As a child, I did not have any friends. I had no idea how to connect. I also did not like unexpected situations. Whenever we went to Turkey for a visit or a holiday, I was constantly upset. I wanted to go back home, where everything was familiar. My parents could not understand my behaviour. They often got angry with me. It became worse in secondary school, because there you have to go to a different class with a different teacher every hour. I could not handle that at all. When I was twelve, I went to the GP with my parents, but he did not do anything.
Three years later, I did not want to live anymore. I was depressed, could not sleep and was anxious. I was afraid to go to school. Then the GGD (Municipal Health Service), youth care, and other institutions got involved. My mother tried to organise my life in a way that made me upset as little as possible: the same food every day, the same routines and order. A psychiatrist thought she was spoiling me. But it did not have anything to do with that.
A lot of suffering can be prevented if people know what they are suffering from in time. But I also understand that it is difficult: many disorders look alike and behaviour can be misinterpreted. I was 21 when the penny finally dropped that I was autistic. The diagnosis had a clarifying effect. At last, those around me understood my behaviour, including myself. Not that all the problems are over now, though. I still find it hard to connect. And I still get over-excited easily. But at least now I know why.
That deep connection with people is something I still long for. I have it with my parents, brother and boyfriend. With others, it is still difficult. I find it hard to start a conversation and to keep it going. I have learned that I should ask questions, but somewhere I still have the feeling that there is something I am not doing right.
I have written books about autism, and I give presentations as an autism ambassador all over the world. I also won a prize for my bachelor thesis on supporting parents of children with autism. Especially in Turkey, the response to my explanation of autism is very positive. People there do not understand it very well. They see me as intelligent and articulate, and they think: you work, so there is nothing wrong with you, is there? When I explain how much energy it takes me to function like this, people often come up to me to thank me afterwards. It gives them a better understanding of their own autistic child or family member. That gives me a lot of satisfaction.
Birsen is 36 years old, a civil servant, a writer, an orthopedagogy student, a social worker and an autism ambassador