In the first of a series of guest blogs, one of our members Paul Westwood writes about getting diagnosed with ASD as an adult:

In 2012 I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which was absolutely brilliant because I had an identity and reason for who I was.

As parents of kids, who have autism, there are a range of feelings when your child is given a label from sadness, “why me?” to joy. But getting a diagnosis as an adult makes where I came from as a kid clear: I was always different. My interests were focused, and I didn’t (and still don’t) get people’s jokes, feelings, or emotions etc. Being different and not knowing why, was always a problem for me. I wanted to be normal like everyone else, have friends and a girlfriend, but I didn’t.

In early 2000, a former colleague of mine thought I had Asperger’s and gave me a leaflet from the National Autistic Society.  I ticked 11 out of 12 bullet points, so I knew I had it, but wondered why I should get it confirmed. I had a house, job, wife and baby, surely I was ‘normal’; but I wasn’t. Relationships are a challenge, and it wasn’t ‘cool’ to be autistic, so I pushed back getting diagnosed, until nearly 10 years later when I felt ready to be labelled autistic. Since then my life has changed for the better mostly.

First, me not have emotions like most people is explained, and not acting normally is fine – most people I know have now accepted this. So, when people are happy or sad and I’m not (or I behave in the opposite way) it’s ok. Second, relationships from family, partners to friends and work colleagues have improved because they take into account how I work and act. They don’t try and make me do something I can’t and let me get on with things I can. Even though this isn’t perfect, it is a lot better. Third, I have been able to be myself, which previously I was only able to do around dyslexic youth when I was a teenager.

So, in the last 5 years I’ve gone from being a person who won’t interact with people to being a person who does want to do social interaction. This is on a very limited basis, but I now interact with people. It is mainly around table top gaming, with Star Wars X Wing miniatures being my favourite, but I will play any board game, and now have some close friends and general friends. Most importantly, I met up with people who I never met before and can interact with them. In June this year I was at the UK games expo in Birmingham which over 3 days had 30k people attending. The competition I was involved in had 360 people, mostly the best from around Europe (as it was the first European championships). Another time, I can say what happened there in detail, but to cut a long and very interesting story short, I played 11 matches in the main competition and got to the top 8, a brilliant result! Apart from that, I was able to accept and play with all new people and was okay with it.

Whether you are 5, 10, 15 or 25 when you get an ASD diagnosis, it’s a blessing – take control of it and own it. It’s who you are, and no one will ever change you; trust me no one can. You can achieve your dreams: just because you have autism it doesn’t stop you doing things, it just means you see the world in unique way which 99% of the population doesn’t. It is an incredible gift that you might not realise at the moment of diagnosis. It took 32 years before I realised this myself, but I’m there now.