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I'm not autism, I'm Samantha.

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I'm not autism, I'm Samantha.

April 13, 2016, Samantha
Samantha

My name is Samantha. I almost 21 years old and this is my story. Growing up as a kid, I was very antisocial. I avoided people. I wouldn't let my own family get too close to me. I talked but was quiet and reserved. I never really knew why. I asked myself, "Why am I afraid of meeting new people?", "Why don't I like people getting so close to me?", "Why don't I have empathy?" I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome when I was about 7 years old... but I didn't understand my diagnosis until I was 15.

In elementary school, I was repeatedly bullied by other kids. I can't remember much of what they said but I do remember feeling unsafe. I didn't want to go back to school but I went anyway. I learned to ignore it. By the time I was 13, I hated myself. I didn't feel comfortable with myself. By the time I was 13, I went through a few therapists. I did not feel they helped. They just brought out board games and made me do journal writing. I did not feel like I made a connection with them. My mom explained my autism diagnosis when I was 15. It wasn't hard for me to accept because my brother had autism and I had sometimes wondered if I had autism too.

"I don't let my disability define who I am. I decide who I am. I'm not autism, I'm Samantha."
When I was 14, I moved to Orange County. The bullying stopped but I still had challenges. Meeting new people was still hard. I worked very hard through high school because I was determined to get to college. I had already decided that I wanted to go to college and nothing was going to stop me. I wanted to keep learning.

When I was 18, my mom looked for a new therapist. I had to learn to open myself up to therapy again so I said "sure". I ended up enjoying myself. I'm learning to open up to others about my feelings and not be a wallflower. I'm learning to put myself out there and show my personality more. I've learned how to have conversations with people, how to have more confidence in myself (it's still a work in progress), how to be a leader instead of a follower or a victim.

In 2013, I started Orange Coast College and discovered a passion to help others. I'm working toward my nutrition degree and hope to work with kids.

Most of the time I do fine with life's challenges but I still have more obstacles to overcome. Now I understand that even if you're on the spectrum, it doesn't mean you can't live a fulfilling life, accomplishing goals you set for yourself. Don't give up on your dreams and aspirations just because of a disability.

The thing that irks me is when people ask questions about stereotypical autism behaviors like "Do you have tantrums?" I tell them, not every autistic person is the same. We have different personalities, we are not just one group and one personality. I don't let my disability define who I am. I decide who I am. I'm not autism, I'm Samantha.