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2017 Photographer Index

2017-hansen-annabelle 2017-hansen-graham

Gretchen Hansen
Gigi's Joy


At 30, I was diagnosed as high-functioning autism spectrum (formerly known as Asperger's until the DSM-V manual change), when I sought counseling for depression and anxiety, common on the spectrum when trying to fit into the neurotypical world. It came as a shock. I wondered if my fiance would stay with me. Would my supervisor think I was competent to do a social job as Program Director of a nonprofit? I began reading all of the books about the autism spectrum at the library. It explained a lot going back to childhood; in talking to my best friend's mom, I learned he was also on the spectrum. What helped a lot with self-acceptance were celebs that came out like Daryl Hannah, Dan Ackroyd, Susan Boyle, Eminem, etc.

I connected with Autism Solution Pieces, a nonprofit started by two autism warrior moms. Since there are not only adults with autism, but the children on the spectrum are growing up, we formed an adults group called ASPies Unite, beginning with a bowling outing. ASP has since invited me to join their board of directors.

My diagnosis gave me awareness to work on challenges and build them into strengths. Although I have quality of life with a family, a degree, and a career, I don't want to pass as normal- what's that anyways? I can be a role model and inspire hope with my story. A diagnosis helped with awareness to learn more about myself, to build weaknesses into strengths, like improving on studying body language and remembering to smile or make eye contact. Along with the challenges come gifts, and I wouldn't change if I could. I can bring hope for others to have independence and a meaningful life as they define it. As my dad told me growing up, "You can be whatever you want to be and do anything you put your mind to." I've fully come to love and accept myself, and I'm proud of who I am.

Chris, in his own words.
Racine, Wisconsin