Ashley’s adult diagnosis helped her embrace her superpower

Ashley smiling

I'm a miracle baby. I was born four months early. My mom developed preeclampsia while having me. Her blood pressure was dangerously high. The doctors had to perform an emergency C-section to get me out of my mother's stomach in a timely manner. Time was very crucial that day on March 21st. Had the doctors not moved as quickly as they did, my mom and I would not have survived.

After I was born, the doctors had to quickly rush me to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). I had to stay there for three months to finish developing. My mom told me that when I was born, I had no eyebrows, no fingernails and was very small in weight, weighing in at less than one pound. In my stay at the NICU, I had trouble sucking bottles and needed a feeding tube. And not only was I born too early, but my left lung collapsed and the doctors had to stick a tube down to my lung. I still have the scar on my neck to this day because of it. My mom has pictures of me when I was in the NICU, and to be honest, they are hard to look at.

My mom and dad were so happy once my three-month stay in the NICU was over, because I was finally home for good. My parents are very loving, and it was hard for them to deal with having a premature baby as I am their first born (I have a younger sister, we are 11 months apart). Once I was healthy enough to go home, new issues arrived such as being allergic to certain baby formula.

As I got older, I fell way behind in my milestones, which is expected for some premature babies. But it was only when I started grade school that my delayed milestones started to really show. I almost failed kindergarten. I was in the 6th grade reading at a 3rd grade level. I was really delayed in math. I could count, but had a hard time with basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

The teachers definitely knew something was different about me. Not only was I behind my peers academically, but socially too. I didn't have a lot of words to start conversations with my peers, so I was often lonely. I was bullied a lot because I had to be in special education classes due to the teachers telling my parents that I was a slow learner. My parents had already suspected that about me, but they also felt that was not enough observation from the teachers to go by.

Ashley at an Autism Speaks Walk

Looking back, I personally knew I was autistic all my life since birth! I knew that something cool and unique was very different within me. I was actually a very shy kid growing up. I gave no eye contact, I daydreamed a lot and wandered off into the school hallways. Teachers often had to find me and keep a close eye on me. So clearly, there were signs of autism present inside me as a kid.

But back then, autism was looked at as a white male-only disability, not a Black female disability. Females are much less likely to get an autism diagnosis, especially Black females. That’s why I feel my teachers didn't know to test me for autism. They assumed I didn’t have autism because of my Black skin, my gender and because I didn't rock or hand flap.

In my late 20s, I finally had enough of the bullying from my peers at school and from my coworkers at work. I started to intensify my research on what autism is. I learned that autism is a spectrum of mild, moderate and severe autism, also known as Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 autism. I took several online autism self-assessments and sure enough, I had it.

It was in 2014 that I searched for a good psychologist to finally give me a professional test and some answers as to why Iearn the way I do, and why I did certain behaviors growing up and as an adult. After three intense days of testing, the psychologist told me that I was mildly autistic, or had Asperger’s Syndrome. I was at peace knowing who I really am.

Now, I'm still learning my brain and how I look at life and other people. I'm actually a self-advocate for myself and others with autism. I have been on several panels and in magazines as well. Having autism is a wonderful thing to have, and I love it about me very much! I have a unique memory as well, which I feel is due to my autism. My goal is to let the world know that autism is not just a white male disorder. Both Black and white men and women can be diagnosed with autism. Autism is my superpower!

Thanks so much for allowing me to share my story and my journey with having autism. Happy Black History Month!

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