Autism and Me: Life on the Spectrum

By: Noah Najjar

Discovering My Autism

My name is Noah Benjamin Najjar. I am 22 years old and I am on the Autism Spectrum. Even before learning that I had autism, I was aware of feeling that I was different from my peers and I never understood why. Sometimes I would ask my mother if I had autism, but she always said no. On January 9th, 2021, I learned that I had autism. My mom took me for a walk on the beach and confirmed my suspicions. I had a sense of relief knowing, and since then, I have owned it; I have now been able to identify my strengths and zero in on what needs improvement. I have done my research and feel confident in my future.

The Beginning to Now:

The first time I suspected that I may have Autism was back when I was in high school in my freshman year. Every day at school, I was teased at lunch.  Everyday! Something was making me think that I was being bullied. I had been in social skills groups for years and we were always discussing the difference between bullying/teasing and joking around.  So anytime I was in situations like these, I was evaluating whether I was being bullied or people were just joking around. It seemed like I was always doing these assessments. My assessment was always that I was being teased and bullied. From years of being bullied, I developed anxiety. I felt isolated and alone in high school. Friendless. I never felt like I had the right response to the bullying and would constantly say the wrong things and respond in a very emotional way. High School was a very lonely period for me. My anxiety level was high, and my emotional responses were out of line. Sometimes I would just freak out; I would scream and yell in public out of my frustration and anxiety. Of course, I always felt badly after these outbursts, but I was so confused and frustrated.  My anxiety level was so high, that it would impact my thinking. Of course, I wasn’t able to respond appropriately with my anxiety levels so high. Throughout high school, I was always asking my mom about whether I had autism. Her response was always, “you have a few little things that are characteristics of autism, but so do a lot of other people.”

I was so relieved to leave high school and start college. I was going to a place where no one knew about my outbursts and quirky behavior. I was going to start college with a clean slate. A new beginning for me. I excelled in my major at college and made some great friends there as well. I discovered some strengths of mine and immersed myself in activities that were interesting to me. As a result, I was able to find other people who shared the same interests. I did have some anxious moments and some slips ups as a result, but all in all the experience was a good one for me.  The troublesome part was dating!

Dating to me was new terrain and I found myself completely confused by how that world worked. Honestly, I am still confused and unsure about how to navigate in the dating world. There is flirting which I understand is fine, but I am highly anxious thinking about how much is too much and how to read if a girl is receptive to the flirting, or whether she could be offended by the flirting. Reading social cues has been something I have worked hard at, but I feel like reading the cues in dating is a whole other thing.

Since graduating college this past May, I have started using dating apps…not very successfully. After rejection upon rejection, I had opened up to my sister about how upset I was that every attempt at dating was a complete failure. The repeated failure in the dating world reminded me of all the tough things I had endured during high school and I was spiraling into complete sadness. I just did not understand why my brother and sister were so successful in their social and dating worlds, but I was not. After a few days of sadness, my mom took me for a beach walk. That was the day she told me that I had autism. She had held off in telling me about my autism as she had never wanted me to use the diagnosis as a reason for me not to work on myself. I was initially shocked but ultimately relieved, as I no longer had to think about what is “wrong” with me.

When I got home from that beach walk, I began my work on how I was going to live my life with this new insight into me. I first researched information on successful people with autism, and then researched for anything that I could do to help me develop better socially and emotionally. I have not stopped since then. I have developed this keen sense of awareness on how my brain is organized and how I communicate.

Positive Stuff About Autism:

Some people may think that autism is a bad thing and cannot see the positive in it. It for sure comes with some challenges, but really, I wouldn’t be me without it. I think some of my strongest skills are a result of my autism and really, those skills define me. From being very detailed oriented to having extremely strong visual skills and a killer memory, those characteristics will make me a very successful person. I have chosen a career track in the visual arts, video editing. Being very detailed oriented will go a long way to helping me become a great video editor for sure!

There are many famous people who have autism, and while I don’t need to be famous (or maybe I do 😊), those famous people have shown that they were not held back by their autism. Information out there suggests that Bill Gates, Tim Burton, and Dan Aykroyd have Autism. Even celebrities from the past such as Steve Jobs, Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Andersen, Andy Warhol, and Stanley Kubrick had autism, but it didn’t stop them from being the best. Did you also know that Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States, had Autism? Well neither did I! Autism does not have to be an obstacle.

Final Thoughts:

Today, as I accept this newly known fact that I have Autism, I am still me. Nothing has really changed other than I now have a greater understanding for why certain things are challenging for me.  I am learning to really appreciate my strengths and my ability to reach out for help for the things I am not strong in.  I am relieved that the mystery of “what is wrong with me” has been solved and that I have the ability to build on my strengths and work on my challenges. I am looking forward to a successful future.