Diagnosis Story 17: A Sense of Identity

This week’s story comes from Catriona in Melbourne. She is a Joey Scout Leader who would like to become an advocate in the youth criminal justice system. “My perfect world is a place where Autism and all kinds of differences are accepted and understood.”

catriona and sharon-cropped.jpg
Me and my friend Sharon (I’m on the left!)

Catriona’s Story:

I grew up at a time in the 1980s when difference of any kind was not acknowledged or understood more swept under the carpet or worse still condemned by children and adults alike. Some people say things are for a reason and whilst I’m not religious as such I do believe that I was meant to be born different and consequently a warrior. I have been told I always possessed these skills even as a baby when I really wanted to walk but couldn’t and I simply kept trying and trying until I could do it. I always knew I was different but as I finished my university degree in my early 20s and began to enter the “real world” this difference felt even more apparent as I applied for job after job with little success. Someone I knew told me her mum worked with people who were Autistic or had Asperger’s syndrome (I didn’t really know what that was at the time) and she thought I might be Autistic too. At first I got very offended and thought ‘what are you talking about?’ but as a few days passed I thought ‘perhaps they had a point’. So that began my story to diagnosis which happened a few weeks later. I sought a diagnosis because to me I believe it is important for a person (if they are an adult) or a child to understand why they are as they are and that it’s ok to be different also to receive services if required. It also means a sense of identity for the person for them to be able to find their “people”.

For me personally it made a huge change in my life. Yeah sure it didn’t immediately change everything and I at that time (and still do) had then now diagnosed C-PTSD as a result of my un-diagnosis and the bullying as a result of being different. A sense of relief came over me I felt that now I understood myself better. With time, I came to realise that it was not wrong or bad; it was just a different way of viewing the world.

Autism makes me who I am and even if a hypothetical cure existed, I wouldn’t take it for this reason. It makes me who I am but it does also mean that life can be hard at times – there is increased social isolation, depression, c-ptsd and finding employment is difficult although today there exist many great organisations such as I CAN Network started by an individual on the autism spectrum for those on the autism spectrum (another great advantage of a formal diagnosis). It has positives and negatives for me and for many in my situation. Some of the benefits of autism are that I have an enquiring and analytical mind, that I am loyal, and that I have a wonderful memory.

I am currently a Joey Scout Leader with 1st Point Cook Scout Group with 5-7 year old girls and boys scouting is mixed gender for young people aged 5-26 years in scouting IK advocate for children on the autism spectrum. I was a Wyndham Queens Baton Bearer in 2018, and I play basketball for Altona Leopards.

We all need networks to support us and I am grateful for the one I have developed throughout my adult life. People with autism often struggle with social interaction and finding good friends who want good for you instead of, as sometimes happens, taking advantage of you or influencing you to do wrong. I count my friend Sharon as being central to my ‘I can’ network. I first met Sharon through scouting about 5 years ago, at the time I wasn’t to know she would turn out to be an extraordinary and influential woman in my life who inspires me and who I have much respect and admiration for.

Sharon has an understanding and respect for those on the autism spectrum that not all do. She likes me as me Catriona, aspie or no aspie. Sure, like all friendships we have had our ups and downs but that is par for the course, particularly with autism. Over time, we have got to know each other and today we are close friends with a lot in common. Not only is Sharon a friend but she is also a guide. I think all people in life need a guide, someone they can look up to and want to spend time with them.

My perfect world is a place where Autism and all kinds of differences are accepted and understood. I am currently looking to work in the youth/criminal justice system as an advocate for those on the autism spectrum and am available for public speaking. I produced two posters for the scout movement that have been very well received. I believe advocacy can help the up and coming generation in a way that mine did not get. You can get in contact with me at cajtyrrell@gmail.com if you are interested in working with me on this. I would certainly be very keen to work with you to help those on the spectrum before they end up in trouble. Those with disabilities particularly neurological and intellectual conditions are particularly vulnerable in a prison or justice environment and my aim is to help them to realise their potential before they end up in that situation. People on the spectrum are capable of so much yet often that potential goes unnoticed or worse still misused. As an advocate that is my aim, to help steer people in the right direction, to recognise that potential and to put it to good use.

In 2018 I believe that the time has come for autism acceptance, autism awareness was great in 2001 now it is time for the world to move into autism acceptance. This will not only help autistic people but the wider world also.


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