I’m happy now I feel I can relax and just be me - Adam McLeod

When I think about the fact I’ve never fit in, I have conflicting feelings. Disappointment in myself, jealousy and resentment towards my peers, anger towards those adults with a duty of care who never seemed to care. Overall, I just feel sad that for so long I was made to feel like a freak because everyone else was playing by some rulebook I didn’t know about. For the most part I’ve always blamed myself for being ostracised while I was at school, felt I should just have created a version of myself people liked and I would have been fine, but the more I learn about autism the more I wish I could have been myself. That was never really an option.

From the beginning it was very clear that I was different. I’m told I could read by the age of 2½. But as much as I excelled academically, I wasn’t connecting with people. I seemed to alienate everyone. And of everyone who has let me down, by far the worst was the headteacher who insisted: “There is no bullying in my school”, even while I was being beaten up daily by someone twice my size. When I moved to another school in another area, the difference was stark. For the first time I felt I was accepted for who I was. I was able to be myself and felt nurtured and encouraged to shine.

Then came high school. Everything was different, and suddenly I was interacting with a whole new group of people that changed from class to class. Once again people didn’t like me and the more I felt that, the more I panicked and looked for anything I could do about it. Many autistic people “mask”, meaning they mirror the behaviour of people around them to try to fit in. I did something I can only describe as “anti-masking”. I developed a kind of social armour using my natural wit to bite back harder whenever someone said something about me. This, of co urse, only turned people off me even more. I became so used to being targeted that my snappy comments became my default, even when people were trying to be friendly. As someone who had initially been kind to me said in my fourth year: “You’re mean!”. And he was right.

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I still desperately wanted to be liked but since that didn’t seem like a possibility, I would rather let people hate the cruel, fake version of myself than the real, vulnerable version. Or maybe I was trying to pretend people weren’t hurting me. Either way, I carried that attitude for a lot of my life. I had forgotten who I was. I was afraid to let myself feel things because I thought if I did, the feelings would swallow me whole.

It was only when I was 27 that I came across the National Autistic Society and started to see autism from another perspective. I decided to try being me again. I’ve always seen the way autism manifests in me as a personal failing somehow, so to see autism accepted and even celebrated made me rethink that, and realise that I actually like who I really am. I wish I could have been that person all this time, but I wasn’ t ready and maybe the world wasn’t ready for me. But it needs to be. If only more people knew how to look past autism, past the things that may make a person “different” or “annoying” or the things a person may not be able to do, we could really find the value in everyone. And everyone deserves to be seen in that way.

Adam McLeod, Volunteer Secretary of the National Autistic Society Highland Branch



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