Different not Less

Meet Heather. It is such an honor to introduce you to this girl. She captivated me long ago with her bright personality, her whimsical art and her love for beauty. Heather was diagnosed with Autism last year, a disorder that affects 1 in 68 and is on the rise. A disorder that is often misunderstood, belittled and teased. But for Heather, she has found meaning and purpose in it all. She sees its beauty and potential. She shares her story so that you may find your voice, your place, your worth. Here's Heather.

Photo Credit: Director, Krissy Collins; Photographer, Alli Miller; Editor, Gabi Brown

Photo Credit: Director, Krissy Collins; Photographer, Alli Miller; Editor, Gabi Brown

I'm not sure I ever really lived until recently. Last December I was diagnosed with Autism. And while to you that may seem pitiful, to me...this was relief. 

My life has been a striving. A misunderstood, lonely striving. Who was I, really?  Because I could not be what everyone wanted me to be...and I couldn't be what I felt like I needed to be. But I dare not be me. 

When I was 5 I had to repeat kindergarden because I couldn't get along with my teachers, and that's when I knew I was different. Because even at the age of 5 a kid knows when they're unlike everyone else, and a kid takes notice when they're treated dissimilar to the rest of their peers. 

I couldn't understand why, but I had odd quirks and learning disabilities. Loud noises were intolerable, and the shock of a crowd would cause my insides to convulse. The special side classes. The modified testing. The tutors. The bullies. The stares. The taunting. And you look around, and it feels like injustice. Because all you really want is to be like everyone else. All I really wanted was to be normal. 

I knew of these dots in my head, these puzzle pieces that were supposed to connect and fall together, but no one could seem to fix me. I was broken and made aware of it. A fragmented girl who longed to be known more for what I could be than what I wasn't, but even the best of 'em couldn't make sense of me. 

School could be so brutal. It never ceased to remind me that I was weird and needed to be in their programs so I could learn how to acclimate to the real world. But I finished and graduated, and with the little self-confidence I had left, took myself to ministry school and married a great guy.

But I was still lost. I was a lost adult. And after two years of school and two years of marriage, I read a book about Autism. And it all made sense. I walked myself into the hands of a shrink to confirm what I already knew. I had this. Autism 299.00, Level 1.

I had this, but it no longer had me. What for many is an unravelling of self was a revelation.  My diagnosis was not a breaking...it was a freeing. I knew the why behind all the programs and the testing, why most days I felt like a dud with a lost cause, why I couldn't seem to communicate issues with my husband, why I fought this perpetual battle with depression, and why I just could never seem to measure up. The answers that eluded me for most of my life suddenly came into sharp focus.  

And here I stand. I made it. I'm still making it. And thriving.

For most of my life Autism was this great impairment, this annoying defect. It caused me so much pain and discomfort, heartbreak and insecurity. And I thought my life would be a marring by this point, spent battling my never-ending inadequacies. But I've learned to see it for its beauty. 

I am blessed with the ability to move objects around in my brain to rearrange a space, list, or concept. I am a self-taught artist who has never had an art class but can replicate an image like a Xerox machine. God has given me eyes to see a different perspective than others, and I love it. I love my wild dreams and colorful visions. I love that I only think in pictures and videos.

I have learned to cope with my anxiety well in public and now have the support of family and friends. So when I am overwhelmed by sounds, people, lights, and so on, I can quietly step outside and catch my breath. I can now flap my hands in peace when I'm coming undone. And I can cry and scream when I can't find the words to convey.

The thing I want you to know about Autism is this: you are not your disorder. It is a part of you, but it does not define you. You are so much more. You and I were created with purpose, and all my hard days have found reason and restoration...just as yours can. So don't give up. You've been personally designed by a God who has blessed you with a mind all your own. So own it, love it, use it. We are different, not less.

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