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relief and fear Irish writer and actress Stefanie Preissner reveals autism diagnosis at age of 34

Stefanie says she was initially afraid at the thought of being autistic, but things changed during the pandemic

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Stefanie Preissner

Stefanie Preissner

Stefanie Preissner

Stefanie Preissner has revealed that she was diagnosed with autism this year at the age of 34.

The writer told how she has always felt a bit different but described the diagnosis as both a relief and a “big fear”.

“I always felt that I was a little bit something, like a little bit too something. A little bit too sensitive, too controlling, a little bit too anxious, always just a little bit off,” she said.

She said she struggled to accept change as a teenager in secondary school.

“I wondered a lot as a kid particularly like as I started to diverge, with girls we were all fine in primary school and then in secondary school girls started to change and wear makeup and listen to different music and I was like what hang on we all decided that we like the Spice Girls and that we were going to hang out at my house on Friday night why do you want to go to that park and sit in a bush and what’s happening and how long are we going to be there and who’s going to pick us up.

“Why am I different why can I not relate to the impulses of other people,” she told The Anton Savage Show on Newstalk.

The actor said she internalised her feelings and thought there was something wrong with her.

“I did endless personality tests online and quizzes and I was constantly like who am I and why am I different,” she added.

“I never thought about autism because my version of autism, and this is a huge barrier to diagnosis, was based on Rain Man or genius savant men who are unemotional and can’t make eye contact or a seven-year-old boy who rocks back and forth and can’t respond to his mother.

“That’s my fault Google exists I could have done research but the mass media was feeding me this is what autism is and it didn’t look like me,” she said.

Ms Preissner said a doctor suggested to her that she might be autistic when she wrote her first book, Why Can’t Everything Just Stay The Same.

“I was working with a doctor actually when I published my first book and it was about how I really struggled to tolerate change.

“The doctor told me she had read my book and asked me would I consider being assessed for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

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“I kind of laughed it off and was like I have a cousin and an uncle with autism and they’re both non-speaking,” she said.

She said she was “afraid” of the thought that she might be autistic. Things then started to change for her during the pandemic.

“I was on social media a lot during the pandemic helping other people to process what was happening and I noticed that while a lot of people were struggling with their mental health, what was happening to me was slightly different I just became fixated on the data.

“I could have told you how many cases there were in any country on a given day, how many cases there were developing in Ireland and then as the Government were coming out with new rules, I was reading those long documents and telling people the rules,” she said.

She added: “I was very worried about why people weren’t sticking to the rules, like these are very clear rules you were told to do it why would you not do it. I can be quite literal in my understanding of things.

Ms Preissner said she is still learning new things every day, she said: “I’m absolutely the same person I always was, I have always been autistic. I just wish I had known that autism can look like me.”

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