Growing Up Without An Autism Diagnosis: Self-Esteem Issues
Something I’ve learnt more and more about since getting more involved with the autism community is that late diagnosis’ aren’t uncommon. I’m a part of this—diagnosed three days after my seventeenth birthday, much later than the average diagnosis age of 5 in the UK. This meant I went through the majority of my childhood without a label which could’ve explained many of the behaviours I exhibit on a daily basis.
I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post about growing up without an autism diagnosis for a while now, especially after writing about how my autism diagnosis had made a difference a year after I was diagnosed. It wasn’t long after I started writing it, however, when I realized that I had a lot to say, and condensing everything into one blog post wasn’t going to work.
Instead, I decided to make this into a series, “Growing Up Without An Autism Diagnosis”. In this series, I plan to talk about certain aspects of my life were influenced by not having a diagnosis. I have a few different ideas for things I want to talk about, but if you have any questions about this topic, be sure to leave them in the comments below.
So, without further ado, let’s get onto this week’s topic, and the first in this series: self-esteem issues.
I’ve always had problems with my self-esteem. As a child, I found it extremely difficult to be proud of myself—especially without prompting—and found it hard to admit when I was good at something. School reports throughout my education always had a section for improvements, and in that, I was guaranteed to read a comment about my self-esteem or confidence.
I admit, not all of this can be attributed down to not being diagnosed with autism, but it definitely didn’t help when I was shouted at or mocked in front of other students for behaviour I didn’t feel I could help.
Year two, when I was seven, was a particularly bad year for this, and was probably the time when my self-esteem hit its lowest point. There were several memories that I can remember like they happened yesterday, even though they occurred eleven years ago. Honestly, looking back, it’s a wonder that people thought I was a disruptive kid as opposed to someone who had a problem that might be worth looking into.
One of these memories I have from that time occurred in a fruit taster session. I’ve always had a limited diet because sensory reasons, so the thought of eating anything unfamiliar filled me with worry. Eventually, after a lot of coaxing and teachers telling me ‘not to be stupid’, I picked up this green fruit with slimy, green skin. I don’t remember how it tasted, but I remember gagging and running straight to the bin to spit it out, before being told off for refusing to continue afterwards. I was so embarrassed after, when teachers told me off for refusing to try anything else, and used me as an example to the other students. I didn’t understand why others weren’t having the same troubles I had with food, and didn’t seem fazed when they didn’t like something.
I also remember getting distressed a lot in the classroom during the year, to the point where I’d often have to be removed from the main classroom to calm down. I now recognise these as meltdowns, which nowadays I try and be alone for, but that wasn’t an option then. When the teacher mocked me to the other children, it did nothing but make me feel even worse about myself.
For someone who was constantly trying to please others and hated the idea of upsetting them and getting told off, things like this definitely contributed to my lowered self-esteem. When I felt like I wasn’t in control of the way I was acting, or couldn’t help but do certain things, I began to view myself as the problem.
It was around this time when I started analysing my behaviour in the classroom when I got home from school, and tried to put strategies in place to change things. When I couldn’t think or anything, or when these strategies didn’t work out, I became even angrier at myself, with no understanding that I wasn’t a bad person because I acted slightly differently than other children my age.
By the time secondary school came around, I had no self-esteem at all. At the same time, I’d practically perfected my mimicking abilities, and would copy the social behaviours of my peers in order to behave as normal as possible. It wasn’t fool proof—there were still moments when I couldn’t help but give my friends a lot of information about something they weren’t interested in, or slipped up with a social rule and ended up offending someone—but for the most part, it worked.
I think you naturally start to compare yourself to others around this age, anyway, so that’s what I did. I’d been doing it for years already, but it reached a new level when I reached 12/13 years old. I would pick up on every little thing that differed between me and my peers, and I would scrutinise myself about it constantly, until I’d picked my personality into little pieces. It was a practice which saw me through to the end of my secondary education.
I wouldn’t say that I don’t still compare myself to others now that I have a diagnosis. I’m eighteen, and I regularly get frustrated that I can’t handle a job on top of full time education like a lot of my peers, and I don’t feel like learning to drive would be a safe decision. I get frustrated that a lot of my friends don’t appear to have the same communication difficulties that I do; that they don’t get flustered about having to make a phone call, and don’t have to rehearse what they want to say several times before it leaves their mouth.
Now, however, I have a reason for why I’m not as good at these things as others. I’m also better at some things than other people are—like remembering things from a long time ago (although my short term memory leaves a lot to be desired), and can provide complicated facts about certain subjects with ease.
It isn’t always easy, but I’m a lot kinder on myself these days, and I know it’s not as easy to ‘fix’ things in order to fit in with society. I don’t always show it, but I believe my autism diagnosis gave me the answers I needed in order to start growing my self-esteem again. Don’t get me wrong, self-esteem is a process, and something which varies from one day to the next, but it exists, and that’s more than I could’ve said before my diagnosis.
Thank you for reading, and until next time,