Updated: May 30
TW/Disclaimer: Autism, Sexual Assault
If this article might trigger you in any way, please do not continue reading!
In this article, I collected testimony from Ali Hardin, an advocate for mental health and a transparent lifestyle. The intent of this article is to spread awareness and dissipate stigmas around mental health. This article was arranged in a free interview format, where Ali was able to tell her story, ask questions, and/or share their methods of navigating life.
1. How did you first realize that you might be autistic?
A shorter version of when I first realized I might be autistic (before I completely researched it), was when I realized there had to be a reason that I wasn’t “normal”. The first extremely clear sign of why I figured I might be autistic was when I realized that I didn’t learn the same way that my peers did. I recognized patterns rather than deeply understanding topics, so a lot of things became common sense to me based on educated guesses rather than actually being knowledgeable in those areas. Also, the fact that I did not fit into friend groups unless a specific person would pick me out and take me under their wing.
2. What did you tell your family that was ignored?
I would always bring up certain topics with my family that would be dismissed. For example, I would tell them that I didn't feel good and that I wasn't sick, but I really couldn’t get out of bed or want to really do anything at all. I would instantly get called lazy, and they would compare me to themselves and say “well I go to work and I have this illness”, “you’re lazy and you won’t succeed if you stay in bed", or “your friends would like to see you, go see them get out of the house”. There was never support. There was never even a mention of mental health on their end. They didn’t believe in it/didn’t care. Things like “kids these days are soft” would be constantly said.
3. How do you think that your diagnosis explains being SA’d? You can go into detail about it, be vague, or not at all!
I’ve done a little research on late-diagnosed autistic people or people on the spectrum in general and their “higher” risk of being sexually harmed. What I grasp is the lack of picking up on social cues. So for example, about a month ago I went to a friend's birthday party. It was a cookout, and we ended up playing soccer. There were a lot of people I didn’t know so I had to of course mingle. This one guy who literally talked about his wife in front of me took fond of me. I didn’t realize at the moment that he was flirting with me the entire time we were at this event. In my head, he just wanted to be cool with me… he had a wife why would he try to flirt? So I was acting like a friend, oblivious to it all.
Later, our mutual friend basically slut shamed me for being so nice to him when he was clearly flirting with me and I knew he had a wife… and I didn’t even realize that that is what he was doing. And I have been thinking like this my whole life. I will think that a male is just being platonic, he'll tell me that he wants to be friends and doesn’t clearly say "hey I find you attractive, etc", I’m oblivious, and then it ends up me linking with them and being SA’d.
Another way is that in relationships and not being able to communicate clearly, I used to allow things to happen blindly because I wouldn’t know how to communicate. Boundaries wouldn’t be set, and I would end up being harmed because I didn’t know how to speak up and thought I deserved it.
The reason I got super depressed and wanted to harm myself is that during peak covid, I had two men trying to assault and harass me. So I had one of my former hookups (I was in high school while he was 23) started sending me sexual and very explicit text messages through a changing number app constantly for a literal hobby. And my recent ex-boyfriend would constantly try to find a way to find me and talk to me also. We had a very toxic cycled relationship. I cheated, he cheated. We constantly would go back to each other for the fun of it. We were not good for each other at all. He also SA’d me multiple times like touching me while I slept, would do things without consent, etc… after I left him officially, he would not leave me alone. Would pop up to my job, my window at night, in public. And that really messed me up.
4. What made you decide to leave school, and how did your diagnosis play a part?
I actually didn’t mean to drop out. I was so depressed and ignored school until classes started back. I forgot to sign my loan for the semester and went to classes for the first two weeks. I got comfortable… and then all of my classes disappeared and I was heartbroken. I couldn’t reapply until the following semester. I knew I was depressed, and constantly thought of harming myself I just kept myself so busy that couldn't actually go through with acting upon it. Once I got my classes dropped, I took a step back. I started working at my veterinary assistant job full-time again and analyzed what was happening and what I was actually going through. I then started seeking out doctors to help me. Started on meds, and got diagnosed. After about a month after dropping out, I decided that I loved the slow pace of just working full-time nothing more, and decided not to reapply and just start living day by day and start healing. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how getting diagnosed with an illness breaks them. Mine explained to me a lot of key parts of why I have been the way I have been for so long, and gave me hope and completely changed my life for the better.
5. What do you wish that people knew about autism?
I wish people knew how to socially be better to autistic people or just “different” people in general. So like in jobs I don’t see my supervisors as “higher ups and leads”, they are just regular people who have the ability to tell me what to do. I express that openly to a lot of people that I work with, and it causes a lot of “higher ranked” people to not like me because I question authority sometimes and treat them equally. I also wish people knew more info about mental health and people on the spectrum and were accepting of it. Rather than my family being like “oh this new generation is just soft”… as I should be? Why should I be angry or struggle?
6. How did reptiles/anything else save your life?
Reptiles saved my life mainly because they forced me to get out of bed. It forced me to get up and take care of them. Nobody else in my household knew how to care for them. So why would I kill myself if they need me? My dog wasn’t enough, somebody could care for him… but not them. But in all, doing things I wanted to put myself through saved my life. So becoming hyper-independent by moving out of my mom's house, buying my dream car, and soon leaving to travel full time have all saved my life. Why would I die when I am doing what I want? If I fail? Oh well, I already have. And with this mindset alone, I am the happiest I have ever been.
7. What are some things in your life that would be different if you’d been diagnosed earlier?
I feel like if I was diagnosed earlier I would never have put myself through a lot of situations. I would have been put in therapy early, I would know how to navigate some of my illness, probably pick up on things socially, and be accepting of a lot of my life and mind rather than resenting it until I was diagnosed later. It probably would have either let me actually graduate college and become a veterinarian or completely cause me to do something different. A lot of it is what-ifs, but I know I would not have had the same path if I was diagnosed as a child.
8. How does your diagnosis impact you on a daily basis?
It impacts me daily. Sometimes I never know how I am going to act. One day I may be mute, the next day I am dancing and sharing all of my thoughts and overcome with energy. I have recently gotten out of a manic episode that lasted four months while I was working 60+ hours a week. It caused me to decide that I wanted to travel, it made me link with my ex who harassed me RANDOMLY. It definitely put me in a position that could have gone extremely terrible.
9. What gives you the courage to share your story?
I love when people want to know more about me, and I love when people allow me to express myself. I want to be heard, and I am an extremely open person. I approve of everything being open and transparent, even if it hurts. I really don’t believe it’s courage telling me to share, I feel like it is just a "we are all human" mindset. We are here on earth, one day we won’t be… and who really cares what happens or who dislikes you? One day it really won’t matter or exist. I’m more scared of being quiet than someone thinking I’m weird or insane.
People should be heard, things should be said.
Interview and Transcription by: Sarah Lucas
Story and Interview C0ntent: Ali Hardin