Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Asperger's Illustrated Celebrates 1000 Ausome Things

I've had a fairly normal life, when I think about the things that have happened to me and I've made happen so far. I graduated high school in 2007, then went to Gettysburg and majored in history and minored in Civil War Era Studies. I graduated college in 2011. After taking a year and a half off, I entered graduate school at Pratt Institute in the hopes of getting a Master's of Library Science to become an archivist. It's a fairly normal place for a 24-year-old girl to be these days - in graduate school, holding down a part-time job, and generally working a lot on a lot of things at once.

But there's something different.

My name is Steph Diorio. I'm a 24-year-old graduate student, and I have Asperger's syndrome.

I wasn't quite sure what to write today in particular at first since I typically spend a lot of time on this blog reminding everyone that an autism diagnosis is not a death knell and that you or your child can be incredibly successful in the right environment. I often write to try to remove the stigma placed on autism - and mental illness, as I also have OCD and social anxiety - and to promote acceptance of all differences across the board.

Today, though, is a day to celebrate success in particular, so I decided to talk briefly about how things can be for autistic adults. I turned 24 five days ago, so I'm technically in my mid-twenties now. I'm finishing up my first semester of graduate school tomorrow. I didn't think when I initially got my diagnosis that I'd be as successful in life as I am right now. I genuinely believed back in July of 2009, when I was diagnosed, that although I could be academically successful I would suffer socially for my entire existence. I became very quiet in class for a while and it took over a year for my confidence to come back socially.

I graduated in May of 2011 and took some time off to get my mental health back. Over that period of time, my therapist and I worked together and we eventually bolstered my confidence even higher to the place it's at now. I enrolled in graduate school, something I'd always planned to do, and actually went on a trip to D.C. with people I didn't know very well to visit the National Archives and Library of Congress. I felt awkward at first, but by the end of the second day I was getting along with people and making friends, something I never would've been able to do years ago.

The things that make the difference are confidence and practice. The more you practice your social skills, the more natural things will feel, and the more natural things feel the more confident you'll become. In 2012, more people hit on me than any time before that in my life. I realized that confidence is attractive - and for me, this had particular significance since boys told me I was ugly and undateable growing up. Knowing that the bullies were lying about me and having verifiable truth was a major turning point for me. Suddenly, I'd overcome that last big hurdle and stopped being afraid of boys my age automatically rejecting my presence.

This is more or less a hodgepodge of things at this point, but my point is this - don't ever, ever let yourself (or, if you're not autistic, the autistic people in your life) give up. There's something you're good at and you will succeed at it. (In my case, it's being a historian and archivist.) And people will accept you for you once they see that you're a beautiful, kind person.

There are many beautiful things about autism. Each one of us is one - or more - of those beautiful things. Keep fighting the good fight - if I can make it in this world, you can, too!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

On Being A Tour Guide With Asperger's

Sometimes my job as a tour guide is really, really tiring.

I work here, giving tours to people interested in history and modern art. I like my job, don't get me wrong - I know I'm lucky to have it since a large number of people with Asperger's struggle to hold down jobs. I just get very, very tired.

I'm in graduate school right now studying to become an archivist. By December of 2014 I should have a Master's of library science - and hopefully, a job as an archivist somewhere. Until then, though, I need to make money any way that I can to support myself, and for the time being, those ways are selling my artwork (which you can now buy online here!) and giving tours to people.

Tours aren't easy. Well, in some ways, tours are very easy - all you have to do is memorize a lot of information and then recite it to people and answer their questions afterwards. The hard part is that they're so intrinsically social that even a few hours on the job leaves me mentally exhausted. I have to keep an eye on everyone I'm talking to, looking for signs that they might be bored or have to leave to go somewhere else. I have to make eye contact with them a lot more than I'm comfortable with. And I can't act like a robot even though I'm giving the same information for what feels like the 100th time. I have to be fun and smile a lot.

Now if you've got me talking about baseball or comedy history or something else I adore, like Top Gear, I'm extremely personable and smile a ton. I also do that when I'm talking with people I know and trust. It gets hard when you have to act all open with people you don't know and you have both Asperger's and social anxiety. 

I know I've overcome a lot of challenges to even have this job, and I'm very proud of myself for making it. I honestly had my doubts that I could do this and somehow I've been doing this for almost a year. Every so often, it just gets a little hard to keep up.