People who have Autism Spectrum Disorder often also suffer from other mental health conditions. One reason for this is due to how they are perceived by others in the world who may treat them differently because of the ways people with autism might act that make them stand out from the “normal” people in society. This can cause a lot of social anxiety for people with ASD as many people on the spectrum want nothing more than to fit in with everyone else.
My first encounter with a mental health issue came when I was 13 years old when depression took hold of me and has never really let me go. I went through a phase of self-harming that thankfully only lasted a few months until I opened up to my family about my depression. Talking really does help.
After that I seemed okay for a couple of years until I suffered from a 10-month bout of severe bullying at school which resulted in me falling back into a deep depression and also developing agoraphobia, social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the latter two of which I still suffer from now, a decade later.
Because of my social anxiety I never leave the house alone. This was initially due to being scared of seeing people from school. Although I do still fear that somewhat, I am now mainly fearful in case I have some kind of panic attack or breakdown whilst out on my own when I’d have no support to help me calm down. I now realise that this happens because of anxiety associated with Autism rather than the social anxiety associated with my school bullying.
Using public transport is a big deal for me personally. Apart from the chance of potentially seeing someone from school, the thought of using public transport alone is terrifying. People with autism hate change and confrontation, and there are so many variables to fear for an autistic person on public transport. Just some of the questions that go through my head are: –
What if I give the driver the wrong amount of money?
What if other passengers start to talk about me?
What if I miss my stop?
All of these prospects are horrifying for someone with social anxiety and can result in panic attacks or breakdowns.
Thankfully, I have a great support system in my wife and other family members which allows me to get out of the house and use public transport to travel and see some amazing places.
So next time you are on the bus or train and see someone who seems a little “odd” compared to everyone else, please be considerate and kind. What may seem an effortless task to you may be a huge deal to them.