My story starts when I was about 4 years old. You see, I’ve always been one of those kids who is a little bit different; who operates in a manner that’s not like that of the others. This became apparent in preschool.
While the other kids were obediently listening to the teacher and following instructions, I was off in another world. They were learning their ABCs, and I was in the Little Tikes playhouse, doing my own thing. If they were working on a project, chances are that I was dashing to the carpet, doing cartwheels. My teacher expressed concern to my parents, and we were all sent to meet with a psychologist. I remember playing with toys as he spoke with my parents. After two or three appointments, the psychologist’s wife had a baby, and he never reconnected with my parents. It would become apparent as time went on that there were loose ends.
Next came kindergarten. I was still a free spirit, and my report card would read “Susan does what Susan wants to do.” I couldn’t be bothered with staying still. I had to constantly be engaged. In first grade, I found it easier to concentrate and began to follow directions, but not without a lot of difficulty. I managed to earn good grades, even so.
As elementary school went on, I tried to interact with the other kids, however something just seemed “off.” They’d laugh together, and then I’d join in, and get weird stares. I wasn’t into a lot of the same things they were. In fourth grade, while my peers were more concerned with fitting in, I was an unashamed Barney fan. The other kids sometimes thought I was odd. I got along well with them for the most part, however there was still something different about me. I sometimes did unusual things. I remember the following year, someone dropped a popsicle on the floor, and something compelled me to jump on it, smashing it. I acted on impulse.
Middle school began, and I noticed that a lot of the other girls started to change. They suddenly became interested in things like makeup, boys, clothes, and others’ perceptions of them. I didn’t have the slightest interest in any of these things, and didn’t wish to. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I still liked toys and my beloved video games…I have been a die hard Sonic fan since that first time I played it when I was 9. I was sometimes teased, but still had no shame in my game.
High school came around, and my interests were still mine. Other kids began dating and continued to be interested in things that I wasn’t. I noticed my friends suddenly acting and dressing differently than they did in the past, and wondered why. It was because they wanted to fit in, a concept I could not grasp. Why? I often worried my friends were going to leave me in the dust, because they were moving on to different things, and I was content with staying the same me I had always been. My OCD drove me to constantly ask their reassurance that this was not the case, and this probably only drove them away.
Now it was time for my first job at McDonald’s in my senior year. I enjoyed it, and got along with my co-workers, yet there was still some sort of disconnect. I was sometimes teased because I still wasn’t into boys or dating, and didn’t understand the perverted “humor” that was often thrown around. I worked there for a total of four years, between two restaurants.
I was also in college at the time. Rather than partying and drinking like some of my peers, I focused on school and just having fun in my own way, like going to the mall and the movies, and of course, playing video games. I started out as a biology education major, however after three years, learned that it was not my niche. I learned that I wanted to help people.
This started when I became best friends with someone who I had met when we were 9. We had later reunited in high school, and once she recognized me and I remembered her, we became tight shortly after. I think part of the reason we were drawn to each other is because she’s different, too. She explained to me that she had a mild intellectual disability, and anxiety. My best friend had a rough home life, and often looked to me for advice. I realized it felt good to lend an ear and try to make things better for her. I also learned I really liked working with people after many positive customer interactions at McDonald’s.
My best friend moved to a group home during the year after she graduated high school, and I hung out with her all the time at her new house. I learned that I would like a role similar to that of the staff at her house. Two years later, I got a job with the same agency that she was linked with, and left McDonald’s. I also decided to change my major to Social Work.
I loved working at the house I was assigned to. It just so happened to be two minutes from my house, and I met a bunch of wonderful people. They became like family to me. After graduating with my Bachelor of Social Work, I then worked for a group home with a mental health agency, and bounced to a few more agencies for those with developmental disabilities. I learned that I enjoyed working with both of these populations, as I found them to be comprised of very genuine and accepting people. Little did I know just how much I’d learn I had in common with them.
Now, I’ve had anxiety since just about day one, but I didn’t know a lot about it until working in mental health. I was 24, and I began to experience a shift in moods. Anxious one minute, then down the next. I also continued to struggle with following directions and keeping track of things. I decided to take matters into my own hands, and after an assessment, was diagnosed with ADHD. I shortly after began to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with OCD and anxiety. I started medications for these disorders, and noticed that things improved greatly. I was focused. My moods were stable.
About a year later, I acquired a position as a housing specialist for people with mental illness. Again, I really enjoyed working with the people whom I was assigned to. Life was going well. Despite my differences, I got along greatly with my co-workers, and my peeps, as I called them, accepted me with open arms. I didn’t think too much about my own issues, as I didn’t have any concerns, until I stumbled upon an article while looking for personal experiences to read online.
The article was by a girl around my age with Asperger’s Syndrome, who referred to herself as an “Aspie” for short. Now, I had heard of this syndrome just a few years back, but all I knew was that it was a form of autism, and that it sounded an awful lot like asparagus to me! As I continued to read, I began to see myself. The differences from my peers. My literal thinking. My sensory sensitivities…it all made sense. Could I be an Aspie, too? I decided to further investigate this.
After taking online questionnaires, doing a lot of research, and befriending and talking to the author of the article on Facebook, I had come to my conclusion: it was most likely I was on the autism spectrum. I tried raising my suspicions with my psychiatrist, however she dismissed them solely because I “looked her in the eye” and “engaged while talking.” I decided it was time for a second opinion.
A little while and new psychiatrist later, I learned that the same psychologist who had diagnosed me with ADHD also conducted autism assessments. I made an appointment, and the process began. After three interview-style appointments and a couple questionnaires completed by my parents and myself, I received the answer I was so desperately looking for: I was indeed autistic! On March 19th, 2014, at 11 days shy of 31 years old, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder Level I, or unofficially, Asperger’s. I was elated. I felt validation. I was kind of proud that I was right in my suspicions.
I decided to start a blog of my own, and for my first post, I decided to share my story. I copied and posted it as my Facebook status, and got an overwhelming amount of supportive responses. My family also had a better understanding of me. Things were going great!
I’m now an advocate. I’ve done a presentation about Asperger’s for the agency that runs the Aspie group I attend. I post my thoughts on Facebook and share articles with The Mighty. I’ve been contacted by other autistics or parents of autistics, who have seen my work and want to know more!
I have one thing to say and it is this: I’m proud of who I am, and if I weren’t autistic, I wouldn’t be me!
Sue Abramowski was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder on March 19, 2014. She lives with her parents in Buffalo, NY. Sue has a Bachelor’s in Social Work, and enjoys working with people who have mental illness and developmental disabilities. In her free time, she can be found playing Sonic the Hedgehog or tinkering with her Android devices!
My blog is: