Two years ago Vicky Whiting’s life changed when she finally received a diagnosis that explained her intense emotions – autism .
The 26-year-old said she’d never realised her behaviour – such as hating crunchy food to the point it makes her cry and collecting nail brushes – could mean she is on the spectrum.
Growing up, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
The feeling of a clothing label on her skin was enough to reduced her to tears.
Just the thought of being in a busy, crowded, shopping centre could leave her distraught, reports Manchester Evening News.
By the time she was 17, she had started to suspect she might be autistic but it was another eight years until Vicky was diagnosed.
Now she wants to let people know exactly what it is like living with autism, so others understand the everyday struggles of those with the condition.
“I don’t remember much from my childhood, but my mum remembers I had one friend in primary school and I thought that was normal. She also says I used to walk around the edge of the playground by myself a lot,” says Vicky, from Middleton, Rochdale.
“In primary school I was behind academically, which I didn’t put down to anything, I just thought I was bad at maths.
“Nothing stood out until I was about 17.
"My mum is a specialist teacher, she worked with kids with autism and she used to come home and say I was ticking all her boxes, and as I looked at it more, as I looked at what she was doing, I realised I fit some of those boxes.
“I like routine. If the routine is broken I get really stressed and angry and I can’t deal with that.
“I take things very literally.
“I don’t like crunchy food, so I don’t have cereal or anything like that, but I do like to eat ice cubes, which is quite strange since I don’t like things like cereal, but I find it really calming. Crisps I’m okay with.
“I usually get really angry and scream and shout. I can’t cope with it.
"If it’s clothes, I take them off straight away, or I’ll cry. I’ll cry a lot.
“I find that sometimes, my emotions are really intense.
“When I was younger I used to collect nail brushes, Boots made loads of different ones in different colours and I used to line them up.
“There were about three or four of us in a little group at school and I fitted in with them, but I didn’t fit in with everyone else.
“I didn’t realise, I just thought ‘those are my friends’ it didn’t bother me.
“I was quiet and shy growing up. Now, having the diagnosis looking back, I can see things that stand out.”
The first time Vicky went to her GP as a teenager, she was told that nothing was wrong.
“They printed off a questionnaire and said ‘do you have friends, can you socialise?’ and I said yes," she said.
“But she didn’t ask me how many friends I had, or what kind of things I go through. It was just ‘No. You’re fine.” Because on the surface, you appear fine.
“Then I saw a psychologist for something unrelated, and I had a list of all the things that I didn’t like – crunchy food, socks, labels on clothes.
"I read it to him and he told me he thought I could be autistic and to go back to the doctor.
“At that moment, I realised that someone actually thought this was possible.”
Vicky, who has launched blog Aspling, Girl on the Spectrum to raise awareness of autism, vividly remembers the feeling of relief she had when a different doctor finally confirmed her diagnosis.
“It was strange, I’d thought for so long ‘I hope I am’ just so I’d know.
“For someone to actually say it was such a relief. I knew it. But it’s nice to hear someone actually say it to you.
“Finally. I have all these problems and I know why. There’s a reason for it, the reason I am the way I am. It just made sense.
“I felt at peace, because I’d gone through the process and been told ‘no, you’re fine there’s nothing wrong with you’, but was still feeling there was something wrong.
“But finally, you can deal with that and get on with that and that’s just it.”
Despite finding many day-to-day situations overwhelming, Vicky has always been determined to achieve her goals.
She is married to husband Liam, a games design graduate who himself has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism.
The couple met through mutual friends when they were young teenagers, before either of them had a formal diagnosis, and have been together ever since.
Vicky is studying a degree in psychology at the University of Bolton, and is currently writing her dissertation on autism.
But being in an academic environment has not been without its challenges, particularly as it often requires her to work in a group, which she finds challenging.
“In my first year I was diagnosed with diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia," she said.
"My autism diagnosis was part way through the second year of uni.
“I found it really scary because the lecture hall is massive and the lectures are really intimidating, with lots of people.
“I find it takes me longer to process things, so I’ll have the lecture and then I’ll have to go away and read over it, just to let it sink in.
“I have a lecturer who specialises in autism. Having him there is really nice, because there was someone who understood.”
‘People think you’re aggressive’
Vicky says that sometimes, when she is anxious in certain situations, it can be incorrectly interpreted as rudeness or aggression by others, and she is keen to make people aware that this is not the case at all.
Liam said: “There’s a disconnect between your behaviours and other people’s interpretation of what you are doing, that leads to a lot of arguments and problems."
Vicky says she would also like the public to be kind if they see autistic people having a ‘meltdown’ – an intense emotional reaction to overwhelming situations.
While Liam says it doesn’t phase him if people see him having a meltdown in public, as he’ll never see them again, Vicky finds it difficult to be stared at if she’s struggling with a situation.
“A lot of people think, mainly for children, that they are just naughty and badly behaved. They don’t acknowledge that the child has autism,” she says.
“Another thing that bugs me is when people have meltdowns, people always stare at you. If someone’s having a meltdown, you don’t want people staring at you.
“You need to understand that it’s out of their control and you just sort of explode. To have someone stare at you isn’t very nice.
“I think people should accept it.
"We have this thing, we live with it and for me it’s normal now, but if someone else sees me, they’ll think ‘you’re really weird’. I might be weird, but I’m autistic, that’s just what it is.”
The couple are also keen to stress that autism does not affect everyone in the same way.
They have different feelings about being in crowds. While Vicky can’t stand it, Liam finds it beneficial.
“I like being surrounded by people, it’s anonymising, he said.
"I’m just part of the crowd and not an individual at that point, I can hide myself within all the people.
“The only time I don’t have to hide is when I’m surrounded by people. If I’m on a more individual basis, I feel the need to cover bits of myself."
Vicky is keen to help people see past any assumptions they might have about autism, and says anyone who has any questions is welcome to ask her about it.
“People, when you say autism, think you are stupid.
"They see children who are nonverbal, or can’t function as well and assume if you have autism, you’re stupid, if you have Aspergers, you’re superhuman.
“If people don’t understand, they should just ask.
"A lot of people just presume things. We’re not horrible people, if you ask us we will tell you. If you talk to me, you’ll see I’m not being aggressive. You’re allowed to come and ask, we’d prefer that,” says Vicky.
Liam, meanwhile, adds: “Just because I do something weird, it does not mean it’s because I have Aspergers. It’s not because I’m autistic that I’m a bit odd. Not every single thing I do is defined by the fact that I have Aspergers.
“I am still a person, I have all the rest of the stuff that goes along with being a person, and I just also have this.”
What is autism?
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others, according to the National Autistic Society.
Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people.
If you are autistic, you are autistic for life; autism is not an illness or disease and cannot be ‘cured’. Often people feel being autistic is a fundamental aspect of their identity.
Autism is a spectrum condition.
All autistic people share certain difficulties, but being autistic will affect them in different ways.
Some autistic people also have learning disabilities, mental health issues or other conditions, meaning people need different levels of support.
All people on the autism spectrum learn and develop. With the right sort of support, all can be helped to live a more fulfilling life of their own choosing.
For more information about autism see autism.org.uk .
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