Milly Hoggard, 23, of Chorley, was diagnosed with Asperger’s when she was 14. She now works at Chorley Council.
She reveals: “I was finally diagnosed on my third referral to CAMHS. It had first been suggested when I was eight, but there were too few experts in the field and so it wasn’t until I was seen by Fiona that we understood the root of all my difficulties.
“There are so many ways that Asperger’s affects my life. I struggle with a lot of things that people tend to take for granted. Now I am older I have some coping mechanisms that I use, but I still find many things difficult.
“Social cues do not come naturally to me like they would to a ‘neurotypical’ person, so over the years I have learnt to mimic other people and try to learn the basic social rules in order to fit in.
“A lot of girls with Asperger’s do this in an attempt to appear ‘normal’, and we call it ‘masking’. At school I would copy the way my peers behaved, even to the point of repeating their particular phrases.
“I have to concentrate so hard on things like how much eye contact to make, how to react when someone says something, and how to respond appropriately, that I can often get to the end of a conversation and realise I haven’t taken a single thing in. This is especially the case with phone calls as not only am I trying to do the above, but they are also usually unexpected which in itself causes me anxiety, and so I am not able to recall what has been said by the time I put down the phone.
“All of this masking takes so much effort that it greatly affects my ‘social battery’, so by the end of the week I am absolutely exhausted, both physically and mentally, and need one or two full days to myself where I don’t have to leave the house and interact with anyone.
“I call these my ‘no-people’ days and warn my family in advance so they know not to contact me.
“I also struggle to verbalise what I want to say. I have things in my head but I just can’t find the right words and end up just saying something vaguely similar to what I mean. This was a big problem when I was younger because I just used to end up storming off during arguments because I just couldn’t say what I wanted to and it was infuriating.
“Another big part of Asperger’s is fear of the unknown, which leads to a need to be in control.
“I need time to be able to mentally prepare and psych myself up for events in advance (even normal things like going shopping or going out for a meal).
“This is why I like knowing what I am doing at least a few days beforehand, and hate having things sprung on me. When I am doing something such as going to a party, I need to have as many details as possible.
“I have turned away my parents from my house before because they turned up out of the blue and even though they only wanted to pop in for five minutes I just couldn’t cope with the surprise as my brain had no time to process it and prepare for it.
“Sensory issues are also a big part of Asperger’s. I find many smells and sounds overwhelming, and this can be exhausting. I have an exceptionally good sense of smell and hearing, but this isn’t always a good thing.
“At home, I like to keep my curtains shut because it gives me more control of my environment and helps prevent sensory overload. It means I can block out bright light and noises from vehicles and lawn mowers, all of which can be very overstimulating for me and make it difficult for me to relax in my own home.
“With all of these things that we have to navigate on a daily basis, many girls on the spectrum suffer from mental health problems.
“I have been diagnosed with anxiety, panic disorder and OCD. Masking for so long can take really take its toll, and so it is almost inevitable that these issues will occur at some point in a woman’s life, although having anxiety is an often an intrinsic part of Asperger’s anyway.
“It also affects me by way of repetitive behaviours, for example I can quite happily listen to the same song/album on repeat for months at a time. I think this is because I know exactly what to expect, and so it is comforting and almost soothing to hear.
“I also read the Harry Potter books back to back, and as soon as I get to the end of the final book I start them again, but I like knowing what’s coming, so I never get bored. I also do this with TV series such as Friends, which I must have watched hundreds of times, but it gives me some much needed downtime.”