My life story is not just mine; it’s a reflection of what countless individuals experience when left undiagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for years. For 36 long years, my reality was a puzzle, with pieces scattered and missing, until my diagnosis provided a frame. But, even now, the picture remains incomplete as testing continues to uncover the depth of my neurodiversity.

At the tender age of three, my mother’s intuition sensed my unique way of interacting with the world. Yet, when she sought guidance, she was dismissed, labelled as overreactive for not letting me “just be a child”.

This was my first encounter with misunderstanding – a theme that would persist throughout my life.

Bullying wasn’t just a rite of passage for me; it was a daily trial, exacerbated by the indifference of teachers who saw my distress but urged silence. Alone during breaks, I was a square peg being forced into the round hole of societal norms. Despite being recognised for my intellect, my struggles were misconstrued as laziness.

My teenage years were marked by labels: “troubled”, “monster”. These weren’t badges I wore but were thrust upon me by those who mistook my autistic meltdowns for mere bad behaviour. The lack of understanding wasn’t just external; I, too, was lost, trying to navigate a world that seemed rigged against me.

To the observer, I might seem sociable, yet, the nuances of social interactions often elude me, leaving behind a trail of anxiety and confusion. My empathy and kindness, while strengths, became vulnerabilities, exploited by those who couldn’t see the depth of my genuine intentions.

After completing my O levels, the prospect of continuing in an educational system that failed me and seemed alien to me was unbearable.

The workplace brought its own set of challenges: underestimation and conflict, often rooted in misconceptions about my abilities and potential.

Burnout and overwhelm frequently besieged me during periods of intense and demanding work, as I found myself unable to disengage from my hyper-focused state, driven by a relentless pursuit of precision in my work. Navigating the complexities of life proved to be an equally daunting challenge. Frequently, I found myself wrestling with unexpected surges of anxiety and restlessness, harbouring an overpowering urge to seek refuge in the haven of my home.

Each diagnosis added a piece to the puzzle but also highlighted years of struggle and misunderstanding

In my quest for romantic relationships, heartbreak became a familiar companion, with each relationship revealing constant misunderstandings. Knowingly or unknowingly, my kindness and empathy were taken advantage of by my partners, causing emotional turmoil. This pattern left me bewildered, amplifying my isolation and complicating the search for genuine companionship.

The journey to understanding began with the diagnosis of anxiety and depression, later compounded by OCPD and trauma. But it was the personal epiphany, sparked by social media, that led me to suspect and then confirm ADHD and, eventually, autism. And the same psychiatrist who tried to dismiss my ADHD and autism concerns later confirmed he had never seen a client with such horrendous full-on ADHD.

It later transpired that some of my systems were actually due to my autism. This later explained why I was also experiencing such conflicting symptoms such as the need for a routine but also the need for novelty and, at times, breaking routine to remain motivated. Or feeling chronically bored because you want to engage with a hobby but you are too overwhelmed and have no energy to do so. 

‘Bullying wasn’t just a rite of passage for me; it was a daily trial.’ − Andrew Zammit Manduca‘Bullying wasn’t just a rite of passage for me; it was a daily trial.’ − Andrew Zammit Manduca

Each diagnosis added a piece to the puzzle but also highlighted years of struggle and misunderstanding. Intertwined in this puzzle also lies dyslexia  and dyscalculia – each condition layering complexity upon my daily experiences.

Today, my narrative is taking a new turn with MISCO, where my role as a neurodiversity consultant and inclusion specialist allows me to champion the potential within neurodivergent individuals. It’s not just a job; it’s a mission to redefine how society perceives and interacts with the neurodivergent community.

My story underscores the critical importance of early detection and support for individuals with autism. It’s a plea to parents, educators and society to remain vigilant and understanding, to change futures through early intervention.

In possessing these unique traits, I find the strength to embrace life’s challenges and advocate for a world that recognises and values neurodivergent individuals. My story is one of many but, together, we can turn individual narratives into a movement that transforms understanding, acceptance and support for the neurodivergent community.

On World Autism Awareness Day, let this story serve as a reminder of the journeys many are still navigating, often in silence.

It’s a call to action: to listen, learn and lend support, ensuring that the neurodivergent voices are heard, understood and celebrated.

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