Hannah is a 20 year old living in the UK, mostly a maths student, but also a musician. She can be found at http://twitter.com/pianomaths.
I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 13. Until that point I was just the maths-absorbed geeky girl who never had friends. Oh, and who played the piano with a level of emotion that was otherwise not displayed in her being. Now, though, seven years on, I see myself as the maths-absorbed geeky girl who is musical, and who also has autism, which is why she is who she is.
I teach maths part-time, mostly to kids with Special Needs labels, and my autism probably makes that an easier task in some ways. I’ve tried to influence my boss’ decisions on the workplace to be more sensory friendly – we are finally now in a room with more natural light and with less “artificial feel” lighting. After the shock of the change last week, this week we have already had a marked improvement in concentration and general coping ability compared to the dingy, dark room with really yellow lighting that we were in (it also has made me feel much more at ease and able to do my job, which is a bonus!). I guess the insight I have can provide ways to practically make a room more conducive to studying in a way he, as a neurotypical (NT), can’t. Hopefully any new students on the spectrum will find the environment more suitable from the start.
I try to hide my autism (not sure how successful I am at this, but I do try). I was having a conversation with someone who knows I’m autistic and who has an autistic child in the street a few weeks ago, so wasn’t bothering to do the “stare at his mouth as that is nearly his eyes” or the “make my voice go up and down in a way to make it seem less flat” which I generally do. Then, a member of a choir I direct appeared [I live in a small town and I am known by lots of people] and suddenly I needed to be back to the “quirky yet not autistic choir director” role. I think that my need to hide the more visible sides to my autism probably stifles me at times – the finger wiggling, the tapping my forehead (my stimming techniques), the doing maths aloud in public places (this makes me feel more able to cope, the London Underground is somewhere I really struggle, so end up doing some quite involved sums to keep me functioning), lack of eye contact, flat monotonic voice – all just part of me being me, but what I try to hide. The autism which is part of me (and I would not change as it gives me the enthusiasm for my maths and the view on the world I have) seems to be not acceptable to others. The visible “slightly odd” features of me are picked up by those NTs around me. It takes a lot of effort to not include those features in my behaviours whenever I am outside my own home. Maybe one day I’ll feel comfortable enough with my inbuilt natural behaviours to show them to most people, but I don’t at the moment.