Lara Schaeffer

How My Autistic Life Experience Inspires Me to Help Others

Apr 07, 2023
Cracks reveal the mossy inside of the statue of a woman, embodying both the imperfections and resilience explored in this piece.

The Photo That Captured My Autistic Life Experience

Being an autistic individual means a life full of discovery, challenges, and wonder. But it also means a life full of struggles, misunderstandings, and isolation. That is why I was so moved when I saw this striking photograph by Marianna Smiley on Unsplash.

This photo by Mariana Smiley (on Unsplash) perfectly captures my autistic life experience of living for 47 years without knowing that I was autistic. It showed me the vulnerability and wounds that I had accumulated over the years, as well as the resilience and beauty that I had developed despite them.


The Hidden Challenges of My Autistic Life Experience

My autistic life experience was not easy. I have had to deal with insomnia-induced panic attacks since I was eight years old and migraines since I was twelve. The fact that I was, in many ways, a happy child and that brain imaging revealed no abnormalities gave doctors and my mother peace of mind. But they did not see the inner turmoil that I was going through.

My autistic life experience also involved a lot of anxiety and confusion. When I reached out for help three times in college, I was told each time that there was nothing to be concerned about. When I sought therapy in my 30s for a full year, the professional I worked with never even mentioned the possibility of autism, even though what I discussed with him should have raised many flags.

My autistic life experience was full of autistic characteristics and tendencies that I did not recognize or understand. For example, I had sensory sensitivities, intense special interests, difficulty with social cues, a need for routine, and stimming behaviors. However, I did not know that these were signs of autism. I thought they were just quirks or flaws that I had to hide or overcome.


The Late Discovery of My Autistic Life Experience

My autistic life experience changed dramatically when I finally discovered that I was autistic at the age of 47. This happened only because of what was set in motion after my daughter was diagnosed at 15. Her diagnosis opened my eyes to the reality of autism and how it affected both of us.

My autistic life experience became a source of empowerment and advocacy. I started to help other people who were in the same situation as my daughter and I had been: individuals with autism who had been undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years, who had many gifts and strengths but also many challenges and difficulties, and who had to cope with a society that was largely non-autistic and often hostile or ignorant.

My autistic life experience motivated me to start Autism Discovery, a website where I share my insights, tips, resources, and services for fellow autistics and their loved ones. I guide and mentor individuals on the spectrum through self-assessment, school and employment challenges, relationship challenges, and more. I also write blog posts about various issues related to autism, such as autism in girls, neurodivergent masking, autistic identity, and other vital topics.


The Photo That Inspires My Autistic Life Experience

The photo that captured my autistic life experience also inspired me to share it with others. I knew that this photo was so powerful and personal that it might not be suitable for a general representation of autism. But I also knew that it could resonate with some people who had a similar autistic life experience as mine.

That is why I decided to use this photo to coordinate with a similarly personal aspect of my advocacy: a recent interview with Tanja Aebischer, a journalist and an autism advocate who runs Autism Stories, a platform where she interviews autistic people from different backgrounds and perspectives.

In this interview, which you can watch here, I share my autistic life experience in more detail, including my perspective, challenges, and triumphs with autism. I also talk about how I help other autistics through Autism Discovery and what my goals and hopes are for the future.



I hope that by sharing my autistic life experience, I can help some people who are in the same shoes as I was, who are curious about autism, or who want to learn more about the diversity and beauty of the autistic spectrum. I hope that by opening up and tearing my heart out, I can make a difference for fellow autistics.



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