By Megan Amodeo
My oldest daughter is leaving soon to start her on campus college studies. The university allowed her to take online classes her first semester due to COVID-19. She spent her entire first semester here in our home where she was safe. Soon she will drive herself to her new dorm room and new roommate. She will take some of her belongings and drive off to another state.
I knew this day was coming.
I’ve known since the day she was born that she would one day be independent. Now that it is time for her to leave the nest, I’m not sure that I can let her go. Sure, some of my anxiety is due to anxious thoughts every parent has when their child leaves for college. For me, it is more than just normal anxiety. This is my first child leaving the safety of the nest. This is my daughter, with autism, leaving to face the world without me.
“I think I’m more anxious because I know what attending college with autism means. I attended a large university without any knowledge that I was autistic.”
I might not have had a diagnosis, but I definitely knew that I was different from my peers. I liked to follow a strict schedule. I was easily overwhelmed by too much noise, too many people and new experiences. I struggled to adjust to life with a roommate. I was challenged by an ever-changing cafeteria menu that frequently included foods I didn’t like.
I had to navigate a massive campus and a campus bus system. For the first semester, I detached from everyone and functioned on autopilot. I just needed to survive. I did survive despite the extreme sensory overload and anxiety. I survived, but barely. My grades were less than stellar and I ended up on academic probation.
Back then no one knew I was autistic. No one knew how easily I became overstimulated. No one knew how hard it was for me to keep my head above water. Back then, my parents were convinced I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My psychiatrist, at the time, heavily medicated me in hopes of driving out my compulsiveness. This, in turn, caused me to become extremely lethargic. I could barely stay awake during classes. Obviously, the medication didn’t work for me because l never had OCD.
“I continued to be an undiagnosed autistic person. I have often wondered if things would have been different if I had known about autism. Would my path in life have been different?”
I will never know. Honestly, I’m glad that I have the life I have. I’m also thrilled that my daughters will not have to struggle with their identities as autistic women for half of their lives. With autism being diagnosed earlier, my girls won’t wonder why they aren’t like their peers.
Autism acceptance is becoming more prevalent than ever.
The world is more willing to embrace unique individuals. Being different isn’t such a bad thing. So as my oldest readies herself to embark on her new adventure, I will not worry that she doesn’t have a sense of self. She knows that she is autistic. She is proud of the person she’s becoming.
My daughter’s autism makes her different, but it also makes her extraordinary.
She has the power to choose her own path, knowing that autism is her constant companion. A companion that isn’t a burden, but an asset, a friend. The world is ready and waiting for a new generation of autistic children to become empowered autistic adults.