I find it fascinating looking back on my life. In the past I use to consider myself a very introverted person, shy, and very set in my own closed routines. I was also more of a thinker than a doer, a dreamer than a leader.
Being labeled as “depressed” and “autistic” in 7th grade may have been my starting point, the point where I confirmed these ideas to myself that this is who I was and who I was going to be. But even at the time I remember feeling I didn’t want to be labeled like this. I saw these labels before me with negative connotations, labels I needed to object and rebel from. I saw the stigmas of these labels becoming my reality, and it frightened me to the core. I have vivid memories from school where I actively refused to accept new accommodations. I was now being offered additional time on tests, opportunities to leave the classroom to “cool down”, and each one I simply said “No”. I felt I was being treated differently, being looked down upon, and not as someone who was equal anymore.
A lot has changed in me as well my perspectives since then, and I know at the time these labels were meant with good intentions, out of concern for my future and my personal well-being. Nevertheless, there was a greater focus on what I could not do versus what I could do, and I’m here to shine a light on that. When I tell people today they are very surprised when they hear I was diagnosed with autism. The most common response is “I never would’ve guessed!” It’s because I eventually decided I wasn’t going to live with these labels as my focus.
A few years ago I worked at a retail job as a cashier. One day a lady approached me at the register, and she started telling me that the items she was laying before me were for her son. She explained about having trouble bringing him into the store so she would bring the items home to him instead. She lastly noted he has autism so he struggles with big crowds and loud places. I know it’s not necessarily “ethical” to get too personal with customers, but in this moment I didn’t second-guess myself. I promptly shared with her I myself was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (high-functioning autism) back in middle school, and her face lit up with a big smile of surprise. We talked at great length, as much as we could before more customers approached the registers, and it ended with her telling me she really appreciated me sharing my story with her. We both left each other happy and grateful for the moment we got to share. I hope at that time I really got across my message to her, that autism isn’t a step back and that we (everyone) are capable of more than what any diagnosis or label will tell us. And while I have had quite a few, it hasn’t stopped me from doing the things that were once theorized I wouldn’t do.
One of my favorite speakers is a man named Les Brown, and as a kid he was diagnosed as educable mentally retarded. When he told one of his teachers that he couldn’t do a task because of his diagnosis, his teacher told him: “Don’t ever say that again! Someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.” I now see being diagnosed with autism as a description of my character traits, not as the definition of who I am or my greater potentials. I may still struggle in certain areas, but then again nobody is perfect. I now choose to embrace my imperfections, just as I hope others will do as well!
I wouldn’t be where I am now had it not been for all the people and experiences that have shaped me the past decade. Never would I have imagined I’d think or feel the way I do today. For all of this, I am forever grateful. I crave more of life each day: more connections, more traveling, more giving, more discoveries, and my journey has only just begun. I love where I am now, and I am excited for what will be happening in my future.
I was diagnosed with autism, but autism doesn’t have me.
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