When I say ’I’m struggling’ in response to daily pleasantries, it’s not a passing comment. It’s a reflection of my battle with sensory overload, a part of the autistic condition that’s clearly misunderstood and often overlooked. Sensory overload isn’t just a term; it’s a reality that affects many aspects of my life, and it’s not something that can be resolved through casual conversation or extra input.

Sensory overload brings a multitude of symptoms – irritability, stress, fear, extreme anxiety, physical discomfort, restlessness, and an inability to relax. It’s an overwhelming experience, leading to a strong urge to withdraw from the environment or seek ways to block out sensory input. Personally, I find solace in isolation, retreating to a quiet space, sometimes holding my head and humming whilst rocking to calm myself – an autistic act known as stimming.

During these moments, reaching out (if possible) and talking to someone would only make these situations far worse. I need isolation to slow down and regulate my senses, a process that can take hours and impact my entire day. Having to explain this to someone who doesn’t comprehend the depth of this struggle only adds to the burden.

Describing the sensation of a meltdown is challenging; A meltdown isn’t just a dramatic episode, it involves a whirlwind of extreme emotions, confusion, trouble with processing thoughts, and a feeling of losing control.

Yet, when I attempt to explain this to well-meaning individuals who ’offer to talk’, it often leads to offense as i think that they feel i am being dissmisive towards them reaching out to help. This is a recurring issue that highlights the profound lack of understanding around this topic, deepening the sense of isolation. My intention is never to offend, but rather to spread awareness and promote understanding.

The question arises: Is it the responsibility of the neurodivergent individual to carry this burden alone, or does society need to educate itself to provide support for a condition that’s already challenging to navigate in a neurotypical world?

Growing up with this struggle has left deep scars of trauma and mental health issues. The late diagnosis brought some clarity, but also a host of mixed emotions and unanswered questions. The years of masking my true self to fit in as a neurotypical took a toll on my mental and physical health, ultimately leading to breakdowns and a late diagnosis.

Sharing my feelings of alienation with supposedly empathetic individuals, only to be met with dismissive responses, strips away any sense of validation and deepens the isolation. It fuels imposter syndrome, making me question the authenticity of my experiences. The ‘skills’ I aquired to mask my struggles now work against me, with many refusing to acknowledge the reality of my condition.

The late diagnosis isn’t a fairy tale ending but rather the new chapter of a daunting and lonely journey – not helped by societal judgement on a condition steeped in stigma. There’s a void of information on adults with a late diagnosis and autistic masking, leaving me with more questions than answers – answers i actively seek daily. The media’s portrayal of autism barely scratches the surface of the real condition or the struggles faced by neurodivergent individuals. It fails to capture the daily battles and the profound impact on mental well-being.

We need a society that listens and understands, not just on designated “autism awareness days” but every day. The government, education and healthcare services and also individual attitudes need to shift to accommodate and support neurodiversity. We need to navigate this unchartered path now to make a future where no child or adult has to endure the pain of being misunderstood or marginalised due to a lack of awareness and empathy.

If you had a child, would you want them to navigate a society that fails to understand and support them due to ignorance? Would you want them to battle with self-doubt and fear due to stigmas associated with their condition? To be scared to speak up or reach out and ask for help? It’s time for more than superficial gestures; it’s time for tangible change.

In a society that preaches about the importance of being authentic, it’s ironic how challenging it can be to truly be yourself. Despite the encouragement to be ’open’ I’ve regulary found that openness isn’t always met with the understanding and acceptance one would expect. It can be really tough when society encourages people to be themselves, but then doesn’t understand or accept them for who they truly are. We need to do more to bridge this gap.