I believe in myself… finally.
It hasn’t always been this way.
Life was this strange existence that I could never quite figure a way to get through. Well, that was to the outside world around me.
Life in my own world made perfect sense — especially as a young girl — but that changed as the years went by, and self-doubt began to creep in.
I have blundered my way through most of my life until I learnt about autism back in 2008, leading to my diagnosis in 2009.
That day, March 3rd, was the best day of my life.
It was a stepping stone to finally accepting me for who I am, and to embark on a journey to find my true self.
Putting back together the missing and hidden parts of me that had been lost and buried under the layers of chameleon masks, took an enormous amount of effort. The years of pretending to be someone else in anticipation of the world accepting me as one of them, had taken its toll.
I had been broken from painful moments in time, lost in the ocean of despair of never believing that anyone would truly understand me, and the loneliness that had crept in from the lost friendships, where I could never understand the dynamics.
The constant pretending and trying and fit into a world that was not designed for me, was actually causing me more harm than good.
Heading towards 40 years on this planet, I had resigned myself to being an outsider, a loner and lost.
The first night I saw the words Asperger syndrome and autism spectrum on my computer screen, have never left my memory. That night had an enormous impact, and my life changed forever, since that moment.
As I sit here, writing my thoughts, my mind is replaying those moments, like a movie, captured and frozen in time. That moment, to this day, is still as vivid and as powerful as the first time I saw those words on my computer screen.
I had an answer and a meaning to my existence. I wasn’t broken, I was just neurologically different.
Finally I could stop hurting and blaming myself for not fitting in.
I didn’t need to fit in, I just needed to find my people, my tribe. And that I did.
My autistic tribe was always there, waiting to embrace me for who I was; I just had to find them.
That very first life changing day set me on a path of learning about who I was and where did I belong.
Researching is certainly high on the list for most of us autistic folk, and I certainly do this with a ferocious passion.
I can never seem to get enough information to fill this brain of mine, and now, researching autism was my priority. And in no time, I had thrown myself into the information filled pages upon my computer screen, and soaked up every word I read like a sponge.
Little by little I made connections with other people like me. I had so many questions and we all shared a common theme. We connected in a way I had never known with the non-autistic community. There was no need for padded out, flowery conversations. We all wanted information, understanding, support, validity of who we are, but most of all, we accepted each other without judgement.
I felt like I was finally home.
So for autistic pride day, this day is not just about celebrating me, but for celebrating all the people in my tribe and for finding you.
It has been 12 years now since discovering who I am, and these past years, have been some of the most fulfilling and self-accepting years of my life.
No longer do I feel isolated and alone, no longer do I feel an outsider. I feel accepted and respected for the person I am, because of my tribe.
To all my fellow autistics… thank you for waiting for me to find you.
And to the future autistics on their path of self-discovery, I wait with my tribe, ready to welcome and embrace you into a world where you can truly, and unashamedly, be you.
About Barb Cook, M.Aut. (Edu), Dip.HSc. (Nut)
Barb is a registered Developmental Educator, Deputy Chair of the Developmental Educators Australia Incorporated (DEAI), and an Autism and Neurodiversity Employment Consultant and Life Coach for neurodivergent adults (ADHD, autism and dyslexia). Barb holds a Master of Autism (education) degree with focus on employment from the University of Wollongong, where she is also a researcher and co-project lead in the area of self-determination and self-advocacy for adults on the autism spectrum.
Barb has extensive experience in working with adults on the autism spectrum and ADHD, in creating pathways in attaining life goals in the areas of self-determination and self-advocacy, education, employment, health and interpersonal relationships.
Barb is founder of the Neurodiversity Hub in Gympie Queensland, a space providing allied health services for neurodivergent people, including one-on-one support, therapeutic groups, workshops and presentations and an informal space to meet.
Barb is Director and Founder of NeuroEmploy Pty Ltd, a company providing a variety of neurodiversity specific educational and training programs for neurodivergent individuals, workplace staff, management and businesses.
Barb is founder of Spectrum Women Magazine and editor and co-author of the internationally acclaimed book, Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism. Barb is a prolific writer on neurodivergence and employment and is published in academic research.
Barb is a highly sought after international speaker and presents on a variety of topics related to autism, ADHD and Neurodiversity.
Barb identifies as neurodivergent, being diagnosed mid-life with Autism, ADHD and dyslexia in 2009, and promotes a strength-based and person-centred approach in her life and work.
Barb is a passionate motorcyclist, and enjoys riding the love of her life, Ron Strom Burgundy, a Suzuki VStrom DL1000, who assists her with good self-care and an effective anxiety reducing and depression busting practice.
For more information on Barb and her work click HERE.