Autism: My Diagnosis.

('She was a great psychologist but he didn't have the heart to tell her she was a terrible artist')

'To begin at the beginning', as local boy Dylan Thomas said, is a very complicated task. I won't list all the ways I met diagnostic criteria, I won't bore you with why I mentioned autism to my GP. But what I will do, what I think is far more needed in the world right now, is to tell you of my uplifting and emancipating diagnosis of autism.

I'd heard Dr K (Kerine) Robertson was a revolutionary, a positive thinker and an anti-ableist force to be reckoned with. Having listened intently to my sister-in-law's diagnostic assessment debrief, I was very keen to meet this 'Boudicca of Brains'.

By the time my fourth rearranged appointment came I was quite jaded and cynical that I would ever get an appointment. It'd been cancelled so many times due to short-staffed crises that I was losing sight of why I was persisting. My first appointment was a screening appointment, with a rather ambivalent professional who summarised our in-depth, hour-long meeting with;

"I think you have one foot on the scale of autism. But not 'fully'. And I think that in times of great stress, like having a baby and doing exams *points to my pregnant belly* we all become more autistic if you look at it hard enough."

Drumming my fingers on the 70s desk, I stared at the dust-veiled rubber plant. I felt out of place in this dated office with these dated opinions. Thoughts whirred through my mind, comebacks and rebuttals at 100mph.

"So stress causes synesthesia? Stress causes me to notice patterns? But I'm not stressed! I've finished my PGCE, I have a happy home life and wonderful family..."

Before my torrent of corrections could start, I was told that I could ask to be referred for 'proper diagnostic checks' with his senior colleague.

"That's her! Dr Robertson! The famous diagnoser, the unmasker of autistic women!"

I played it cool and agreed to be referred. Weeks and months went by, with my pregnancy providing distraction. Then my appointment came through: Valentine's Day. Looking back, I think there is no sweeter coincidence than having my diagnosis, the beginning of learning to love myself, on Valentine's. 

I didn't have to wait long after checking in at reception. I'd brought my mother along, as is recommended to help piece together childhood aspects. We were called to the office.

The room was small, bookish, with family photos in modern frames clashing with the beyond-retro wood pannelling. Dr Robertson was a smiley, South African woman wearing comfortable cotton clothes more akin to a well-heeled backpacker. Her introduction was thorough, her smile promised so much.

For two hours we covered everything we needed. There were no leading questions, no subtle prompts or framing. She would let out the odd chuckle when hearing a family story or toddler tale, but I was never mistaken that she was being a friend. She comforted us with her passion for autistic people and especially autistic women. She was balanced, fair and explained the misconceptions that my mother harboured.

"I never thought there was anything wrong with her. Well, I don't mean 'wrong', Dr... but she has always been so clever. She would write stories before she started nursery. She was shy, but she was a good girl", my mother reasoned.

"Being clever doesn't mean you're not autistic. Just as being autistic doesn't mean you're like Rain Man. There are a lot of stereotypes. But one thing I think all autistic people have in common is the ability to add fresh perspective and commitment to detail that we (NTs) would struggle to achieve."

I sat there, glowing in the glory of my neurotype for the first time in my life. I'd watched every teacher heap praise on me for years in school but this was different. 

"You see, there are the people who use mobile phones (pointing to herself and my mother). Then there are the people who invent mobile phones (pointing to me). Committment to a single subject for decades gets you places. There have been studies that suggest the human race wouldn't have evolved societies in the same way without autistic people."

By now I feel like my grey matter is practically a celebrity. Should I be signing autographs on my way out? I was giddy with comfort in my own skin, intoxicated with the knowledge that I hadn't imagined feeling out of place all my life. I did stand out, because I am different. But, Dr Robertson assured me, I wasn't and won't be, alone;

"Because of the way we socialise girls, they're taught that struggling is something to brush under the carpet."

By now I was crying happy tears of relief. It was like the best tarot reading of my life, but one I could believe because it was backed up by science and the NHS. She assured me that there are things I will find difficult, just as there are things I will find easy due to my neurotype. Mentioning difficulty reading facial expressions and gauging intention, she said;

"I know there are books out there for that, to teach you how to read facial expressions. But I haven't had any recommended to me by an autistic person. And I won't recommend anything about autism unless I've been given a good review by autistic people. Please have a read and send me a list of books you think will help."

That perspective of 'nothing about us without us' is thrilling to hear from a health professional, let alone one who is actively educating themselves about autism with the power to diagnose. 

I left feeling a million emotions: closure, uncertainty, confident, critical, relieved, proud and so much more. I was emotionally burned out and blissfully happy by the time I walked to the car with my celebratory Greggs. I was seeing the world with new eyes and for the first time  I felt like my view was just as good as anyone else's.

Meet the Cold Tea Connoisseur...

My name's Hayley, or 'Mum'...

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