Richie Smith is a managing director of Awesometistic, a unique autism training business. Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at 33 years old, Richie’s goal is to generate autism understanding and acceptance wherever he goes.
Can you share with me what life was like growing up without an official autism diagnosis?
Growing up without a diagnosis of autism was difficult. I struggled immensely with everyday life and didn’t understand where I fit into the world. I did all these different behaviors that at the time I didn’t understand, but struggled to stop. Growing up not having answers for the way I was acting was really scary, and it did affect my confidence. I had to hide away and compress everything deep inside.
This helped me become self-aware of what my body was needing, and I have learned a lot about myself and become very self-aware. This meant I could take myself away into a place where no one was giving me what I needed, which allowed me almost to reset my system. I feel this put me in a very good position as an adult to help families, businesses, schools or the general public learn more about ASD and how they can change their environment or their behavior to help people with autism.
When were you first diagnosed with autism?
It took until I was 33 years old before I received my autism diagnoses, and when I did, I felt like a great weight had been lifted, and I could finally be myself. If I had been given this diagnosis back when I was a child and received the proper support needed my whole childhood, I would have been different and happier. Growing up without answers and not feeling the same as the other boys and girls made me feel call myself a freak which was scary.
So when I started my diagnosis path, I realized I was not that weird little boy and I could be actually pretty amazing, and I should give myself more credit for coping with this for such a long time. As an adult, autism hasn’t changed me as a person, but it has made me a lot happier and also made a great happy awesome home life. My family and children now get more out of me as am not scared to hide anymore. I am regulating my needs to get more out of my day and am actually feeling healthy and proud. Autism changed one big thing—it showed that no matter how hard life was, it’s awesome now.
What are the benefits of someone being diagnosed with autism—even as an adult?
Getting diagnoses has helped piece together all the things I questioned about myself and made me see that I am awesome and that I learned how to look after my autism without knowing. I felt for a freak for 30 years because I thought I was different from everyone else and I was really scared to show my true self. But now I feel like everyone else and that I finally feel me for being me. It was hard at the start, but over time I am getting strong and learning that it’s okay to be me not the compressed Richie. Knowing I have autism means I can now focus on the important things in life and not worry about my behavior and actions; I let my body sort my autism out and listen to what it’s asking for so I can focus on being happy.
Knowing I have autism has also helped my life because with people that understand and care around me they make little changes for me so I can enjoy my family time and not worry about compressing myself. They accept me and myself—it’s an amazing feeling. Autism is hard and takes a lot of my energy up to get through a day, but it’s the times I am happy and enjoying life I like to talk about and remember. I think without having autism I would not have got through life like I have, the only thing I wished was that I got my diagnoses earlier, but only if others had the understanding around me. I learned some great life skills growing up, the way I did, but I would hope if a child gets a diagnosis now there would be enough understanding and help to make them awesome and have an amazingly full life.
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Could you tell me a bit about Awesometistic?
I started my own business to make sure that no little boy or girl has to feel the way I did growing up. Autism can be awesome if we have people around us that want to understand. I go into nurseries and schools to show that autistic children can still have a full life like everyone else. I show them that with an understanding of our ways, we can grow to be awesome. Of course, I can talk about all the hard times, but my business is about showing that they can be less hard times and more fun times with understanding of my needs.
What was your inspiration to share your experience with others?
I don’t ever want another child to have to go through the childhood that I had by having to hide ASD for fear of getting punished or criticized. So this is why I started my business, so I can help people to try to understand a child and autism then I have done my job correctly. If a child with ASD is supported correctly throughout life, there is no reason why he/she cannot go on to have a job and family.
I want to be able to give my perspective on my own ASD and hope that this can help a family, a school or business gain insight into someone they may love, work with or just come into contact with. The world can be a scary place for someone with ASD, and if we can help to make it even a little easier for all of us then, I think that we should.
Do you have words of advice for people with autism?
I am aware that every person with autism is different, but my message remains the same for all in that these children need to know that they are loved and can be themselves without fear of being judged whether at home, school or out in public. I feel I want to raise awareness and give a little insight into my own autistic life in the hope that it can help others. Autism can be twice as hard when you don’t have anyone to trust or talk too. Being a parent has a key responsibility in helping a child with autism grow.
This article was featured in Issue 84 – The Journey to Good Health and Well-Being