Guest writer: One autistic brain – Just a different way of being a scientist by Ellie Granger

by | May 1, 2022 | Guest Writers | 0 comments

Hi everyone! We have another guest writer for today’s blog. It’s no longer Autism Acceptance Month, but this remains a space for people to share their stories in and around science, whether than includes autism or not. Today we have Ellie Granger (@purple_neurodiversity_club) sharing their experience of growing up without an autism diagnosis, their feelings of being lost as their peer’s passions and interests changed, and what happened when a diagnosis was eventually made.

Trigger warning: discussions of mental ill health

*Please note this blog mentions Harry Potter but I do not agree with the views and actions of J.K. Rowling*

Doctor: So you would like to discuss getting an assessment for autism?

Me: Yes please.

*Feeling slightly panicked because I find phone calls difficult and what I was about to discuss slightly terrified me.*

After discussing a few things my doctor said, “this makes sense.” These three words had a big impact on me; I felt listened to and I knew that she would refer me for an assessment. After all the stories I had heard about people going to their GPs and them having not believing them or not having access to a diagnosis, I felt privileged that my GP had listened to me.

I look back on the time before I went for my assessment, and I realise that speaking to my GP was the easiest part of the whole process. I remember that having to discuss it with other family members was way harder. I guess some people don’t understand autism so don’t think much of saying things like “Oh, everyone is on the spectrum” or “Why would you want to label yourself with such a devastating diagnosis?”. Firstly, not everyone is on the spectrum, yes everyone can have autistic traits, but not everyone is autistic. Secondly, autism IS NOT A devastating diagnosis. I am not labelling myself with a devastating diagnosis. I have a reason for why my brain is a little different to yours. Having a diagnosis also helps me to give myself a  break when I find myself thinking that I can’t and won’t be like people who aren’t autistic.

So, I guess you’re now wondering why I thought I was autistic. There is a lot of stereotyping and confusion out there to what autism is, so I’m going to try and clear that up.

I think about autism as a bit like fingerprints; no two fingerprints are the same just like no two people’s experience of autism will be the same. This is my experience and other people will have different experiences being autistic.
- Ellie Granger

I think about autism as a bit like fingerprints; no two fingerprints are the same just like no two people’s experience of autism will be the same. This is my experience and other people will have different experiences being autistic.

For me, I guess I never felt like I fitted into this world. I was always “that weird kid”. When I was younger it was easier because in my head I was a witch, just like Ginny Weasley from Harry Potter. Therefore I wasn’t meant to fit in with other people because none of the wizards or witches in the magical world fitted into the muggle world. It was a way for me to cope with not really being the same as everyone else.

As I got older, things became more difficult. I vividly remember copying others’ behaviours at school in a desperate attempt to keep friends. I remember coming home from school and getting upset because I couldn’t cope, and I didn’t understand why. I had intense interests mainly in science and the natural world. I loved Harry Potter, Lego, and collectables that I could put on shelves, and I was also known to collect caterpillars and other insects in my packed lunchbox while my peers were chatting about boys, make-up, and other things I didn’t quite understand.

Then, secondary school happened… oh my, let’s just say that was rough. The problems I’d had at primary school become worse and everything become completely un-manageable. Trying to navigate an environment that is completely un-sensory friendly while attempting to make friends and not have a complete meltdown everyday was a challenge. I felt like everyone grew up quickly and I couldn’t keep up. I never really knew how to articulate how I felt so everyone just presumed I was fine. I guess I started to realise I was different to most of my peers, and they started to realise it to because I ended up with people not being as nice as they should have been. My school reports labelled me as “a quiet student who works hard” I never made a fuss at school and I was well behaved, so I was never a problem for teachers. I look back on this now and realise that there were some major signs of autism there.   

By the time I reached 16, I was desperately unhappy, anxious and still unaware of how I fit in with those around me. I was confused because I still liked all the same things I had done since I was a child, but most of my peers had moved on from toys. My science classes at school were the only things keeping me going. By the time I went to university, I was a bit of an anxious mess, attempting to navigate independence, studies and meeting new people meant that everything sort of imploded. I was sent to the mental health and wellbeing team at my university, and a little while on from that I got a diagnosis of anxiety.

After taking a year out of education, I returned but we were now amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and I was having a really hard time. It was the first time that I properly realised that something might be different about my way of being. Discussions with people at my university happened and the internet happened – thank you Yo Samdy Sam and Purple Ella you guys make excellent content, and it was very useful to me in finding out I was autistic. I went for my assessment during the pandemic, and I found out I was autistic. It felt good to know that I was right about myself, that I wasn’t just making it up. I know that some things will change for me as I begin to understand and accept my diagnosis, but some things won’t change; I still love science and the natural world, and I can still be a scientist with a little added neurodivergence in there to.

I’d like to thank Heidi for letting me put this blog together and for her wonderful business Little Science Co. and all the wonderful work she does for neurodivergent people. We are very lucky to have you fighting our corner.