I am a creative, philosophical and deeply spiritual Autistic woman who has come to an understanding of my Autism later in life. I am the proud mum to two amazing Autistic young people and three fur babies. I am very fortunate to also have a very special person in my life who makes me laugh and feel loved.
As a passionate educator, I’ve had the privilege of teaching teenagers for the past ten years. I love any opportunity that allows me to support families whilst leveraging my own lived experience of being Autistic. Historically, our voices have not been present in discussions on how to best meet Autistic support needs, but this is changing as more and more organisations recognise the immense value of our perspectives and experiences. I am very interested in, and have tremendous respect for, Autistic-led research and Autistic-led program planning.
My ten-year-old daughter told me that to her Autism means that we are “limited edition” – and there are special aspects of Autism that the others in the collection would really like to have! I identify with a strongly positive and strengths-based understanding of my Autism, whilst acknowledging that like anything that falls outside the norm, we may need to have our own “care manual” to maintain ourselves and show others what type of care we need.
I continue to use my voice to create a world that is more embracing of Autism, especially in two arenas that I hold dear: inclusive education and the health of Autistic women.
Professionally, I am working with inclusion policy on a day-to-day basis, and I often observe a gap between inclusion policy and inclusion practice in school settings. There are many reasons why this is happening, but the consequences for our Autistic students and their families are very serious. As we strive for inclusive education – including the determination of what reasonable adjustments are necessary to support Autistic students – it is so important that our Autistic voices be at the centre of the decision-making process. We know our needs best and when given the appropriate support, resources and opportunity, we can tell people exactly what we need. When our Autistic needs are respected, our diverse strengths can shine and often this is when young Autistics can find their future vocation area.
After my Autism diagnosis, I began to learn that late-diagnosed women are at a tremendous disadvantage with regards to our health and wellbeing. New research has uncovered what so many of us have experienced: that in our communication with health professionals, our voices are often misunderstood and misrepresented and our gender-specific Autistic traits are incorrectly perceived as solely related to mental health issues. This means that we are either significantly delayed in getting the correct help for our health needs, or sometimes we don’t get help at all. I want to continue to use my voice to change that, especially since recently being diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Dysautonomia.
The I CAN Network has been so important in my understanding of my Autism. In the initial months after my diagnosis I was feeling a real unease and disconnect between my own positive views of my Autism and what our society says about Autism. When I heard Chris Varney’s message, though, I could recognise for the first time that here was someone else on the Autism Spectrum with whom I can identify – it felt safe and authentic. By gosh, we really need that! The I CAN Network is an integral organisation for the wellbeing of our Autistic community. I am proud to be involved both as a mentor and a speaker; we have a lot of work to do to change the way society views Autism.
It still surprises me how many people either describe or strongly imply that Autism is a terrible affliction that should be prevented and/or “cured”. I’m not suggesting there isn’t suffering, but in my experience, the suffering is caused by the lack of understanding in our society and co-existing conditions, not by Autism itself. There are compelling reasons why we need to talk about Autism in a positive way. For those of us who were diagnosed late, we need to discover what our Autism means for us and not what we may have understood about Autism prior to our diagnosis. For our young people being introduced to their diagnosis, we want to set a stage that allows them to embrace their Autistic traits unreservedly. There is nothing to be ashamed about, nothing to fear either – and Autistic adults really need to light the path for future generations. Without authentic self-identity there can be no real self-esteem. So I encourage young people to embrace ALL of their Autistic traits through an extremely positive and kind lens and from there we can build on experiences that bring hope and joy into our lives. We deserve nothing less!