@sadie_pink is a 22-year-old who recently graduated from university where she studied psychology. Her gorgeous dog Oliver helps her navigate life with autism, and she writes about this on her Instagram account. 

In life I like to imagine that we are all just jumping waves. You start at the beginning of the ocean and eventually progress to deeper waves. Some enjoy the process of overcoming the waves, whilst others just try to stay afloat, to keep their head above the water and not fall behind.

To the naked eye these waves are a similar height and so everyone is faced with similar pressure and heights you need to jump. At times some people's waves do seem bigger and sometimes the strength of the wave knocks you over. It's OK to fall because the wave was big, and lifeguards send boats to rescue you.

However, my waves didn't seem bigger than my peers, so no lifeguards jumped in for me. I felt like I couldn't handle the pressure. I had no idea why I couldn’t withstand what everyone around me could. Eventually, at age 17, I was diagnosed with autism.

I learnt this meant you never know what is going on beneath the surface and I wasn’t weak or lazy for struggling to float because the undercurrent of my wave was different to other people’s.

Knowing this, I craved help and guidance on how to jump the waves and not just tread water, but no help was given. There weren’t enough resources for every person with a hidden disability to have a tailor-made lifeguard for them. You’re expected to follow the main rulebook. I wanted to be taught how to thrive in the water, not just survive.

I was thrown back into the ocean but now I had the knowledge that I wasn’t the same as the other swimmers. Professionals assumed that this knowledge would be enough for me to jump the waves like everyone else. Armed with my new diagnosis, I repeatedly came forward and said I was struggling – I wanted a programme adapted to my needs so I could thrive like everyone else.

However, it is hard to believe someone who says they are struggling if their head is still above water ... but my legs were kicking frantically underneath.

I didn’t know what to do; I felt annoyed that I suddenly had this reason for struggling and an awareness that it wasn’t normal to find life this overwhelming, and yet nothing could be done apart from avoidance. But I didn’t want this, I wanted to be taught how to function without this extreme anxiety. 

It feels like no one really knows what autism means. I mean, I turn up and my head remains above water, so people think I am coping but what choice do I have? I don’t want to spend my life in bed avoiding situations. I tell people I am struggling but they don’t seem to understand as everyone is faced with these obstacles.

People look at me when I ask for help and they see my feet are still at the bottom of the ocean and I look like I am jumping the waves like everyone else. But the water is getting too deep for me, and I am struggling, the pressure of the waves is too much on my chest and I am struggling to breathe.

I want help but no one believes me whilst I am standing, and the pressure and crashing is too much, and the water is too much. No one believes you because your feet remain on the ground, and surely if everyone else can do it so can you. I continue to put a smile on my face and to put my shaky hands in my pocket. I continue to tell myself the floor isn’t really jumping and to just take another step. I try ignoring the anxiety and the thoughts and just take another step. Looking at me you would have no idea. If I tell you, you will respond that everyone feels anxious and overwhelmed, because my autism is hidden.   

It eventually gets too much, and you really crave help or a break but if you turn up every day people assume you are fine because they can’t see the effort it takes.  Sometimes it feels like the only way to be believed is to essentially collapse and no longer try, or to be so exhausted from the effort that you just cannot take another baby step.

So, you give in to the waves and the pressure and simply lie down. People view this behaviour as dangerous because the water will suffocate you and they panic. So, sirens are called, and you need to be kept safe. No help is given, and no training programme is offered. Rather they keep you safe and give you armbands so you can’t sink, but you aren’t swimming either. You remain in the sea with the waves crashing into you and the jellyfish stinging you from underneath, but you can’t drown and you’re safe so no one cares.

I feel like autism is a gap in the market because it feels like there is no help that can be offered. You come forward with a struggle, but people reply that everyone is the same boat as you. It feels like your waves aren't taken seriously enough because externally they look no bigger than anyone else's. However, I don’t want to simply be “kept safe”. I want to be taught how to swim and taught how to embrace the waves. I just want a training manual adapted to my needs.

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