Meet Ashley D.
Ashley D., 34
Autism is like a puzzle & it’s a lifelong journey. People tend to want to build the frame first and then start on the picture, but with autism, it doesn’t work like that. Sometimes, you have to just start grabbing puzzles pieces & building the masterpiece
Ashley grew up in constant search of answers. “Why am I so regimented?” “Why is it always a struggle to communicate my feelings?” “Why do I feel so different from everybody else?”
The Atlanta native would wait 28 years before gaining clarity around the many mysteries of her daily life. Being diagnosed with autism wasn’t only a relief to Ashley, it meant no longer feeling like she had to hide who she really was out of fear of not being accepted. Although she still occasionally struggles with revealing herself to the world, today, Ashley, 34, is much more confident in her own skin. She has made it her mission to spread awareness about autism and hopes that one day people from all walks of life can feel accepted and included.
“I still have many challenges and still find myself masking or covering up how I’m doing just to fit into society. While I have many challenges that I don’t like to show, I also have a lot of positive things about myself that I am proud of and do like to share with the world. I have a very good visual memory and I think my ability to bring people together is something I do very well, and I hope to use my skills to make a difference in the world.”
Learn more about Ashley’s autism journey through her own words in this Q&A:
What were your thoughts when you were diagnosed with autism?
I knew something was different about me for most of my life, so I sought out a diagnosis from a professional when I got older. It was a big relief to finally have answers to questions I had about my childhood and why I did certain things. My diagnosis provided me with a lot of answers.
In what areas has autism helped you excel?
My autism helps me to organize things very well. I’m very detailed at specific tasks. I remember one day at work, I organized a really messy closet that was full of clothes, books, etc. Nobody else wanted to or didn’t know how to do it, so I was able to mentally strategize a way to organize the closet to perfection. Everyone was shocked and impressed that I did all that hard work by myself!
In what areas has it caused struggles?
Keeping friends has always been a struggle for me. Making friends came easy, as I’m a very sweet and friendly person, but with my autism, I can be perceived as “weird” or “odd” at times, so it can be a turn off for people who don’t have autism. It’s often difficult to get them to understand me, so they end up just stop talking to me with no notice at all and I’m left wondering why and what I did. Also, I can come across as very gullible, so some people without autism would take advantage of me and I end up getting hurt in the end.
What are some of your proudest moments?
I’d say my proudest moment was when I passed the test to become a certified nursing assistant! I struggled a lot through school with having a learning disability, so when I started school, it involved lots of reading and comprehension, as well as some math. Fear immediately set in and I thought for sure I was going to fail, but turns out I passed, I even helped others with their assignments and homework! That made me feel so good inside! I am proud to say that I have been a Certified Nursing Assistant for over 10 years now!
Who do you credit with being your biggest supporters in your life?
I’d say my biggest supporters have been my family. They knew something was different about me and were supportive when I sought out a diagnosis. Currently, some of my family members are still trying to learn about autism, and I’m certainly ok with that. I just continue to educate them on how I cope and how they can better get to know me.
What are your goals for the future?
A major goal that I’m currently striving towards is spreading autism awareness to people who don’t have autism. Autism is a spectrum and has many different levels and affects people in different ways. So, my goal is to express that autism is ok to have, and that it is a good thing, and just explaining what autism is in general.
Why is being an advocate for autism so important to you?
Being a self-advocate is so important to me because it better helps me fully accept myself for who I am! Also, I just want the world to be more inclusive of the autistic community in general, so I’m always trying my best to spread awareness.
What is something you could tell the world about people with autism that it may not know?
Autism is like a puzzle and it’s a lifelong journey. People tend to want to build the frame first and then start on the picture, but with autism, it doesn’t quite work like that. Sometimes, you have to just start grabbing puzzles pieces and building the masterpiece.
What does Autism Speaks role in the community mean to you?
Autism Speaks is an essential resource for the autistic community because they constantly advocate for people. Also, they do a great job in sharing stories of people on their own autistic journeys.
What are five words that best describe you?
Five words that best describe me are: Loyal. Sweet. Determined. Friendly. Stubborn (at times?)