Growing up undiagnosed
When I was little, I had many obsessions. One of these was buses. I would spend days riding around on the buses instead of being in school.
I was bullied but I didn’t always know this was the case. I didn’t like being called names, but I enjoyed the attention and often mistook the bullies’ actions for friendship."
I seemed to get into trouble frequently and I remember being shouted at for not looking at the teacher. I still find constant eye contact difficult.
From the age of 11, I remember feeling on edge and like I was different but didn’t know why. I was teased for not having a dad who lived with me and I began to believe this was the reason I was different. I ran away from home to find my dad so that I could be like all the other kids but when I found him at my nana’s house, he just called the police to take me home.
The more I ran away, the easier it became. If I got into trouble at school, I ran."
I always felt happy being alone in the street but didn’t realise how dangerous this behaviour was. I was lost and frightened and just wanted to keep running.
Hitting a low point and struggling with schools
When I was 14, I went into a children's home. I enjoyed the routine there for a while, but eventually hit a low and wanted to die. I didn’t like myself and wanted to be normal. I tried to commit suicide by taking tablets but a few hours later I got frightened and told somebody. I was taken to hospital to have my stomach pumped and was kept in for a week. School at this time was worse than ever.
I met Adrian and became pregnant with my first son Adam when I was in year ten. I had to leave school and attend a pregnant school-girl’s unit two days a week but the only subjects they taught us were childcare and embroidery!
I wasn’t able to stay in the children’s home and was moved to a mother and baby home run by the Salvation Army. I really enjoyed the year I lived there as they taught me the homemaking and cookery skills I still use today.
Five months after Adam was born, I was 16 and had to go back to school to do my GCSEs. I didn’t fit in at all. I had a baby and Adrian and I had our own home. I only sat one exam and left after 15 minutes.
Relationships and routines
Adrian and I have now been together almost 24 years and have five amazing children. When we first got into a relationship, it took a lot of getting used to. I often had my own agenda and routines I had set for myself – and my lack of flexibility could be upsetting and frustrating for Adrian.
I suppose it takes a lot of patience and understanding to be in a relationship with someone with autism, which I began to understand later."
Motherhood and getting a diagnosis
I love being a mother. I didn’t enjoy mother and baby groups, going to soft play areas or school social events. But because my children wanted or needed me to go, I’d smile and get on with it. In 2007, my son Alexander was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.
When researching to see how I could help him, I started to recognise a lot of my own behaviours, so I contacted the NAS about being assessed myself. Eventually, my mum and I funded a private assessment at home. After a month of waiting, I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism.
Finally, I had an explanation – I wasn’t naughty or weird, I had autism."
I joined a local support group and found it really helpful to talk to other parents and adults with autism. At times, I felt that I fitted in.
I always had a strong caring and maternal instinct and I was fascinated by midwifery. I decided I wanted that to be my future. I stopped smoking and joined a slimming group. This gave me the confidence to apply for and gain employment as a nursing assistant at the local hospital.
I have just completed an access to nursing and midwifery course with 57 distinctions and three merits. I’m really proud that out of 600 applicants to University Campus Suffolk, I gained one of the 17 places on the midwifery degree.
I feel my own history means I have a special understanding of families with extra needs, which is where I’d like to specialise. I still get anxious, and I get lost when I go out, but I am going to buy a sat-nav to help me while I’m training, and I have a few relaxation techniques which help with the anxiety.
I see my autism as a positive thing overall. It does not define who I am but is part of my make-up, I embrace it and am proud of it.
I live for today, for my husband, my children and my family and would like to thank them all for being there for me.
Karen's story was featured in our members' publication, Your Autism Magazine.
To read more stories like this, why not become a member of the NAS?