JR Reed

I was born, grew up, and was out of high school for more than a decade before autism as we know it today, was being diagnosed.

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I was born, grew up, and was out of high school for more than a decade before autism as we know it today, was being diagnosed. I like to say that I grew up without a spectrum to be on. Beginning in fifth grade my teachers started calling me, “weird,” “stupid,” and, “lazy.” In high school teachers began telling me that I wasn’t living up to my potential. A couple even told me I never would.

At the time it hurt, but now at age 56 I find it kind of funny because in all my years on this earth I have yet to find any measurement or test to quantify one’s maximum level of potential. All the negativity in my life led to problems with depression, anxiety, and self-esteem. All things that I still struggle with to this day. I constantly doubt myself and because of that I get anxious that I won’t be able to complete the task at hand to the best of my ability. I am my biggest critic and my own worst enemy. The first 45 years of my life I was a square peg being forced into the round hole of a neuro-typical lifestyle.

I was different from most people. My brain processed things in different ways and I saw the world through different lenses. The thing was, no one, including me, knew why I was different. To everyone I was strange. Quirky. Different. But usually just weird.

I didn’t know why I had this inner need to do things in a different way and why I absorbed and processed information in a way that was different from other people. I just knew that this was how I needed to do things. I also knew that it was the wrong way to do things.

But it wasn’t wrong, and there was/is nothing wrong with me.

Fast forward to 2011 where I found myself sitting on the couch in my psychiatrist’s office. I’d seen him almost weekly for three years, so he knew me pretty well. One day he asked me if I had ever considered that I was autistic. I told him that I had done some research into my quirks and odd traits and that autism was the one thing that kept popping up, but that I wasn’t sure that I was on the spectrum. We decided on some testing and the next week we sat down and dove in. It was then that I was told that indeed I was autistic and had Asperger’s Syndrome (now Autism Spectrum Disorder).

That knowledge was like an epiphany to me. Suddenly things started making sense.

I avoided loud music and bright lights not because I was weird, but because I had sensory issues. My brain wasn’t broken, just wired differently. As I walked to my car,

I remember saying to myself, “Huh.  I’m not weird.  Just autistic.” That phrase would be a turning point for me and would begin the next chapter in my life. Almost immediately after my epiphany, I bought the URL notweirdjustautistic.com. It started as a blog and has now grown into a platform for my autism and neurodiversity advocacy.

Today I write for several publications in addition to my blog. I speak to groups as small as 20 and as large as 4,000. I also work at the state level, meeting with legislators to discuss bills that impact those with developmental disabilities and their families.

I strongly believe and preach that as people with autism, we are not disabled, but rather we are dis-abled by our environment. This world was not made for people who are autistic or otherwise neurodivergent.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t find ways to adapt and thrive. We all have the ability to lead happy, fulfilling lives. We just have to find ways that work for us as individuals.