By Jessica Costa
The terms diagnosis and disability have followed me before I became aware of their presence. It was obvious that I did not think like my classmates. I asked my parents why I could not connect to them. They consistently answered that my brain was wired differently each time . I did not realize how accurate their description was. I was unaware that they knew about my diagnosis long before I found out. This information left me with a mixed bag of emotions to sort through over the years. Acceptance came gradually as I gradually confronted some painful memories.
As a young girl, I was aware that I did not fit in with the kids in my grades. For a long time, I thought that there was something wrong with me. I could not build the same connections with my classmates like they did with each other. The sense of wrongness haunted me for several years. I was unaware that there was an explanation for my struggles. The lack of awareness created a sense of isolation between myself and my classmates. This feeling got heavier as I was also frequently bullied by those same classmates.
Each year my frustration about that grew. It wasn't until freshman year of high school that I spoke to my doctor about some of my difficulties interacting with kids my age. She suggested I look into researching the autistic spectrum, which began my research. In the beginning, I believed that I had ADHD. When I talked to my mom about it, she recommended researching Asperger's Syndrome. As I started to read more about it, several of my fears were settled. However, I was weighed down by the numerous new questions that developed.
When my parents confirmed my suspicions of the diagnosis, I remember the sense of relief that flooded my body. I was not a 'broken' person. I just had a condition that made certain things harder. Most importantly, I was not alone -there were others out there who had similar struggles to mine. It gave me hope.
After the relief passed, I was swamped with a new sense of uncertainty. The information had left me with questions about my future and my identity. Am I defined by my diagnosis or by my actions? What kind of actions does it influence? How much control over myself do I really have? What did this mean for my future? Would I be able to survive outside of the school environment? How much does my diagnosis define myself and my actions? At 24 years old, after all these years, these questions still pop up despite my acceptance. However, they don't intimidate me as much. I have accepted the fact that I may never find the answer to these questions. Uncertainty will always be a part of life with or without my Asperger's.
Acceptance was difficult to come to for a long time. At first, the acceptance of my diagnosis as a term was relatively easy. The idea of my brain being differently wired than my classmates helped me understand that I could learn to be better. My time in college further challenged my view point on my diagnosis. It was harder to learn how to accept what the diagnosis meant personally. I had a harder time accepting my own flaws which may or may not be influenced from my diagnosis. It was a challenge to figure out the right way to feel about it.
After years of fretting, I realized that there is no right way to feel about the diagnosis. I have read what other autistic people have thought of their diagnoses. Some believe that it is something that they need to be cured of. It was a source of their suffering. Others, like myself, believe that Asperger's helped form us to be our own person. My diagnosis is a mixed bag. It has been a source of pain and strength. It has helped shape a big part of my identity but it does not define me.
My acceptance of my diagnosis does not stop the doubts from reappearing or that my struggles have magically gone away. I have learned better tactics to overcome some of my challenges. There will always be struggles, I did not grow out of my Asperger's. It is an aspect of me that will not change but I am not limited to my diagnosis. It may not change but I can still grow.