How I have managed to learn to cope with my Asperger’s

and especially during COVID-19

From the day I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, at the age of 10, I have viewed it as something that I feel lucky to have. On being told of my diagnosis, my dad told me that lots of our family had Asperger’s traits and that it gave us special powers. At the time this was all that I knew about it and therefore I believed him.

For me, there are many positive traits associated with my Asperger’s, such as being able to speak in front of large audiences without being nervous and being able to complete crossword puzzles without any working out. These are my “Asperger’s Superpowers!” However, it has also created many challenges which I have had to deal with throughout my life and still do to this day. For example, I can become stressed very quickly over small incidents and I still find certain noises and the feel of certain materials unbearable.

A few weeks ago I received some really upsetting news regarding two of my close friends who also have Asperger’s. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns had caused them both an enormous amount of stress and they were both receiving professional help. Relatively speaking I have coped well throughout the pandemic. I had lots of meltdowns and panic attacks during the first UK lockdown but I am now in a much better place. The pandemic has not affected me as much as some people and especially my two friends. The news about my friends got me thinking. I realised how lucky I have been to be able to manage my Asperger’s. I always say that I look upon my Asperger’s as a positive thing and that will never change. But a lot of people who hear my story or speak to me probably don’t realise just how tough having Asperger’s can sometimes be.

One of the main reasons that I have been able to cope so well over the years is because I have a large support network of family and friends who I can always call upon if I need advice or if I am feeling anxious. When I was younger, I was always ringing up my Uncle Tim or my dad if I was stressed. I also knew that I could go over to stay at my grandparents whenever I needed a break. During the first UK lockdown last year I was speaking to my parents, Uncle Tim and my aunt every single day! In addition, I had my grandparents, my cousins and about five different friends who I regularly spoke to. So, you can see that I had a lot of support around me and on tap whenever I needed it. Without this support I honestly don’t think I would be in such a good place at the moment.

When I was younger, I received lots of help and support, not only from my friends and family but also from people at school and various other places. I tried to learn as much as I could from these people particularly on how to cope in different situations. One extremely useful resource I was provided with, by the council, was a child psychiatrist who I saw for about three years. She not only gave me some lifelong tools to help manage my life better but my parents say that she was an invaluable resource for them too. I remember how she used to tell me that I had the intelligence to solve any problem myself (something I have never forgotten!).

 

Another really important resource, which I was fortunate to have access to, was a local registered charity called Family Equip who help young people with Autism and Asperger’s. They were instrumental in helping my parents to get me my diagnosis (Statement of Educational Needs) and also to choose an appropriate secondary school for me to go to. A really helpful strategy I was introduced to at my primary school was a ‘time-out’ system where I could go to a quiet place if I needed to and read one of my football programmes. At my secondary school there was a wonderful Senco who I trusted and knew, if I was stressed, I could always go and speak to her. She was responsible for me being able to stop having to do homework amongst other things and was really appreciated by my parents who she helped enormously.

I have also worked very hard over the years to find strategies and coping mechanisms that help me. One such strategy is reading a football programme and another is watching children’s TV. These have always been two great coping strategies that I have constantly used to alleviate my anxieties. Last year, due to the pandemic, I have had to come up with new coping strategies to deal with all the change and uncertainty that has arisen from the government lockdowns. For example, I have only been focusing on the next three days, I have tried to keep my new routine as similar to my old routine as I could and created projects that I could focus on and look forward to. However, the most important change which I have made, as a direct result of lockdown, is to be more spontaneous. My dad has tried, all my life, to encourage me to be more flexible in terms of my plans. I don’t know why but I was always very stressed if people threw sudden changes at me. During lockdown I think I realised how precious time was and that if I didn’t seize an opportunity to do something then I may never be able to do it again. Now, I am better able to cope with unexpected changes and I know that this is something that will help improve the rest of my life. So, as my dad always said ‘every problem is an opportunity!’

All of the help and support that I have received over the years has been instrumental in helping me to be able to cope with all of the challenges that I face today. Having parents who are so positive, who make me feel so confident, has enabled me to look upon my hidden disability in a positive light. Asperger’s is something that I will have for the rest of my life and because it is a disability, it will bring along many more challenges that I will have to overcome. However, I feel so lucky to be in a position now where I believe I can manage these challenges. As my dad told me earlier this year, if I can cope with something as difficult as a pandemic, then I should be able to cope with any other problems that I may encounter!

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     2023 by Alex Manners

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