Living with Asperger's: 'I've learnt to put on a mask'

Milly Hoggard and Darcey Bradburn
Milly Hoggard and Darcey Bradburn
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Darcey Bradburn, 19, of Chorley, was diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 10, after three years of tests and discussions.

Read more: New book helps dispel the myths around autism in young women and Living with Asperger's: 'It greatly affects my ‘social battery’



She says: “My parents noticed something was different with me since I was two years old.
“The doctors would point towards parenting skills being the issue, and as I got older, it was suggested that I should go for anger management or just not taken seriously as though nothing was wrong.
“But I was diagnosed around 10 years old in the end. I was displaying a lot of anger towards small issues, especially noise and spontaneous plans and trips out. I always needed my routines to run a certain way, like meals, bedtime and stories. I also never responded well to usual parenting disciplines such as withdrawal of things I liked and this just added to my issues.

“It affects my life quite significantly in that everything I do has an added effort that neurotypical people learn naturally, for example, social situations.
“I’ve learnt to put on a mask when I go out that makes me look normal, when inside I am full of anxiety. Eventually it can just get overwhelming, as well as extremely exhausting if I am in social places for too long.
“This then results in me shutting off from everyone for long periods of time.
“I have to learn how to react to new things, such as sarcasm, but I have learnt how others around me react to it and mimic them, sometimes word for word.

“Friendships and developing my trust in others has been really difficult, especially when it comes to pushing people away, due to fear of talking about my condition, when really I don’t mean to.
“Noise is one of my biggest issues, as people with Asperger’s are hypersensitive to certain senses, but I have received a lot of help towards this.

“I was given extra time in exams at school, going in separate rooms for tests and wearing ear buds to cancel out the noise. Anything like someone turning a page or moving in their seat across the room was enough to distract me completely.
“I struggle in large crowds of people too, and I have to try really hard to stay calm when I am with friends or in public

“Alongside with my Asperger’s I have developed social anxiety through the fear of not fitting in, and not knowing what I will face in the streets and the unknown and this significantly impacts on me everyday.
“I have to prepare for every time I leave the house. Morrisons’ quiet hours has helped a lot due to less people in the shop, reducing the stress of all the people around me.

“I am not sure if I have OCD or not, but a big issue that has always impacted situations is that I can’t sleep on other people’s beds, or certain chairs.
“I have to sit on a coat or blanket or thoroughly clean through a bed, or check every detail before sleeping on it. My parents first noticed this when I was four and I refused to sit on the aeroplane, causing chaos in the aisle. The pilot even threatened to kick us off unless I sat down and after a very long time, my mum realised to put her cardigan on the chair and I sat down immediately.

“Another part of Asperger’s that affects my life is my obsessions. For boys, these tend to be very specific topics or sometimes “odd” obsessions where it becomes quite noticeable, whereas girls have more common interests that neurotypical’s would also be interested in. The difference is girls with autism spectrum disorder go beyond normal interest where it can take over their life.
“This has impacted on my studies for school, where I won’t be able to do normal daily activities and jobs until I have finished with whatever I am interested in; this can take hours or days at a time.

“It also significantly affects my psychology studies at university too when I write essays, as I become obsessed with the research and don’t know when to stop.
“I can also become obsessed with the topic and this leads to months of writing one essay compared to others.
“However, I have received mentoring for this now.

“But overall, since being diagnosed it has made it easier for me to cope with things, as having a diagnosis allows me to get help and special circumstances when needed, and I can understand now why I get overwhelmed or do certain things.”