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The difference a diagnosis can make

This week is World Autism Awareness Week. Kate, a staff nurse on the acute stroke unit, shares her story of being diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.

This week is Autism Awareness Week. Do you know anyone with autism? In your family? At work? Three years ago, my answer would have been no. As it turns out, I did...me!

I’ve always known I was different. Like there was something written on my forehead that people would respond to either with pity or disgust or by mocking/laughing at me. It’s like everybody else was given this rulebook of how to get by in this world - how to behave, how to communicate, how to make friends - but mine somehow got lost in the post.

I’ve been searching for answers my whole life and have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, social phobia and body dysmorphic disorder, but none of these really ever gave me the breakthrough I was looking for. My quest for answers has often been misinterpreted as looking for an excuse/attention seeking/hypochondria. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Now that I understand what Asperger syndrome is, I feel really empowered and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel again. I feel proud of my differences and am gradually learning that I don’t have to use so much energy trying to conceal them.

I can articulate that I am experiencing sensory overload and I know what to do to calm myself down if I am given the space to do so. I can explain to people that I didn’t mean to talk over them and I’m very interested in what they are saying, I just misunderstood when it was my turn to talk. I can explain that I am listening to them - it’s just easier for me to concentrate if I don’t look directly at their eyes.

I feel I now have much more meaningful relationships with my colleagues. I feel like I have a much healthier work/life balance now that I have a ward manager and ward sisters who understand autism and we have been able to make some reasonable adjustments to keep me fit and well and working to the best of my abilities. My manager actually really values my unique perspective on things.

Having this support means I can focus my energy and attention on looking after my patients and their relatives to the standard that they deserve.

My purpose in sharing my story is to show others on the autistic spectrum that they can have a successful career at UHS and they can be open about being autistic.

I want managers to know that by making reasonable adjustments they can reduce anxiety, keep their employee well and at work and maybe just unlock a unique gift that that person has to offer.

I also hope that in sharing my experiences, somebody out there may just recognise themselves in my story and maybe they too will be able to find their answers.

I’ve been looking to find ‘what’s wrong with me’ for so many years but now my perspective is entirely different. Asperger's is simply who I am. Despite the struggles I don’t feel that it’s something that’s wrong with me. I have my own unique contribution to make just like everyone else.