It's World Autism Awareness Day today, and in the run up to today I've gotten so fed up of people saying 'Oh you should do something to talk about your autism' and 'you're autistic - what does it feel like?'
Whenever I talk about my autism diagnosis to people it feels like I'm treated like some kind of special specimen, almost like I've got a disease or tentacles growing out of my head and everyone is amazingly intrigued. I think a lot are genuinely just unaware of autism and how it affects people, but the public's lack of understanding of autism can really get in the way of my development and I know my peers in the autistic community feel this too.
I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome aged 11, then suffered with bullying from staff and students at my secondary school back home in Sheffield. This traumatic abuse left me feeling demotivated and worthless, pretty much like my life wasn't worth living. I was singled out for not being as talkative, for being bright but not sociable and for being specific about things that others didn't care about.
Bypassing an 18 month wait for an NHS diagnosis, my family got me privately assessed. The diagnosis was interesting for me, but depressing for my mum and dad. They thought I was wrong, broken, odd, weird. It was a horrific time.
I moved out of my secondary school just three months before my GCSEs and travelled to another county to a school that had a free place. It was a big risk and big upheaval, especially for someone with autism like me. But I wasn't bothered. I just wanted to get away from the negativity.
I'm not really affected by noise and light and to look at me you'd think I had nothing different about me whatsoever. My autism does however give me a strong sense of what I think is right and wrong - and I've come to understand my instinct isn't always right! I also find new social situations daunting at first, but have learned how to get on with people and find life easier. I'm not saying you can overcome autism, it'll always affect me, but by setting up my own business after school and making my own way in life I have proven that autism is nothing to be ashamed of.
It's just the public who make you think that. We all need to take time and understand autism, what it feels like to be overloaded by the world around you and not know how to deal with it.
I might not have as much 'banter' as you but that doesn't mean I'm weird or stupid.
Actually, I'm pretty proud of where I am with my life.
I recently gained the honour of being selected as a Queen's Young Leader and I am proud that my autism advocacy work, campaigning and support of other young people is being recognised.
Take some time to learn more about autism today and make friends with us. You might just enjoy our company!