Autism Acceptance – Richard Stevens

 
When I was young, I used to stim when I was excited. There is a video of me as a little boy waving my hands and arms as the sea came to the shore where I was standing and I could not contain my excitement. Every time I got excited, my arms and hands would flap. I could get lost in television and not hear a conversation behind me. I could not wear certain clothes or touch any certain fabrics or even have my haircut without crying and causing a fuss which my parents usually had to deal with. But I didn’t know that I was autistic, and neither did my family. This was the late 80s/early 90s.
I don’t blame my parents for missing things that may have answered so many questions which got me finally diagnosed 30 years later. I don’t blame them because they weren’t aware that this was autism, not 30 years ago, neither did I. Before acceptance, comes awareness.
When my son was born in 2008, we began to be aware of how certain things upset him. He would cry when he had new toys, he didn’t like people around him like at birthday parties, he didn’t like loud noises and we started to ask questions. In 2008, there was more awareness of autism and we were blessed that he was diagnosed at two and a half, so he could get the support he needed through preschool, school, and social surroundings.
As my son got older, I started to question behaviours and patterns that I had seen in myself, years earlier. But I felt like a fraud to start questioning about autism as an adult. Was I just trying to tag on to his diagnosis, was I seeing things that were not even there?
I had also become very good at masking. I was a performer in social situations and once I was comfortable with a group of people I would become the life and soul of the party. But these behaviours themselves led to me being socially exhausted every 6 months and being diagnosed as depressed when I couldn’t pretend to smile anymore.
My wife, Zoe, saw me when I didn’t mask, and she had to deal with the frustrations I had at home and my constant questioning of why everyone else didn’t think like I did. I felt that I had to perform for others, but this just ended up causing me so much social exhaustion, I began to not function at home as I prepared to make sure the people who I worked for, and who worked for me didn’t see the other side, the quieter side of Richard.
After soul-searching and asking questions of the 35 years that I had been on the planet, I told my wife that I needed to speak to the doctor as I felt that I might be autistic. Zoe has always known, but she herself was too scared to suggest it, in case it upset me or caused me more anxiety. When I spoke to the doctor, I was expecting them to say that I was being silly and maybe it was the depression or a low mood, but she listened, and as I spoke, I began to relive my childhood to the GP. I was referred to Autism Bedfordshire, who told me that this would be a long process, and I know that others have waited longer than I did. But they were honest, and at this point, I knew myself that I could wait as long as it took, as it had taken me 35 years to find the answers within myself, so if I had to wait a few more, then I would do it, because I believed that I was autistic. I filled in the forms and waited for around 18 months before I had a consultation with a doctor, who confirmed my diagnosis in November last year, and now I talk about it because I accept it. I have spoken to my family, my friends and my work and I have been supported by every single person.
I accept that I am Richard, who I was from day one on this planet. I accept that I might need extra help with certain behaviours and ways that I am. I accept that I might need reasonable adjustments at work but I can still do a job. I accept that we have come a long way with autism and understanding it but we can always do more. I accept that I am who I am, and I will continue to raise awareness, encourage acceptance of autistic people and help support inclusion of all in work and schools.
When we accept who we are, we can make the changes that we need.

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