A WOMAN who lived with undiagnosed autism for years, even living in a tent in the woods due to her condition, is asking others to be more aware of people living with it.

Emma Wishart of Milford Haven was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at 45, but said she felt there was something which had prevented her from communicating with people for years.

In jobs she was often told her communication was unsatisfactory, though her standard of work was high, so she tried to get away from modern life in the New Zealand wilderness for six months and later a woodland in Pembrokeshire for 11 years.

Milford Mercury:

Emma Wishart on the right, with Sian Huntley and Alice Jones of Pembrokeshire People First. PICTURE: Emma Wishart.

“I had never managed to get a job from an interview but had instead always been taken on after temping somewhere, once they see how well I work,” she said.

“But after a year or two it really started to fall apart and I was constantly criticised and picked on for my various social blunders, but nobody would ever explain what I’d done wrong because they couldn’t imagine that I didn’t know.”

She added that when it came to appraisal, her work was judged excellent but her relations with others were unsatisfactory.

“I couldn’t understand why I was doing so badly when my work was such a high standard, when I thought that that was what I was there for,” said Emma.

After a cycle of jobs, she decided to sell her house in Brighton and move to Wales where she began to claim jobseeker’s allowance.

Emma was asked to apply for jobs which were unsuitable for her, which resulted in her leaving work again after two years of dealing with bullying.

She then lived in the New Zealand wilderness for six months, to leave the world behind.

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A lakeside view in New Zealand. PICTURE: Emma Wishart.

“I needed to find a way to live without anyone having authority over me, in fact, I wanted to be utterly left alone. So I decided that when I got back I would sell my house and buy a campervan and live on the interest of what was left,” she said.

When she returned to Wales, she lived in her campervan, before buying a plot of woodland in November 2004 on the border of Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion between Cilgerran and Llechryd.

She lived in the woods there for 11 years, first in her campervan and then later in a polytunnel in the summers and a new caravan in the winters.

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A tent which Emma lived in at her woodland. PICTURE: Emma Wishart.

Emma said: “There were no facilities, no clean water, just rainwater that I collected, no electricity, just a small solar panel I bought, no toilet, no shower, no washing machine, and I cooked on a camping gas stove.

“It was extremely difficult to live under these conditions but as hard as it was, it was much, much easier for me than having to engage with people every day.”

Emma began to think she may be living with some kind of personality disorder, and after conducting research into autism realised the symptoms sounded familiar.

She originally sought a diagnosis in 2006, but did not receive any help.

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The polytunnel which Emma built as her home in the woods. PICTURE: Emma Wishart.

It was seven years later– in 2013 – after visiting a doctor for illness that she was referred to a new service which would lead to a diagnosis.

“I have no doubt that I could have spent the rest of my life going to psychologists and psychiatrists and not been diagnosed with autism if I hadn’t discovered for myself that that was what I had and specifically asked for that diagnosis.

“Nobody would ever have thought of testing me for it despite what I now know to be very typically female autistic problems, because the system is geared to look for male autistic traits,” said Emma.

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The inside of Emma's polytunnel. PICTURE: Emma Wishart.

It still took two more years for her diagnosis to come through in May 2015, but this allowed her to claim personal independence allowance, and receive support which was not available before.

She said: “I moved out in October 2015 when I started receiving PIP and my pension.”

Emma now lives happily in a flat in Milford Haven, where she is comfortable living a solitary lifestyle, and enjoys reading.

She is a firm advocate of raising awareness about autism in what she calls the “neurotypical” public, and works with Pembrokeshire People First to educate others about autism spectrum disorder.

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The caravan Emma lived in during winters at her woodland. PICTURE: Emma Wishart.

“We must make people aware of the incredible gifts and strengths that autistic people bring to science, the arts, life and the workplace,” she said.

“It is the way that society is set up that makes us disabled and unable to function in day to day life.”

“Neurotypical people are far more capable of understanding, accepting and forgiving us than we are of going through the torturous system of learning endless 'correct' behaviours in order to conform to society's expectations.”

She added: “We hope that by telling our stories and letting people know what it is like to be autistic then people will be able to understand us and accept us for who we are.

“We think that if people know why we do or say the things we do then they will be less likely to judge and condemn us. “

For more information about courses on austism spectrum awareness disorder run by Pembrokeshire People First, call Pembrokeshire People First on 01437 769135 or email info@pembrokeshirepeople1st.org.uk

Read Emma’s

full story at Pembrokeshire Online