Leeds student's tears of relief after autism diagnosis

A mature student from Leeds who has always felt "different" said she sat down and cried after being diagnosed with autism aged 28.

Wednesday, 31st March 2021, 6:00 am
Aimee Shepherd Photo: James Hardisty

Aimee Shepherd, 30, of Oulton - who said the diagnosis was a "huge relief" - is now trying to help other people with autism and raise awareness of it as part of her studies at Leeds Beckett University.

Aimee, who is studying for a PHD in creative arts, is set to work with other people with autism to create a comic book designed to help educate people about autism in women.

Aimee, who spoke to the YEP during World Autism Awareness Week, hopes the comic book will help some people identify traits in themselves.

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Aimee Shepherd Photo: James Hardisty

And she hopes it will raise awareness of the challenges that people with autism face and the positive contributions they can make.

Aimee, whose brother Matthew, 28, was diagnosed with autism as a child, said she has suffered bouts of poor mental health and saw her GP in 2018 to seek a diagnosis.

"I just wanted to know if I was autistic," she said.

"I think if I had an earlier diagnosis I wouldn’t have struggled as much as I have in work, school and life in general.

"I always felt like I was different. I don't really fit in and I couldn't really keep friends.

"It's a very strange feeling, It's like you are missing a section of yourself.

"You don't know what it is, you know there's something that's not quite right.

"You don't know why you are having these issues at school, you don't know why people are picking on you."

"It (the diagnosis) wasn't really a shock, but it felt like a big relief. I sat down and cried at the booklet they gave me afterwards. It was a huge relief.

"Then I tried to learn as much as I could about female autism."

Aimee, who plays for Castleford Tigers Learning Disability Rugby League Team, completed an undergraduate degree in digital journalism in 2019 at Leeds Beckett University.

She then spent 18 months studying for a masters degree in psychology at Leeds Beckett.

Aimee started studying for a PhD in creative arts at Leeds Beckett in November 2020.

"Education is the only place where I feel comfortable," Aimee said. "I really love to use my brain and be creative, so it seemed the best route for me.

"I'm creating a comic book about autism in women and am gathering research to help me identify a more appropriate comic design specifically for autistic individuals, if any.

"The comic book will be about the autistic traits in women and the good and the bad experiences of it."

Aimee plans to create comic strips to give out to people with autism and use their feedback to create a comic book.

"I'm hoping I will get some really good feedback with preferences of style they like and what colours and text.

"I will put all this information into a final comic book that is designed by autistic people for autistic people.

"Hopefully it will help people to better understand their family members who have autism."

"Maybe somebody will read it and see traits in the book they can see in themselves and then go out and find a diagnosis."

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.

The National Autistic Society says one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.

World Autism Awareness Week runs from March 29.

The YEP is running a series of stories each day this week as we focus on the lives of people in Leeds with autism.

For more information and to contribute to charity Leeds Autism Services, go to www.las.net.uk

For more details on World Autism Awareness Week, go to www.autism.co.uk