South Shore Breaker

One year after an autism diagnosis

- REBECCA DINGWELL @Bdingz Rebecca Dingwell is a freelance writer and editor based in Halifax, N.S. A self-proclaimed nerd and horse girl, she is learning to navigate her life through new eyes after being diagnosed as autistic. Re

By the time these words are printed, a year will have passed since a psychologi­st sat across from me and said, “I’m making a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.”

The diagnosis changed some things — admittedly, though, not as much as I first imagined.

While people are interested to hear about my experience­s (aside from writing, I’ve had interview opportunit­ies as well), the interest is mainly from outside parties. People who aren’t in my life. When it comes to those I interact with regularly, few folks bring up autism or ask about it.

In some ways, this might be a blessing: I’ve heard and read stories about other autistic people fielding invasive questions and “advice” postdiagno­sis.

Parents of young autistic children get this, too, and are sometimes even blamed (subtly and not-so-subtly) for their child’s disability.

So, while there’s been little outside affirmatio­n, no one has suggested that dairy or flu shots are to blame for my autism.

No one’s asked if I would consider trying a juice cleanse. Not to my face, anyway. But I’ve still had to find inner affirmatio­n. Much of this comes from reading: books, blogs and even Twitter.

Although social media has its pitfalls, I have discovered and “met” fellow autistic writers who have been diagnosed for longer than I.

For a year, I have been reading everything I can about autism and other forms of neurodiver­gency. I expected I would be well-versed and confident in the way I talk about autism by now

— at least I thought I would fully understand my own autism.

On the contrary, I might be less certain than I was before. My questions have doubled, and my curiosity has only increased. Issues I once felt were black-and-white now appear nuanced.

In addition to the anniversar­y of my diagnosis, I turned 29 this month. My birthday often brings a mix of regret and anxiety to the forefront of my mind, and I feel those same emotions this year.

However, I have also been reflecting on the importance of aging. It has an added meaning to me now, having learned the average lifespan of an autistic person is estimated to be significan­tly younger than allistic (nonautisti­c) people.

The average age of death varies study to study (Sarah Kurchak wrote about this at length for the online publicatio­n Vox). One factor may be that autistic people are more likely to have conditions such as epilepsy and depression. Suicide is prevalent among autistic adults; especially autistic women like me. Although I don’t have epilepsy, I do have severe depression.

I try to remind myself that, with the challenges I’ve faced, simply living is meaningful — even if I haven’t accomplish­ed as many things as I would like.

As I go into my 30th year, I look forward to what I will learn next.

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