An interview with a teen-aged girl with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
What does Autism mean to you?
It’s something you’re born with and it affects your ability to communicate socially. It’s a condition that varies depending on the person. It’s something people want to get rid of, but it’s not as bad as people make it out to be. Sometimes having autism can have benefits - you might be really good at something.
What things did you find hard at school?
Being surrounded by people all the time. I felt like people were mean to me because I was more vulnerable than other students. I felt like I was being singled out and picked on by other students who found me naïve and an easy target.
I found it hard to keep up with the pace of lessons and to process lots of information at once. Sometimes I felt overwhelmed and wanted time out. I felt like teachers would ask me lots of questions because they thought I wasn’t focusing. When they asked me questions, everyone’s attention was brought to me and I felt really uncomfortable.
I didn’t enjoy school at all, particularly secondary school.
Is there anything people around you could do to make things easier for you in school/college?
I’d like to have more 1:1 sessions with my course tutor or learning support - it helps me to have time to talk about issues I have, or things I’m worried about. I’d like my tutors to check up on me a bit more and help me to understand things if I didn’t get it the first time. It’s hard to learn a lot of new information at once. It’s better if we do things in parts - listen a bit then try it out, then learn the next bit etc. It’s hard when they give all the information at once and then say ‘go do it!’ I can’t remember everything they said.
Do you find social situations difficult? Why?
I find it difficult to be social. I even struggle to send a first message to someone online. I worry that they might not like me. That’s something I feel all the time, because I’ve lost so many friends and I don’t know why. I feel paranoid that other people won’t like me either. It puts me in a mindset that I can’t have any friends. That’s why I find it hard to be social.
Other people have vastly different interests to me and I find it hard to talk about stuff I don’t like or have never heard of. I feel like I have to force saying ‘yeah that’s interesting’ when I don’t really mean it.
When I chat to people online it’s easier because I can just focus on the written message and not all the eye contact, body language and joining in the group. I’ve got time to think about what I say. Doing all that in person is too much for me to process.
What kinds of things really wind you up?
When I’m given too much information in a short space of time. And when teachers force me into social situations (like for group work). I don’t like it when everyone focuses their attention on me.
I don’t like loud and sudden noises, like balloons popping, or people laughing and shouting when they’re in a group. I hate clothes shopping - it’s boring and it takes too long.
It’s annoying when I’m in a group and all they talk about is clothes and football. I’d rather talk about my own interests. I don’t mean to be selfish, but it’s just something that’s easier for me to talk about.
What helps to calm you down?
I love white noise - I have a fan machine and I play it whenever I’m in my room. I sleep with it on. I also have an actual fan running all the time too. I don’t like silence, it makes a room feel unsettling.
I like chatting to friends online, listening to music, playing video games and drawing. My favourite place to be is my room - it’s my territory!
How do you feel about eye contact?
I find it difficult, because I find it uncomfortable to look in someone’s eyes for a prolonged amount of time. That’s something you do when you’re in love with someone.
Do you have any special interests?
I love drawing, playing video games and collecting. When I was younger I collected things like shells, plastic toys (e.g. Gogo’s Crazy Bones), and Pokemon card s- actually I still collect Pokemon cards now. I have hundreds and hundreds of them. I love my cats and I love to cuddle them. I always ask where they are and what they’re doing - it reassures me to know.
Does having ASD make you better at certain things?
It helps me focus on the things I enjoy which helps me become good at those things, such as drawing and gaming.
What things are you proud of?
One thing I’m really proud of is collecting every Pokemon that exists in the video games - all 807 of them. I have them all organised into groups by number and the in-game island they’re found in.
I’m also proud of the Young Writers award I got in secondary school - I didn’t think I’d ever get an award.
What do you think other people should know about having ASD?
It’s not as bad as people think. People with autism can feel like there’s something wrong with them, because some people think it must be prevented or fixed. It’s part of your personality. If you were ‘fixed’ then you wouldn’t be you anymore. I don’t want to feel bad about myself, I just want to be me.