She’d led a lonely childhood marked by poor emotional control. At age 21 Constance Cazzaniga was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. Now she is asking that women living with this condition be better represented in the Quebec media.
By Frédéric Lebeuf
In first grade Constance couldn’t stop crying. She would shut herself up in her room and sob for hours. “Something wasn’t working inside my head,” she said. The petite brunette would explode at any moment, because it was her only way of reacting.
As a teen she wouldn’t accept that she was different. Melting into the crowd was her defense mechanism. “It was easier for me to be a chameleon than to find myself.”
In class she would bristle under her teachers’ authority. She wasn’t shy to share her opinions. She still feels a need to denounce injustices. “My critical mindset helped me navigate between truth, falsehood and the facts.”
Recognized: When her father, a psychologist, attended a forum on autism, he recognized his daughter. At the same time, his 21 year old daughter wanted to see a psychologist for other reasons. Her father steered her towards Dr. Isabelle Hénault, without mentioning her specialty. “He trapped me because he thought I’d react badly to the diagnosis,” she says.
On the contrary: through therapy, “I learned to identify the moment one of my crises starts, and how to defuse them.”
The path she followed wasn’t easy: “You have to pay a behavioral psychologist and follow a cognitive behavioral approach. Not everyone can pay for that. You have to, obviously, also complete the exercises.”
Since her diagnosis, some old friends have refused to talk to her. “It’s created a malaise with certain people.”
Old Life, New Life: Her “old life” was filled with feelings of anger, sadness and sometimes, disinterest. But today she says: “If you offered me a miracle pill I wouldn’t take it,” she says. Now the editor of Hollywood PQ magazine, she’s proud to have “the brain (she has) today… We talk a lot about diversity, but we should also celebrate neurological diversity.”
She still describes herself as an anxious person, but she doesn’t feel limited. “Usually, these are limits we put inside our own heads.” She cites Serge Denoncourt, world famous director, and popular Quebec comedian Louis T. as among those with Asperger’s. “They show that our dreams are attainable no matter what our diagnosis.”
This media professional is frustrated that the only role models she has in Quebec are males. “I’ve had a lot of young girls send me messages after hearing about my story on the website Ton petit look. Since I’m not a public figure, that says a lot about how we’re represented in the media.” She is happy to raise the profile of Asperger’s women in Quebec society.
“Talking openly about it will help other people to identify themselves. They can put a name to their difference.”