By Tracey Cohen
I always knew I was different but never understood why. I aimed to please, but the world was too fast, noisy, unpredictable and innately counter-intuitive. Yet I was told by family and professionals in more ways than one that I was wrong – I was the problem. And I was told that I ‘would always be alone if I did not change.’
“Change how?” I wondered.
And so without the knowledge or communication skills to explain my daily pain confusion, fears and beliefs, I felt forever unloved, incompetent and very much alone.
Nevertheless, ‘stubborn’ to my core, giving up has never been a part of my DNA no matter how I flounder.
Fast forward thirty years, I began a new job as a home educator, hired specifically to work with a young boy professionals suspected of having Asperger syndrome.
Having never heard of the condition, I attended a conference to gain specific knowledge needed to help my new charge.
Imagine my surprise when the instructor began talking and essentially narrated my life story without ever having met me. He knew and understood things about myself that I could never explain or understand. He validated my very existence and negated the opinions and attitudes about me that I had believed for so long. In essence he gave me a new chance at life; he gave me hope that maybe, just maybe I am not as dense, difficult and unlikeable as most believe me to be?
After the presentation, I approached the gentlemanly speaker to seek his counsel. And though I am generally unemotional, my dam burst as uncontrollable tears reigned forth. Experienced and kind, he listened to my story, validated my thoughts and encouraged me to learn more and pursue a professional diagnosis.
Thus after nine years of further research and one demeaning mishap with a psychologist arrogantly unaware and unconcerned about the female expression of autism, I flew from Michigan to Oregon upon the recommendation of Dr. Tony Attwood, to meet with a professional who specializes in females and adults on the autism spectrum.
After many meetings with my mother and myself, Dr. Karen McKibbin presented us with her diagnostic findings, and in 2009 at the age of thirty-nine, I was deemed a full-fledged aspie.
Relief, validation, shame and letdown followed.
‘What do I do now?’ I wondered and slowly came to realize that while my diagnosis did not physically or immediately change anything, I gradually continued to learn how to make better decisions for myself; to value my strengths, accept and work on my weak points and understand that my deeply rooted shame is displaced, irrelevant; and that moving forward positively is what matters most.
So onward I charged as best as I could figure while continuing to learn more about autism and myself upon which I stumbled onto the opportunity to share my autism experience with a focus on females and adults as we are so often missed often spending a lifetime struggling by ourselves without any help or support.
If I could help even one person I decided, it would be worth my time and effort, so under the tutelage of my wonderful publishers at Pacelli Publishing, I wrote my first book Six-Word Lessons on Female Asperger Syndrome: 100 Lessons to Understand and Support Girls and Women with Asperger’s.
The level of interest, support and positive response continues to floor me, but oh how grateful I am and always will be and am inspired to continue to do more to not only spread awareness but to promote genuine understanding while continuing to help others.
Thank you for making the time to read my story, consider my work and help others.
Knowledge is power – something my family and I were at a loss without. Please help me to improve the lives of others, one read, one share at a time.
Tracey Cohen, a lifelong competitive runner, author, speaker and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of thirty-nine. Sharing her own struggles and discoveries, she aims to empower others to learn, accept and find peace in an ever complicated neurotypical world. Tracey lives in Farmington Hills, Michigan with her treasured Labrador Retriever, Bailey Kennedy.
Tracey is also a facilitator at Oakland University Center for Autism Outreach Services (OUCARES) and author of Six Word Lessons on the Sport of Running. She can be contacted at http://www.growingupautistic.com/tracey and firstname.lastname@example.org