‘That’s you!’ my wife said. I watched the TV screen carefully. Suddenly, my whole life made sense. I am autistic.’: Man discovers he’s autistic at age 32, now ‘happy, flourishing’

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“Hello, my name is Joe and I’m autistic.

When I was young, I didn’t have this diagnosis, and life was very hard for me. I was bullied at school because I was different. I was ostracized and shunned because I wasn’t like the others.

When I was 13, I loved playing basketball. There wasn’t a team at my school so I asked the PE teacher if we could create one. He said if I organized it, he would coach us. I went around campaigning and eventually got enough kids to play. A week after we started training, another boy wanted to join but there wasn’t enough space. The other kids voted to push me out so the boy could take my place and the coach let them. I was devastated. I’d never felt more hated and alone in my life and, worst of all, I had no one to talk to about it with.

After years of this kind of treatment, I started getting violent. I stood up for myself and didn’t let anyone push me around. I learned to fight and that’s what I did any time someone picked on me. It became worse after the death of my older brother and I just felt angry all the time. I stopped caring about everything, especially myself, and even contemplated suicide. My mother was abusive and would call me names and slap me if I ever acted ‘weird.’ She always said I was broken. When I turned 17, she kicked me out and I had to live at a family friend’s house. I was so lost and I had given up on ever being loved.

Courtesy of Joe James

Then, when I was 18, I met someone. Her name was Sylvia. She was working for my mom at her beauty clinic and I thought she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. I asked her out and, to my amazement, she said yes. We hit it off immediately and made each other laugh so much. We started dating.

After a few months, I knew she was the one I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. She understood me, she saw past the self loathing and the anger, she saw the real me, the loving me. She broke down the barrier I had put up to protect myself. I wanted to change for her. I wanted to deserve her.

She agreed to marry me and we wanted a child as soon as possible. I didn’t know if I was ready but she gave me the confidence to feel as though I was. We got married a few months later and not long after my son came into our lives. A couple years after, we had our baby girl. Life wasn’t easy, it rarely is. But for every setback we had, we made it count by learning from it. We became stronger. We are best friends and do everything together. As a family unit, there’s no breaking our bond. Our children are the same way, I couldn’t have dreamt for a happier family.

Courtesy of Joe James

Five years ago, Sylvia and I were watching a TV show about autism. She immediately saw I was just like one of the children on the show. She said, ‘That’s you!’ I watched very carefully and had to agree with her. Suddenly, my whole life made sense. I am autistic.

For 32 years, I had thought there was something wrong with me when in reality my brain just worked differently. I knew I was ADHD and also very smart and so many of the things I did differently I attributed to that. There where still so many things I did that I didn’t understand about myself. I was assessed and discovered to be autistic. A few years after that we realized my daughter is also autistic. It’s the reason why she and I are so close. We get each other and always have been inseparable.

Courtesy of Joe James

My amazing wife has always been the lighthouse when I’ve been lost at sea. She has been the shining star in my dark sky. I never thought I would meet someone and I never in a million dreams could have dreamt of someone so perfect. Because of Sylvia’s support the last few years, I have flourished. I am now a manager at my job, a successful photographer, an autism awareness speaker, advocate, and the best dad I can be.

Nineteen years together and we are as close as a newlywed couple on their honeymoon. Life is good.”

Courtesy of Joe James

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Joe James. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read more inspiring stories about living with autism here:

‘Lucky you,’ she replied with an eye roll. Yes, lucky me. My children have autism.’: Mom explains the ‘one time’ she’s envied is ‘when we get to enter an airplane first’

‘I wrote a stranger. ‘Help me. I’m scared. Please. I need to understand my daughter.’ I begged her to give me the secret. ‘Will we be okay?’ Real-life ‘princess’ helps ease mother’s fears over daughter’s autism diagnosis

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