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I was autistic but I did not know…

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Growing up, Mugwaneza Bruce always struggled with social interactions, had intense interests in specific subjects, and often found it difficult to communicate his thoughts and feelings. He never suspected it was much more than just a personality.

Mugwaneza Bruce is a 29-year-old man. He was recently diagnosed with Autism, which he was unaware he had. Even though he had always felt “different,” he assumed it was something he would have to live with for the rest of his life.

He was always thought to be the odd one out among his peers. He always felt like the odd one out, as if he would never be able to fit in.

He described himself as, “Awkward, Uncertain, confused, with a sense of belonging and failing at every attempt. I just realize how Alien I am every day.”

He claims he is the logical type. That is, he relies on his own logic rather than social cues or facial expressions, which he has difficulty reading. He had disliked being touched and being surprised since he was a child. This did not stop him from wanting them.

“Not having them makes me feel unloved or unwanted, but having them makes my anxiety worse,” he explained. He never felt like he fit in with any group. He’s never optimistic or pessimistic. He describes himself as realistic.

Society always pushes him aside. Maybe because he says things without knowing they are ot acceptable. “But they make sense to me. I feel like everyone got a manual but God forgot to give me one too.”

In Primary six Mugwaneza consulted a Yeah, I first went to Ndera Neuropsychiatric Teaching Hospital where they gave him medication for Epilepsy. The treatment was not working and he later went to the hospital again when he was in Senior Four; the experience was no different.

“They told me I was too absent minded. That was from a consultation of 5 minutes and one test and they gave me the same medication,” he said.

The third time he started seeing a therapist. He said, “He [the therapist] did not want to give me a diagnosis; he referred me to a psychiatrist who just labeled everything as depression.” It did not end there though…

“I then went to CHUK. We did a screening and they found I was on the spectrum [ASD],” he said.

The Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain.

People with ASD often have problems with social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. People with ASD may also have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention.

He was not just diagnosed with autism only but Mugwaneza was also diagnosed with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, otherwise known as ADHD. Research has shown that More than half of all individuals who have been diagnosed with ASD also have signs of ADHD. In fact, ADHD is the most common coexisting condition in people with ASD.

A person with ADHD normally shows hyperactive-impulsive symptoms like fidgeting and talking a lot, finding it hard to sit still for long, interrupting others, or speaking at inappropriate times. Many people with ADHD have a combination of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.

Mugwaneza describes having ADHD and autism as “always having a contradiction.”

He further said that, “One wants to be quiet, the other wants the attention.I do not understand society, In a sense where things people value, the do’s and don’ts, do not make sense to me.”

“Why should I remove a hat? Marriages, funerals, and many social norms do not make sense to me. They do not serve any specific purpose apart from being protocols people have to follow,” he added.

Having both mental illnesses is a chaotic state for his mental wellness. He says, “My mind is not in one place. I am always overthinking, mood swings, depressed–sometimes actually a lot– Lonely…”

This often happens with people who suffer from the double diagnosis (ADHD, ASD).

In many cases, mental illness goes undiagnosed, due to an individual’s failure or hesitance to seek treatment, as well as misdiagnosis from a mental health provider.

For Mugwaneza he never knew he was autistic because of “how autism is depicted. I was lucky to be mildly autistic I am not too disabled to not function properly. I am stable enough to work but not stable enough to feel like I belong.”

Getting a diagnosis was just the beginning, though. This young man had a lot of learning to do about himself and about how to navigate the world as an autistic person.

He started to see the ways in which his sensory processing differences had affected my life, and I began to develop strategies to cope such as learning how to communicate my needs and boundaries more effectively, and I sought out communities of other autistic people who could understand and support me.

His advice to other young people who suffer the same condition as him is to love themselves and cherish their thoughts.

He said, “You are not alone, just because some people do not understand you. There are other people like you who feel the same way. They are your community.”

“Love who you are, cherish your thoughts, there is something you can do, a problem you can solve that others cannot,” he added.

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