By Baylie Nixon
Since my first post to “The Art of Autism,” I was requested to write another article about how I was diagnosed and how I found out roughly a decade later of said diagnosis. In my last entry, I mentioned I was diagnosed as a toddler, but found out about my diagnosis when I was a teenager. I am very lucky, especially for a woman of the spectrum. I have incredibly supportive parents who helped me become the person I am today. Because they are both very educated in medicine, and mom specializes in physical therapy for disabled children, my neurology was not masked by my female identity and the pervasive gender roles with it. I know that sadly, I am the exception and not the norm for autistic women.
My mother’s keen observation and knowledge is what allowed me to have a diagnosis as early as three years old. But like most autistics, knowledge of that diagnosis would be veiled from me for years to come. I grew up feeling different from my peers. Always having trouble with little things that seemed to come to everyone else naturally. I would usually shrug it off, because maybe everyone felt this way to some extent? But while everyone else was playing sports and games with their friends, I was in my own world while walking around the schoolyard. But I’d also be left wondering why I’d be bullied so often, especially in middle school. I’d always wonder why I’d have to go to special therapies for socializing, and why I just wouldn’t “get it” like other kids. Why wasn’t I able to become the “popular” girl that seemed so effortless to my peers? That question was going to be answered to me in a way I didn’t expect at all one sunny afternoon in summer 2007.
It’s summer vacation, I’m swimming with my favorite radio station on. The sky is a brilliant light blue, with the oak trees having a deep green in their leaves to match. There were probably some screeches from the hawks flying above. The beauty of nature coupled with the music I like while being suspended in the water would let my imagination run wild, until the commercials would come on.
Normally, I didn’t pay attention to the ads on the radio; I’d just groan and wait for the music to come back on. However, there was one ad that piqued my interest because it was so vague and left a lot of questions. It was a PSA from Autism Speaks. It’d mention the signs of autism in children, but it wouldn’t say what autism actually is. “What the heck is autism?” I wondered every time that ad came on. It’d mention the missed milestones such as “no babbling” by such and such age.
“Yeah, no babbling. Is that a bad thing? Is it deadly? Is it contagious? Does it only affect babies?” I thought. But as a teenager, and as teens are, I also thought this: “Whatever it is, probably doesn’t affect me.” With that kind of mindset, I’d move on with my day and forget to ask my parents about this PSA.
One day, I remembered though. I was in bed, don’t remember why, maybe I was sick. Either way, it doesn’t matter. I do remember finally asking mom “Hey, by the way, I’ve been hearing about this thing called ‘autism,’ what is that?” Mom responded, saying that it’s a developmental condition that affects one’s ability to socialize. She then proceeded to say that “And you have a type of autism called Asperger’s.” That’s when the strange emotions started to hit me.
“Wait, so this does affect me after all?” I thought. Mom told me that it was discovered by the Austrian physician Hans Asperger (hence my ability to speak German and fervent desire to go to Vienna someday despite any and all controversy; I’ll write about that in another article). My family and I went to Germany and Austria (Bavaria and Salzburg specifically) when I was 9 years old, so her mentioning Austria definitely had me thinking about that trip and retroactively understanding the significance of where we’ve been.
The prominent emotion I felt in finding out about being autistic was relief. My feelings of being “different” and confused were valid after all. But when I was told about how it’s a spectrum and that there are forms of autism that render one nonverbal, I felt perplexed, and perhaps a little scared too. There were many things I was thinking and feeling that I couldn’t and still can’t put into words.
But in eighth grade, what I started to feel was shame and isolation.
During the rest of middle school, I felt cursed. Like I was doomed to be alone and unloved because of this label. I was begging the world for a cure. I wanted the torment, rejection and misunderstanding from my peers to stop; I felt like removing the label was the only way to have that happen. I also felt misunderstood by my family. But despite said misunderstanding, my dad would always tell me that he was not sure if he’d want to “cure” me even if he could. That was always just a little thing to keep me encouraged.
In high school, I started to feel the “curse” aspect lift. I was taking better care of my health (and getting noticed for that too!), and finding what I really enjoyed about life. In early high school, sometimes I’d even forget that I’m autistic. But in the later high school years, specifically 11th grade, I was introduced to the concept of neurodiversity and started to understand more and more what it means to be intersectional in neurology and femininity. With that understanding came a desire to be more activist.
After doing some cultural and personal exploration with these identities in eleventh grade, being activist really took off in senior year of high school. I did my senior project on neurodiversity, and was given the “purple chord” award for it. I was hoping to get that award, but not for the award’s sake. Those who earn a purple chord for their senior projects are to give a speech to the whole school about their work. I wanted to tell everyone what this new concept of diversity is, and that also meant coming out to the whole audience. It was a little scary, but in a thrilling way.
Ever since, I’ve done several other forms of activism such as being a neurodiversity club leader in college, giving more speeches, selling autism pride/awareness jewelry, and now writing for this organization. This neurology has become a significant identity that I wouldn’t want to lose even if I could, and truly, I feel like I’ve hit a jackpot despite any setbacks. I’m happy to have multiple abilities that can be so enriching, such as a love and talent for the sciences and arts alike, along with being multilingual and having no anxiety or qualms whatsoever about public speaking. I’m unsure if I’d have these passions and abilities if I were neurotypical. To those who are still feeling only cursed from being autistic, you are more than your struggles. You are more than what you think you can’t do. You deserve to recognize and nourish your assets, and have them be appreciated by others. You can do it, and don’t let your identity be a crutch, but a tool for your fulfillment.
Until next time,
My name is Baylie Nixon, I am 24 years old, and I am currently living with my family while I volunteer for an organization called Living Opportunities and study in post-bacc school. I am on the autism spectrum, diagnosed with Aspergers before the DSM V was published, and have been a strong advocate for autistic inclusion since I was a junior in high school. My activism really took off during senior year of high school when I did my senior project on neurodiversity, and then later in college I was in charge of a neurodiversity club for a year.
I recently graduated from Oregon State University with a BS in Pre-Clinical Lab Science, and I am currently enrolled in further education in order to be certified as a medical technologist. I have lived in Southern Oregon for half my life, while also having lived in Forest Grove to go to Pacific University for a couple years, spending another couple back home at Southern Oregon University, then finally finishing my bachelor’s in Corvallis. I am absolutely in love with the biomedical sciences, and am excited to put my knowledge and passion to good use. I am also an Etsy jeweler, my shop is called “Bao Treasures,” and its logo is a rainbow bird. I have been making jewelry for roughly half my life.