Guest Blog Post by: Magen MacDougall – Intact Subrogation Examiner in Claims
Every year, Autism Awareness Month is observed throughout April, and the United Nations has designated April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. According to Harvard Health Publishing, neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways. There is no one “right” way to think, learn, and behave, and differences are not viewed as deficits. The word “neurodiversity” refers to the diversity of all people but is often used within the context of the autism spectrum, as well as other neurological or developmental conditions. Through raising awareness, we hope to increase acceptance and inclusion of all people while embracing neurological differences.
In the spirit of building understanding and support, we invite you to learn more about autism through our colleague Magen MacDougall’s personal story.
If I were to ask you to think of an autistic person, I expect you’d think of the movie “Rainman” or a little boy obsessed with trains, or perhaps even Anthony Hopkins. I invite you to expand your awareness of what an autistic person looks like.
I am a GenX/Xennial female. I read above-grade in elementary school and excelled in High School, I met my childhood milestones, and made friends fairly easily. It was not until I was in my 40s that I discovered I am neurodivergent. Up until that time I was often described as quirky, emotional, or not emotional enough, obsessed with Elvis, stubborn, picky…the list goes on. While I was involved in many activities, I often felt like I was just on the periphery of my groups, not quite sure if I was actually liked, or merely tolerated. Truth be told, I still feel this way often. As a kid I would watch TV and then imitate the personality of someone I found cool, which in the 1980s was Daisy Duke. I most often could be found sitting on the floor of my town’s library devouring books; I read the encyclopedia for fun. I would argue with any adult until we were both blue in the face if I believed them to be wrong or unfair. I wore out the tape playing the Oak Ridge Boy’s Elvira over and over and over again.
My brother is autistic; he is seven years younger than me and was diagnosed early in life. My grandfather, who would spend most of his time tinkering on electronics and could play anything by ear on his guitar was most definitely autistic, as is my father, who has zero filter and worked nights in the boiler room of a hospital for 40 years…I share many of their traits, and yet I was never identified. My eating disorder was chalked up to being a teen thing, my obsession with Elvis and DooWop music was weird, but not given much thought. I was told my repetitive behaviors were OCD, that I had depression and generalized anxiety disorder. My story is not unique among women born in the mid/late 1970s – mid 1980s.
After my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD, I immersed myself in every resource I could find. I quite quickly realized that what caused my daughter to be diagnosed were the same things that caused me to be labeled a handful as a kid. How different would my life look had this level of awareness been around in the early 1980s? I first received a formal ADHD diagnosis and then all things neurodivergent became my new hyper fixation. It didn’t take long to recognize the autistic traits in the family extended to me as well. Confirming that I am AuDHD, (Autistic + ADHD), has allowed myself a greater understanding of why I am the way I am, why I feel what I feel, and also a huge sense of loss of what could have been, even though I find great comfort in knowing “it’s not just me.” I am lucky to live in an age where the internet can bring so many of us together and allow us to share our experiences, tools, and to spread awareness. Awareness leads to acceptance which hopefully leads to advocacy. You may wonder why I’m this open about such personal matters; I am this open because I do not want anyone else to struggle needlessly, and I want people to understand that they are not alone.
“One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient…” Charles M. Blow