London, 40 years old, teacher
“To be honest, I don’t really have any friends. People that I call friends are those I’ve met through work or on a Facebook group. But I don’t have any actual friends who I would go out anywhere with.
I don’t like people coming round my house. It’s like my little sanctuary. It probably sounds a bit weird.
My husband’s quite sociable and gets on with everybody – so he’ll go to parties without me. He lets me know they’re happening, but leaves the decision up to me. Ninety-nine per cent of the time I won’t go.
He used to get upset when I refused to go – but now he knows I’m not rejecting him. I just know I can’t put myself in a situation where I’d be very uncomfortable.
Both of my children are autistic. My daughter was diagnosed when she was 13. My son, who’s 15, got diagnosed when he was four.
I’d been reading up about Asperger’s ahead of teaching an autistic child at school. I realised the characteristics sounded a lot like my son’s.
He’d be on the carpet at school upside-down and facing the wrong way – not looking at people. The teachers didn’t think he was listening but he was taking it all in.
Over time I felt like I really identified with him. I could really understand his thoughts and I started to think, ‘Maybe I have Asperger’s as well?’
I would misinterpret things at the primary school I worked at. I was making mistakes because I didn’t get it. I got to a real low point.
That was when I decided to get an autism assessment. I got the diagnosis in early 2012. It was a relief.
‘Nothing is wrong with me, I’m just autistic,’ I thought.
From then on, I could understand why I struggled with social situations and why I couldn’t make and maintain friendships.
I started to accept myself as I am – because I hadn’t done that up to that point.
Where I grew up, I was the only mixed-race person I knew. It was a white working-class neighbourhood.
People obviously knew my mum was black but they didn’t know what that made me.
I didn’t know what I was either. I was made an outsider because of my race.
My mum’s from St Lucia in the Caribbean and when I went there they didn’t know what to make of me either. I wasn’t a black person to them. They used to call me ‘yellow girl’.
I think St Lucia is now starting to realise there are autistic kids – and that being autistic is not a bad thing. It’s taken a long time – they’re kind of where we were here in the UK about 20 years ago.
But even here, some communities are still struggling to identify and understand autism. That’s the experience from mainstream students I’ve taught, as well those with autism.
In some cultures, parents try to hide it because they don’t want their child to be seen as different.
In 2014 I started offering autism talks and training.
I wanted to help parents and children understand it’s OK to be autistic.
There’s nothing wrong with having the condition – it’s just how their brains are wired and how they see the world.”