thing to note is I hate vague plans too. Don’t tell me you’ll be over at some time in the afternoon, like my dad often does. He then asks if I’d like to do something with him but I have no idea how to plan my day around that event because I don’t know when it is! When do I get dressed? When do I brush my hair? When do I get my bag ready? So many things to think about and I just can’t process it if it is vague.

Please think about the Autistic person whose plans you are changing. They might not be able to cope very well with the change and it might impact them negatively. Remember: vague plans are also not good. Only change plans if you absolutely need to, and make sure to give them advance warning of the change. Do not tell them on the same day as the planned event, as this will stress them out a lot. Make sure you’re specific with as much as possible to do with the event. Reassure them several days in advance (if possible) that you are changing the plans but that you will definitely be able to make the next available date. Do not cancel on them twice, or three times in a row. This will lead them to believe you are unreliable and they will not want to make plans with you again because you have upset them so much with the changed plans.

I am autistic and I hate change. Remember that.

The Autistic Panda

The Words I Say (Poem)

Remember the words I say,

not the way I say them;

for my tone might be wrong,

but my thought is right,

and I cannot help it —

I am rude, blunt, irritated,

or friendly, interested, and warm,

you might pick up on the first,

but that is not always what I am,

for I am autistic, and I mean well,

just maybe I’ll stop seeming annoyed

if you stop assuming I’m being rude,

because my voice is not my words.

My voice is not my words.

What is Dyspraxia?

When I was 7, my teacher told my mum “you really shouldn’t do her toggles for her.” When I was about 10, I was literally put into a sports group for kids who were bad at sports. It was fun though; I got to go to a leisure centre and use their facilities free of charge. Also when I was 10, I got diagnosed with dyspraxia.

My mum had been diagnosed with it prior to my diagnosis because she had done a degree in fine art and they picked up on it. She then noticed that I had difficulties and a woman came to my school. She diagnosed me and helped me with some skills, such as cutting up sandwiches (which I was allowed to eat, even though it wasn’t lunchtime), and navigating the school library. It was there that I learned about making my left hand into an L shape to help me. I don’t have to use that much anymore because I’ve pretty much learned my lefts and rights now.

So, what is dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia is a developmental coordination disorder, which is neurological, meaning there is something a bit odd with the wiring in my brain. It sends the wrong signals and I trip up, drop things, and struggle with sports. There are a lot of possible traits of dyspraxia; it is a spectrum. I know this because my mum and I both are incredibly different. She is amazing with her fine motor skills; she can paint brilliant portraits, ride a bike, and tie shoelaces. I can’t do any of that. Her main struggles are sports, tripping up, and getting caught on things. She would be described as ‘clumsy’, as many dyspraxic people are. In fact, I bet most people described as ‘clumsy’ have dyspraxia.

It is estimated that up to 10% of the population has dyspraxia, with up to 2% being ‘severely’ affected. Males are four times more likely to be diagnosed than females, which is funny because my mum and I are both females. I struggle with most of the traits of dyspraxia, whereas my mum only struggles with a few.

It can also affect how we come across socially, making us blunt and sometimes appear rude, even though we don’t mean to be. Because I have this in conjunction with autism, I have the social issues that come with that too. It is quite common to have another diagnosis if you have dyspraxia.

It is a hidden disability, much like autism. People don’t see the everyday struggle that dyspraxia brings because it isn’t easily seen. It isn’t just clumsiness, it is an everyday struggle to do the most basic of tasks. It can affect your self-esteem, especially when someone says something is as easy as riding a bike, and you can’t ride a bike. A lot of people probably suffer with it undiagnosed and have gone their entire lives being called clumsy. It is lesser known and not as understood as its cousin, dyslexia. That’s why I wanted to bring awareness to it.

Thank you for reading this post,

The Autistic Panda

Spoon Theory

Spoon theory is something I’ve heard a lot about in the autism community. It is also used in other disabled communities. I never really understood it or connected with it until recently. It is based on the principle that we all have limited energy, but that disabled people have a lot less energy (or ‘spoons’) than other people. Being autistic, I can see how this is true.

Getting out of bed, getting dressed, brushing your teeth. All simple activities, right? For someone whose energy is a lot more limited, these activities do take away vital energy that is needed to continue the day. For instance, if someone started with 12 spoons, these activities would each take away 1 spoon, which leaves less spoons for later. Then, if you had a bad night’s sleep, that might take away another spoon.

The bigger activities, such as leaving the house to go to work or school, can take up a lot more spoons. If you have 12 spoons to begin with, each of these activities can take up 4, which is a third if all your available spoons. That is why it is hard for disabled people to do more than one ‘big’ activity everyday.

Because I’m autistic, when all of my spoons are used up, I usually have big meltdowns. Sudden changes take up a lot of my spoons because, surprisingly, they’re quite common. People still don’t get that I, an autistic person, can’t deal with sudden changes.

I am able to mask in certain situations which means that, even though all of my spoons are used up, the most people will get from me is irritability, if that. Sometimes, I can put on such a good mask that I can smile and pretend I’m just fine. That is, until I get to my safe place, which is my house. There, I can have the biggest meltdowns, and I will sleep for a long time because I just don’t have the energy needed to continue functioning. I get quite depressed if I am expected to continue functioning. I can start crying, hating everything about life, feeling really overwhelmed. That’s why it’s so important to not expect disabled people to do more than their energy limit. However, I should also note that you should not assume they cannot or do not want to do something. Please ask them first and, if they say no, just realise it might take up too many spoons. It’s not because they want to disappoint you. It’s because they will not be able to function at all if they do it.

There is also the fact that different activities will use up different amount of spoons depending on the person. For instance, extroverts use up less spoons socialising than introverts.

I don’t really know how many spoons I personally have. I don’t know how to work it out, but I know when I’ve used them up. I have naps which help me get enough energy to function for the rest of the day. They especially help after a day out, when I have used all of my spoons. A nap helps to restore some of my energy and make me feel calmer.

What do you think of the spoon theory?

The Autistic Panda

Autism and Special Interests

I’ve often been told that a big part of autism is special interests. This is an intense interest that you are devoted to for a set amount of time. I often thought to myself: do I even have an interest that intense? Perhaps it’s because I’ve struggled with depression since a young age, or maybe it’s because my attention span is terrible, but I can’t pay attention to something for a long time. I do have stuff that I am very interested in and love doing but, even then, I have to switch to another activity every five minutes. I just can’t put all of my attention into something, even though I’m autistic.

I love puzzles, I have an interest in pandas, and writing is a passion of mine. I have had phases where I had to find out all the information about something, like Egyptian history. I do this in small intense doses though; not prolonged periods of time where someone can’t get my attention no matter what. I would say that I get bored quite quickly and need constant new stimulation to keep me going. That’s why I can’t stay invested for a really long time. I get distracted by everything around me also. The world is a really distracting place.

Other autistics get completely absorbed by their interests and it’s fascinating but I struggle so hard to keep focused. It’s why I don’t read very much anymore. I used to, when I was younger, but my attention span has changed so much that it’s hard to read an entire book. It’s even hard to write long pieces of writing because I get bored. That’s why I stick to poetry and shorter pieces. I wanted to write a novel one day as a kid; I even did write a novel-length story (which is now lost) but I could never do it now. I just am fidgeting and needing stimulation constantly. I can’t concentrate on one project. It’s really hard.

Does anyone else struggle in this way? Let me know in the comments!

The Autistic Panda

Signs I Was Autistic Before I Was Diagnosed

I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 15. This meant that I spent most of my childhood masking, getting bullied, and suffering with mental health problems. It was horrible but there are some obvious signs I was autistic, if you know what to look for.

I army crawled as a baby/toddler. Apparently, this is a sign of autism. I found out that a large number of autistics also army crawled. I was also late in hitting my milestones. My brother was late too, but it is a fact that boys are supposed to be later than girls. I was later than him. He was my older brother so my parents were wondering why I wasn’t hitting the milestones quicker, when I was supposed to be because I was a girl. I was very slow at learning stuff; in fact, I was slowly catching up to my peers my entire life. I think a few extra years at school and I would have excelled. I just needed longer to process information. Once I had finally processed something, I could do well at it.

I hated people looking at me. It is a known fact that some autistic people dislike eye contact. However, for me, my reasons for disliking eye contact are more to do with the other person. When they look at me too long, it freaks me out. I have always struggled with eye contact, and this is why.

I was different. This might seem like an obvious one, but it’s important to note. I did not get on with my peers, they did not like me. I was seen as a know-it-all because I put up my hand at every chance I could. The teachers didn’t like me much either. Once I had developed social anxiety, I stopped putting my hand up. I was a bit of a perfectionist — still am, and I hated being wrong. I put up my hand to prove to myself that I knew the answers and my self-esteem would get lower when I got the answer wrong. I felt like I was stupid, even though I wasn’t to know every answer. I was a kid; I was learning. I didn’t need to know everything.

I hated standing up in class and doing speeches. Although I could put my hand up, I felt like it wasn’t as a big a deal as when everyone has to pay you attention when you do a speech. I stuttered, would look at the back wall instead of the people I was talking to, and would have anxious thoughts. It was horrible. Though, anyone with social anxiety would have been the same. This is not necessarily an autism trait, as it is an anxiety trait.

I cried a lot. I was a sensitive child who would cry when a teacher told me off because I tried so hard and yet they still told me off. I felt like I could do nothing right. It was a known fact that teachers did not like me. In fact, one teacher even called me whingy for crying in class. I struggled so hard because I tried to get everyone to like me but no one did. Not even the teachers.

I masked and mimicked. I picked up on others behaviour and copied them. However, they picked up on this and still didn’t like me. They still saw me as weird, no matter how much I tried to fit in.

I would have meltdowns when I got home from school. We didn’t know I was autistic at the time, but I would often come through the door and start screaming at my mum. This was because having meltdowns at school would have been branded as tantrums and I would have been told off; also, it would have made me less likable still. I had to mask. My mum also saw them as tantrums because I had not been diagnosed, but at least she was someone who would love me unconditionally. It was never her fault that she didn’t pick up on my autism. She was a parent who knew nothing of autism. I always felt like it was the school’s responsibility to pick up on stuff like that.

There was another kid in my class who had autism and wasn’t diagnosed at that school, because they really did not pick up on stuff. I even saw an occupational therapist and educational psychologist for my dyspraxia (also not picked up on by school; my mum was the one who picked up on both, after she was diagnosed with dyspraxia and my cousin was diagnosed with autism) and she did not pick up on it either. I did not expect the school to know everything about autism, but to at least spot some of the signs and refer a child for an assessment. It means something when a parent, who knows nothing about autism, is the first one to suggest there might be something wrong.

I hated parties. Often, I would have to attend family parties and I would sit in an awkward place by myself, struggling to talk to anyone. I would always leave early with my mum (she didn’t like parties much either). I do like parties, if they’re small and not the type of parties that are full of extroverts. Don’t get me wrong; extroverts can be nice and all, but if the party is full of them, it gets very overwhelming. They also struggle to understand my need for alone time because being around people gives them energy. I know a lot of extroverts and I just don’t know how to interact with most of them.

I had mental health problems at a really young age. This is often a sign that something isn’t right with a child because you never expect young children to be depressed. They’re supposed to be happy and excited about life. When they aren’t, it can be a sign there’s something wrong in their life. Whether that’s because they are being bullied, have a tough home life, or are trying to fit in when they have an undiagnosed condition, they all need support. I had a stable home life as a kid; I could not have asked for more supportive parents. However, I was bullied and did have an undiagnosed condition, which led to symptoms of anxiety and depression from as young as 8. It kept building up until it got really bad when I was 12 and I transferred schools at 13 because of it. Like that would resolve all my problems. It certainly helped with the bullying, but it didn’t help with my undiagnosed autism. I was still depressed and I didn’t understand why. I had friends now. I was still struggling to fit in but there were people who made sure I did. Boys were still mean but several girls protected me by being my friend. Boys could make mean comments, but I had friends now so it didn’t matter as much. Yet I still hated myself. I was put in groups for girls who suffered with mental health problems and self-esteem issues. People were trying to improve my self-esteem but the damage was done. I hated myself. Then, when I got my diagnosis, everything clicked into place. I still struggle with my self-esteem today, but at least I know why I didn’t fit in.

It is really hard being in school as an undiagnosed child. Everything you do wrong is criticised, despite there being a very blatant reason why. I didn’t have tantrums. I had meltdowns. I wasn’t a bad kid. I was disorganised, both in my brain and in life. With a little more understanding and patience, I think my mental health would not have gotten so bad. With a little more knowledge of autism in the world, and an earlier diagnosis, I didn’t have to suffer. But I did. I have heard stories of other females who were diagnosed late and the mental struggles that they went through. It really upsets me, thinking about it. It doesn’t need to be this way. With more education in schools of atypical autism symptoms (aka symptoms that aren’t as obvious), kids can have the relief that an early diagnosis brings. Their families can too, instead of worrying about them all the time.

These are just some of the symptoms that I had as an undiagnosed autistic child.

Thank you for reading,

The Autistic Panda