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    Posted February 26, 2014 by
    Boston, Massachusetts
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    First Person: Your essays

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    Me, Myself & ASD


    Hello my name is Gretchen Leary and if you met me today you would probably notice my purple cast before you noticed that I have Asperger Syndrome, known now as Autism Spectrum Disorder.


    Life can be hectic for everyone but I have learned how to hide how much change and sensory issues bother me until I am at home. I dont have outbursts like I did as a child when the sun was way too bright, the sirens were way too loud, or it was so hot outside to me I just couldn't stand it. Paramedics were even called once when I was in second grade. I was hyperventilating because of the heat, sirens, and emotional rejection. The doctors? They had no clue. Emotionally triggered asthma (?), they thought, as an oxygen mask was placed over my face.


    As I moved through my school years, life never got easier but I learned how to control how strongly I reacted to the heat, noise, and light for the most part. It felt painful on the inside but somehow managed to adapt to making it look like I was fine on the outside aside from some agitation. Nothing extraordinary stood out to my family or teachers (We moved around a lot) aside from my constant high levels of anxiety.


    When it came to making friends, I was at a loss. I had no idea what I was doing. I tried asking people to be my friend. I tried joining conversation. I tried writing notes to them at school. All of these, for the most part ended in heartache and perseveration on my part. I couldn't understand why no one seemed to be able to relate to me or had any interest in what I had to say. They either flat out didn't care, didn't want to make an effort or genuinely had no idea what to do with someone who was so...unrelatable.


    I spent most of my time in the guidance counselors office or the nurse's office during my twelve years of school. When I made it to my senior year, I had still not been diagnosed and was so drained and exhausted by life itself that the thought of college seemed like a nightmare of four more years of feeling claustrophobically stuck in a room of people who didn't get me.


    So I didn't go to college. There was no money for it anyway and I was 3,000 miles from my family when I finished my senior year. I moved on to Los Angeles, Houston, and finally back to Boston. People ask me, "How did you afford moving so much?". The answer was, my mother helped me pay for flights a lot but I lived in a dingy motel in Houston for most of my time there trying to get nanny jobs and failing to meet their weird television based stereotype of what a nanny and housekeeper was. I was even asked to wear a weird uniform and propositioned by my bosses. In Los Angeles, for most of my time there I slept on a set of steel springs covered with cardboard in a creepy apattment complex in the city. I wound up in very unsavory situations and had no idea what I was doing. Everything changed when I found out someone was publishing my first book.


    By this time, around age 19-20, I finally accepted that despite my years of religious upbringing, that I was a lesbian. I didn't know how to handle it. I still loved God. I still do to this day and I prayed and visited ministers and prayed some more. Do you know what I realized? Despite what anyone else around me believed, I could still be born gay and love God. It shook my faith to realize that by simply ignoring who I was wasn't helping my anxiety level. It was making me a bitter, cold person- someone who fought their own reflection and blamed the world.


    When I met the love of my life over six years ago, the world shifted again. I prayed about what God was calling me to do. I kept getting these signs that I was where I was supposed to be. I still hadn't been diagnosed with Aspergers. No..you see that is the most interesting part of this story...


    It was a distant family member who mentioned one day that I acted like someone on the Autism Spectrum. I didn't get it so I jokingly mentioned it to my therapist. I had been in and out of therapist offices for years with not much luck and more than several misdiagnosis.


    It was a light bulb moment for my therapist and I stopped laughing when the big old DSM came out and I listened as the criteria was read and all of these little puzzle pieces, pun fully intended, started to fall into place. When I wasn't satifsfied with one opinion, I sought others who when told of my diagnosis, wound up agreeing. No I wasn't a typical case, but there really isn't a "normal case of Aspergers". That's like an oxymoron.


    This is my favorite part of the story. Instead of becoming more bitter I started to soften. I started to realize that I wasn't a freak of nature and that there was hope. I could learn to make friends, I could build coping skills to handle sensory issues, and I could ultimately learn to love myself enough to be an advocate for my own needs. Out of these epiphanies came a new desire to help others who have faced similar challenges. I wanted to hear their stories. I wanted to know them, and most of all - I wanted to make a difference for those with disabilities.


    Ouitside of the challenges of working in a corporate setting, I started writing a blog. I started a Twitter account (@GretchenLeary), and I started making connections. I have always wanted to write a novel but this inspiration came to me, straight out of left field, to drop the idea of a novel and write a children's book. After a year of networking, fundraising, and hard work "Really, Really Like Me" was born. Then, I got very sick and had to go on a medical leave and couldn't stand the idea of sitting still, so I started The Really, Really Like Me Project donating copies of my book world-wide. I figured if I could get this book out there, even at the cost of my own wallet, maybe it would make a difference. I got the amazing opportunitiy to do a book signing at Lesley University's School of Education and the project is still somewhat underway.


    However, even as I am working on my second children's book, I hit a snag I have hit multuple times in my life. I need a new job. The fact that I fell and fractured my wrist shortly after quitting my job didn't help me feel more confident about my choice but I felt like God was calling me higher. I am now looking for an administrative job in a non profit or university setting but as usual, my passion to serve is hard to spell out on a resume.


    But one thing remains the same, no matter where I am at in my life. I won't give up. I may be a double miniority as a married adult lesbian with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but I am a woman with the drive to make a difference that I feel many lack. It drives me to go that extra mile. It drives me to spend money I don't have to donate my book. It drives me to keep pushing when it feels like I am climbing a vertical incline.


    I will leave you with this thought. Judging yourself or others does nothing but destory the world and giving up when life gets really tough is just not an option in my opinion. I haven't been through what you have and maybe you haven't been through what I have but if we aren't there for each other, what else do we have in this world? Banding together in acceptance, is what is going to help us grow. You may not relate to me like you might relate to others, but I could say the same thing. We are all human. We all have a heart. We need to learn the real meaning of "agreeing to disagree" and put down our gavels and start working together.


    When it comes to unity and Autism awareness, we are all the missing puzzle pieces.

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