My biggest insecurity is something that I've carried with me my entire life. Only in adulthood have I grown to understand, accept, and embrace it. 


"I think I missed school the day they taught everyone how to be a person." I remember telling my parents throughout my middle school and high school years. I always felt not just different, but separate from my peers, as if everyone was guided by rules that I wasn't told about. Rules that I had to uncover them for myself with little guidance. I was awkward growing up. Either too loud or too quiet. I cared too much about the wrong things (By high school, shouldn't I have gotten over my dinosaur phase?). There were certain "cool" clothes that I couldn't wear because the fabrics themselves agitated me. I had trouble making small talk and on more than one occasion was berated by teachers for being too honest (pro tip: you should never tell a teacher that you're bored in their class!). Reading and anticipating other's emotions was an impossible task. I never learned to drive, the unpredictability of the other cars and my own poor fine motor skills being the perfect combination to send me into panic attacks behind the wheel of a car. Phone conversations were their own special brand of torture. I looked young, which paired with my perceived immaturity was a combination that made me a target to my peers teasing. I was also the opposite of a rebellious teenager, attuned to every rule and afraid to make a mistake. All of these things, made me an insecure teenager, aware I was different, but unable to articulate how. Instead, I tried to hide those things that made me different. I tried to conform, rather unsuccessfully. My other major insecurity, my extremely pronounced eyebrows, which as a teenager growing up in the early 2000s, was the opposite of cool. Luckily, I had a great family and group of friends who accepted me, though many were worried how I'd fare in college. 


Once in college, I had struggles, though not those that one would expect. My grades were excellent and I had found a group of friends. However, I struggled with the same insecurities I did when I was younger. I still had trouble with those "simple" tasks that required communication: talking to a bank teller, ordering food at restaurants, making conversation with people in my classes. Sharing a space with others made me anxious, the noises and messes that I couldn't control keeping my anxiety up constantly. I had breakdowns during exams when one question would trip me up and had trouble deciphering what questions meant. The anxiety became so strong, I ended up going to a therapist. Several therapists. I received many incorrect diagnoses before, at the suggestion of my family, I saw an Autism specialist. Three days before my 21st birthday, I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.

With the diagnosis came a sense of peace (and a lot of research, one of my favorite things!). Everything began to make sense, so many of the things that made me different, suddenly had an explanation. As someone who values logic and reason, this was reassuring to me. Until, I started telling people. The worst things to hear? "Oh, that makes sense" or "You don't seem like someone with autism." Both brought new insecurities, made me question myself and just how different I seemed from others, and doubt the validity of my diagnosis and my feelings. My Asperger's continued to seem like an insecurity that I would always have to shoulder. Until, I began to realize that it didn't have to make sense to anyone else, as long as it made sense to me.


Over the last 12 years, I have approached my insecurities and myself within the frame of my identity as someone who is Autistic. I don't let the diagnosis define me, but I allow myself to examine those things that I feel are "wrong" through a new lens.  This has allowed me to acknowledge that being Autistic makes me different and to more fully embrace my differences,and what they give to me. 


I still don't drive, but have upped my problem skills by finding a way to navigate California through a mix of public transit, ride shares, and lots of walking. I've gone to occupational therapy to enhance my fine motor skills, but I will probably never dice an onion, and that's okay. I still have trouble deciphering people's expression, but I've learned that most of the time, if you ask, people will tell you how they're feeling, and appreciate your empathy. I am still a rule follower, but my meticulous attention to detail and attention to rules has helped me get the job I have, the Divisional Safety Officer for the Department of Biology at a major research university. I get to share my love and enthusiasm for rules with an entire community now! As my job! And I can even make eye contact while doing so. I still care too much, as my friend's say "I don't think I care about anything as much as Ashley cares about EVERYTHING" and I think that's awesome. I want to be known as a person who cares about their friends, their interests, and now, myself! 


I don't really tell most people that I have Asperger's anymore. Or at least, not in the way it I used to. It doesn't need to be a huge announcement or warning. I prefer people to find out naturally, as they get to know me. Maybe I am still insecure about the diagnosis and telling people, reactions in the past haven't gone well. I hope to one day feel comfortable telling everyone, owning it not just in my actions but in my outward identity as an Autistic person. There are days I still feel insecure, wish things that others take for granted felt just as natural to me, but I'm learning to accept my strengths. It doesn't hurt that my eyebrows are considered very cool now and I wish I could tell 14-year old me how many people compliment them.


I celebrate: uniqueness, science, enthusiasm and finding new comfort zones!

Autistic Advocacy - my favorite description of autism and Asperger’s Syndrome that I’ve ever found.