Would I change my past?
Since starting to write blogs, over a year ago now, and being open and honest about being autistic, I have had many conversations with many people, and one question that I have heard a few times now is ‘do I wish I’d been diagnosed sooner?’
There are various ways this question has been posed to me, ranging from ‘do you wish it was picked up earlier’ to ‘would you change anything about your childhood’. For those of you who haven’t read my first blog post (which is basically a potted history of my life thus far), I received my autism diagnosis almost two years ago, but myself and my family had come to the conclusion about ten years ago, following my youngest brother’s diagnosis. I’ve known/suspected I was autistic since I was in my early/mid-twenties.
Knowing I was autistic any earlier would have had the biggest impact on my childhood and adolescence. My mam has asked me if I wish we’d known about me sooner, if I felt that I had missed out on support and opportunities. My response to her has always been twofold: Firstly, I’m not doing so bad for myself all things considered; I have a job, a house, and a car, I live independently, I have friends (possible not as many as she might want me to have, but I assure you it’s quality over quantity), and while my life might not be sunshine and rainbows all of the time, I’m not exactly trekking to Mount Doom all the time either.
Secondly, if I was to hop in a DeLorean, disguise myself as a primary school teacher, and push for the little social oddball version of me to go through the process of getting diagnosed with autism then I wouldn’t be who I am today (thus creating a paradox and negating the need for me to figure out how to use a flux capacitor and play dress up in the first place). There are probably hundreds of instances, both big and small, where having an autism diagnosis would have made things different, maybe even easier; I know I would have benefited hugely during secondary school from the sense of self-acceptance and understanding that the diagnosis gave me as an adult, I might not have tried (and failed) to fit in so hard, and gotten frustrated every time I thought I had done something right only to be confronted with the harsh reality of other teenagers telling me I was wrong.
Actually what other teenagers called me was more along the lines of freak, weirdo, loser, and lame (ahh, hello lack of self-esteem, it’s been a while since you reared your head; pull up a chair). But the pessimist in me also knows that for every positive that might have happened with an earlier diagnosis, there would have been something negative.
Being labelled autistic, would younger me have tried so hard to develop the social skills and coping strategies that I am currently armed with, would other people around me have limited options that were open to me because of what they thought my limitations were, would I have limited my goals, expectations and aspirations based on what I thought autism was? As it stands, I am very aware of the negative side of being autistic, I know the limitations it can put on a person.
But because I was allowed to grow up without that knowledge, because I developed almost straight through to adulthood without a label, I have a tendency to ignore those limitations. Yes, I am autistic, and a big part of my autism is a dislike of groups of people, particularly if I have to single myself out and speak to them. It would be very easy for me to sit back and go ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that because I’m autistic’. Instead, I take a deep breath, grab my fidget cube, and stand up in front of people to talk. The limitation is still there, and I have to take time and space afterwards to decompress and re-calibrate, but I can do it.
I would rather push myself to try to do something and see how far I get, rather than use being autistic as an excuse not to try. I seem to have gone on a bit of a tangent there, but hopefully it illustrates the point I’m trying to make. You could hand me the keys to the DeLorean, and while there’s many things I’d like to go back in time and see, I would not change my history, not one second of it, because all the good things and the bad, all the struggles and the triumphs, live inside of me still and make me exactly the person I am today.