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My Journey – by George Sumner

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My name is George Sumner. I was diagnosed as an autist during lockdown 2020. I am 21 years old.

First and foremost, I would like to remind everyone that autism is a spectrum of diversity, like all life.

It is kind of like a puzzle and I am just one piece, or one star in the sky out of an entire universe. This is what makes us all unique, neurotypical or neuro diverse. Though in a world where each star has totally different traits, I would question anyone being neurotypical. I will leave that thought for you to consider.

However, I think it is very important that everyone on the autistic spectrum speaks out, if they can, about their experience. As an autist, it is crucial to give people a broader picture of autism and in doing that, we might just figure out the answer to the aforementioned question. This is my story.

Although undiagnosed, my parents knew when I was young that I was an autist and although I didn’t have a name for what I was feeling, I sensed very early on that I was different from everyone else around me. I felt that I was seeing, hearing and feeling everything so differently to my friends, I felt isolated. I discovered that more mature, adult conversation was easier to deal with.

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Not knowing what was causing my feelings and emotions was extremely confusing. I was at times extraordinarily irritated, frustrated, and angry. I know now that these times were what are known as meltdowns, for want of a better word.

But they were real and necessary, not always appropriate in the situation but for me a way of reaching into myself to let out all the fear and anger deep inside.

I had no control over these moments, but I know I needed them to happen and they felt good. Although out of control, I enjoyed the freedom of letting myself go rather than the constant pain of keeping myself in the prison of masking what I was truly feeling.

Because I was also extremely articulate, as I got older, I was able to talk to my parents about how I was feeling but since the lack of support and the unwillingness of schools, then and now and particularly in the primary sector, getting a diagnosis was not on the cards for me.

Later, Yr. 5 in primary school, I was diagnosed as having dyscalculia and I had the support of wonderful teachers and TA’s which made a huge difference.

As this was in the early days of knowing about dyscalculia, no formal diagnosis was available and so moving on to High School, although I was given a few short hours of extra support, I floundered in maths.

As a small child some of my antics were, in retrospect, sometimes actually dangerous and sometimes just downright hilarious. All, though, were born out of my desperation to be heard as me.

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I remember the deep feeling of sheer fury at the way I was spoken to early on in my primary education when I knew that I was being treated as someone “less than” the others in my cohort, remember I was only 4 and I was already so aware that THEY were treating me differently.

One day I was told that I was sitting at the table for the “dunces” and another time that I would “fail in life.” All this was said to me, a boy who understood exactly what was being inferred, that I was “stupid”.

Well I proved them wrong. Mum, who has always had a great range of friends, happened to know a psychologist.  Not one who specialized in autism but who found me interesting and had known since I was a baby so had watched me develop and grow from a distance. After a few get togethers she made it clear that I was in fact “gifted and talented”, not sure about that.

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Things started to change for me, although still without a diagnosis my confidence was growing although I still found many things so hard to understand.

I took everything very literally which again was often the cause of laughter within the family but outside I would get strange looks, always I was confused. I couldn’t understand why people found me funny when I was so serious about life and my visions.

As a result of the lack of understanding, it added to my frustration as I was very misunderstood and I felt that because they didn’t understand me I was always being held back and made to feel like there was something wrong with me. This drives you insane after a bit as the constant being made to feel like you are stupid or that you don’t know what you are talking about, eventually takes its toll.

Sadly, this resulted in me having a lot of difficulty with confidence and personality acceptance down the line, I now struggle with severe anxiety and I feel still to this day very internally frustrated.

It is like being in an asylum where you are the sane one and everyone else around you is making you feel mentally ill as I question every action of my own.  I took up golf, joined our local athletics club and when I was 12, I joined a theatre academy. I had always been a performer and always believed without any doubt that I could do anything that I wanted to do.

So, it had come as a shock when I picked up an electric guitar and discovered that instead of immediately being the great rock performer that I believed I was, I couldn’t put a tune together. Oh, the pain!

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There were many things that I believed that I could do over the years, was convinced that I could do, but repeatedly I was disappointed. I could though make people laugh and I could act. I was a fast runner and I collected everything, books (which I never read but liked the idea of having) about the stars, gemstones, fossils all in specially labelled boxes and categories.

Every TV programme I loved I had to absorb myself in. I collected the toys, the outfits, the games, I had to have them. I knew and still know the lines of some of my most watched films and programmes, mainly because I watched them repeatedly. My obsessions were many and so important to me. I lived my life, still do, in a strange world that was/is mine BUT all the time trying so very hard to just be like everyone else.

The energy and the sheer hard work that I use up every day especially when outside my home, is immense and exhausting. I constantly feel that people can see through me. I am always exceptionally nervous of just being myself. Although most people who know me or who first meet me would not know it, I am an electric bundle of social anxiety. But when I stand up and can be someone else and perform, I am free.

I am a hard worker and always give 100% but I need clear instruction, and I will ask questions to make sure that I have understood what is needed. I prefer to work alone but I can and do work in teams. I left School with 5 GCSEs, not including maths, but I was so proud of what I achieved. I performed in school productions and came out with an A* in Drama. I love being in the outdoors and have conquered Monros in Scotland and the Pennine way a few times.

I have been snowboarding and sailed around the south coast of England. I can kayak and canoe. I can, but don’t, like mountain climbing but I can coasteer and via-farater which is using ropes to traverse cliffs (sideways). I love playing drums and have performed in a pub gig, I also play the guitar although to be honest, I need to work on it! I am going to get better at surfing and stand up paddle boarding and try lots of new things too. And I am a qualified Adventure Sport Instructor.

But despite all this there is a person inside who is anxious, nervous, always watching others and someone who works hard every minute of the day just to be. I must focus very hard on everything that I do, and in all situations. Life is a constant mix of fear, confusion, feelings, and noise.

One of the things that, during my own research, I found is that I am incredibly empathetic to a point where I absorb the feelings of others and it can be confusing, deep, and frightening. Mum used to say to me, “who are you being today George”. I also have strong INFP/T traits and INFJ/T traits which makes life all very interesting and rather up and down at times.

Deep thinking is my thing. I can function in the world but I long, more than anything else, for the world to try and include me, to make my path in the world less scary. I want people to understand that we are all unique and different and we all have our unique powers and strengths that together will make the world even better.

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