At the age of 15, Sam was diagnosed autistic. He found it a relief to have an understanding of his condition and says it explained a lot:
“It answered a lot of questions because I see things in black and white and I could never understand why I was getting punished for telling the truth.
“When I was younger, my mum also had to cut off all the toes from my socks because I hated the sensation. She knew there was something going on and she fought to get me assessed, but it never happened, so it was easy to write me off.
“Mum was always in my corner though, she knew I was struggling 24/7 and that I was really suffering.
“I never wanted to be the person to make an excuse for my behaviour and I have actually only started to tell people about my autism in the last year.”
He’d started to self-harm at 11 and became a target for bullies, who sensed his struggles. He explains:
“I never had a problem academically, it was my behaviour. I always felt like there was something happening in my brain that was out of my control but I wasn’t able to articulate it.
“On one occasion, I was at the GP and he said he wouldn’t help me until I told him how I was actually feeling, so I said I felt like picking up the chair and smashing it through the window. He told me if I said something like that again, I wasn’t coming back into the surgery and that made me feel like I needed to hide these things because they were unacceptable.
“I do feel like I was let down because I was a child and there was a duty to protect me, but I don’t feel like that happened. I missed out on such a big part of my life, making memories with friends, talking in the hallway between class, hanging out after school, I don’t have any of that.”
Sam was excluded from school in third year and sent to a centre for over-18s with learning disabilities. It was here that a classmate offered him prescription medication drugs to help him cope with his anxiety. He says:
“I didn’t realise the damage I was doing with prescription drugs, I thought it was just a painkiller and it took away my feelings and made me feel calm”.
He was eventually moved to a programme aimed at helping people with behavioural difficulties.