The amazing story of Laura James, a woman who lived half her life unaware of her diagnosis.
Laura lived her entire life in a constant sense of failure. She didn’t understand why her career was so difficult for her. She did not know that she was naturally different, and therefore did not understand why it was so difficult for her to do things that are so easily obtained by others. And so, at the age of 45, Laura found out that she had autism.
“All my life I have tried to understand why what seems like an easy task to everyone requires an exorbitant effort from me. I felt like a loser all the time, and I didn't know what was wrong with me. And so, over the past two months, everything fell into place. "
This late diagnosis was carried out as part of additional research conducted by the National Autism Society in the UK. They suggested that there are a huge number of women and girls in the world whose diagnosis has not been identified. In this regard, a number of additional studies have been carried out. One of the results of these studies was the case of Laura James.
The disease really manifests itself extremely unevenly in men and women. So, according to various sources, the ratio between men and women (boys and girls) with autism is 5/1, and according to some sources, even 16/1.
Of course, when Laura told her family and friends about her diagnosis, they did not believe her. However, when they analyzed and considered the information, they were forced to admit that the diagnosis was not unfounded. According to Laura herself, her sons reacted rather calmly.
"The elder suggested that we go to Vegas and do card counting, and the younger just nodded and asked what for dinner."
The main symptoms of autism are expressed as noticeable difficulties in interacting with others. The list of these difficulties is quite extensive and includes difficulties in understanding jokes, sarcasm, emotions and facial expressions of others and other difficulties of this kind. The intensity of the manifestation of these symptoms can be different for different people, it often depends on the age of the patient.
As for Laura, all her life she perceived the symptoms of autism as ordinary character traits: she skillfully used some, considering her virtues, while others, in the meantime, thoroughly ruined her life. For example, Laura James considers the ability to concentrate as much as possible on the task at hand and a logical approach to life as its merits, because they helped her not to succumb to emotions and be guided by reason when making any decisions. But sensory hypersensitivity, according to Laura, is not a pleasant quality.
“Sounds, smells, bright lights, and even the texture of the food I eat can freak me out. All this can cause a nervous breakdown and periods of a sort of loss from life, when I just want to hide somewhere in a quiet corner so that nothing bothers me. It is like a short circuit in my brain: everything around me starts to get terribly annoying, I want to give up everything and immediately leave the situation in which I find myself. From the outside, my behavior can probably be described as rude and uncontrollable. "
Among other things, Laura has to write down a lot of things in order to just remember to do them. It would seem that we all do this, but in the case of our heroine, such records can relate to such aspects of life as brushing your teeth, hairstyle and even clothes that you must not forget to put on before leaving the house. As for communicating with others, any interaction with a large number of people is unpleasant for a person with autism, because such a situation is fraught with surprises (and it does not matter whether they are pleasant or not).
“I basically don't understand how I feel. All my emotions and feelings are divided into "good" and "bad". Good feelings usually have a pleasant color; they are as soft as cashmere that you pass between your fingers. And bad feelings, on the contrary, have an unpleasant color (usually, these are different shades of green). They are usually rough and prickly to the touch: they remind me of a pointed piece of plastic that you accidentally hit with your finger so hard that blood begins to flow. But, actually, I try to lead a measured and calm life without sharp ups and downs. "
Many people with autism have difficulty finding employment. In the UK, for example, only 16% of all adults with autism are in full-time, paid, full-time jobs. Another 32% of patients are employed part-time. Against the backdrop of these statistics, Laura is a striking exception: she has built a successful career in journalism - she runs her own communications agency.
“When I was tested at the clinic for Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, the nurse suggested that I might be autistic. And, of course, at first I did not believe her, because all my life I communicate with people - this is part of my profession - how can I be autistic? But the more I studied this issue, the more the feeling grew ... As if a light bulb had been lit in my head, ”says Laura.
All 46 years of her life, she thought that something was wrong with her. Due to regular pain in the limbs, stomach and heart problems, they managed to make all possible diagnoses: from general anxiety disorder to chronic bad luck.
“This diagnosis was for me like the final scene of some twisted detective novel, ” says Laura, “everything cleared up. I was even surprised: how could I not have suspected autism in myself before ?! Everything literally fell into place. I felt a real relief, because I received answers to questions that have worried me all my life. "
So how did it happen that a woman lived half her life before she was diagnosed with such a serious and, in general, not a rare diagnosis. On average, 1 in 100 people worldwide have autism. What prevented the diagnosis earlier? Experts believe that this situation has developed due to the higher prevalence of this disease among men: society simply does not imagine an autistic woman, and therefore girls are not so thoroughly examined. For the same reason, additional research is usually carried out in groups of men and boys.
But regardless of gender, stereotypes about autism apply to all patients.
“For some reason, society believes that autistic people do not have empathy. This is the deepest misconception, ”says James. “Everything is exactly the opposite: we feel the emotions of other people much more strongly. I would say too much. Those autistic people with whom I managed to meet are the kindest and most sympathetic people I have met. Although many of them feel the emotions of the interlocutor extremely keenly, they cannot react the way it is customary in society: instead of simple sympathy, they can give practical advice, which is often perceived as coldness. "
Laura now lives in Norfolk with her husband. She has 4 grown children and a dog to boot. She is doing great and is still doing great at coping with autism with yoga and a healthy daily routine.
She intends to share her experience in her book, Odd girl out. One of the goals of this book is to publicize the existence of female autism and to draw attention to this problem.
Obviously, having learned her diagnosis, Laura finally found peace of mind:
“I used to feel like an unlucky neurotic, but now I realize that I am a truly successful autistic woman.”