Niall’s story

Read a transcript of this video

Autism doesn’t have a look. I am confident and I ‘seem fine’. Really, my confidence is learned from others – a mask that I have learned to use to fit in. It means people don’t listen to me when I tell them I am getting overwhelmed. They laugh it off, or tell me I’ll be ok.

When someone is autistic and they find the courage to make a small request, people don’t realise what it takes to do that. People need to listen. Growing up I was often made to feel like a burden. I have internalised a lot of negativity about my autism.

Sometimes you get nervous asking for accommodations from people. There is social pressure. You end up saying yes to things that aren’t good for you.

People say to ‘be kind’ but we need practical help. Being aware of what autistic people need, asking open questions and listening to their specific needs, that’s being kind.

People often make me try new things. Or convince me to have experiences that they enjoy. What helps someone who is not autistic like going out and socialising can make me feel frazzled and overwhelmed. Pretending is called masking and it’s exhausting for me.

For years I tried to fit in. But the truth is what’s fun for them isn’t fun for me. I love spending time with my cat. I like insects and fantasy films. I need adjustments. I don’t just want to eat plain food, I need to. I rely on these things. It might not make sense to other people but without the right things around me I get extremely distressed.

The phrase, ‘You don’t look autistic’ has affected my whole life. I seem confident on the outside but I have been hospitalised in a psychiatric unit from the stress of not having my needs met. Eventually all the small things added up and pushed me to my limit. It was very frightening.

I am glad there has been more awareness of autism in recent years, but it’s not always a ‘superpower.’

We need society to provide more practical solutions and accommodations like letting us know we can leave if we feel stressed. This can give autistic people the safety net they need without them having to ask for it.