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Meet Penny: Life, Cameras, Action!

Young emotional woman in red dress with book in hands

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I always used to relate my experience of life to a movie. Much like a movie: time passes, events occur, and characters develop. Every individual is cast in a role. My role was typically always the same, whether the genre was action-adventure, drama, comedy, or romance. Plot after plot, I always landed the same role, the quirky sidekick.

This quirky character I portrayed was empty-headed and humorous. The manic pixie dream girl detached from reality with an endless offering of eager protagonists to align with. She vowed to follow each charismatic lead with little thought of her own. Why would she stop and think? They were the real star of the show!

Each movie brought its own set of critics. The audience projected their feelings onto the character they saw me play. Stay likable and keep the plot going. I aimed for whatever they expected of me. I absorbed what they cheered for, detested what they disliked, and toned down what they felt was extra.

Acting my way through the movie of life was challenging. Course correcting to avoid criticism was demanding. Emulating my peers was exhausting. I lost and suppressed my most authentic self to character portrayal. I questioned, who did I REALLY want to be?

Reaching out to a therapist for perspective, I learned this feeling of performing in life was called masking. My mannerisms, quirks, and disconnect indicated that I was on the spectrum. A clinical psychologist later officially diagnosed me with ASD Level 1. Plot twist: the news was life changing.

This insight became the catalyst for a journey to get to know me. My true self, who does not vehemently follow cues, gauge the audience, or look to the lead role for direction. Every small step toward authenticity I count as a victory. Writing this out and sharing it with the world included. My story could be a catalyst for another’s journey.

My current life still feels like a movie. Only now, I am the director. If I want to dress whimsically in handmade clothes, I do. Wardrobe will not tell me no. If I want to plop down on a soft pillow or comfy bean bag instead of a real chair, I do. Blocking was never my thing.

My directorial decisions guide the overall look and control of life. Adjusting the path from sidekick to protagonist. Rewriting the script with a new mission. A quest to be who I REALLY am, not who I thought I had to be.


Penny is an artist who uses her creative side and imagination to express herself. She’s now using this opportunity with ASDNext to not only do that through art, but also blogging. For much of her life, she felt like the “quirky sidekick” stereotype in a movie, always doing what others expected of her. When she was diagnosed with autism later in life, that all began to change. This news was life changing and she knew it was time to rewrite her story. She’s no longer on the sidelines of this so-called movie that is her life, she’s the director, leading-lady, or whatever other part she needs to play to figure out who she REALLY is! Every small step toward authenticity is now a victory for her in this new stage of life.

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