Lisa, 52.

Hello everyone. My name is Lisa, and I’m honoured to be featured in Humans on the Autism Spectrum.

I’m 52, and I’m Autistic. I’ve only been diagnosed for less than a year now. It came about after I was researching for some information on being an empath, and my search lead to some articles on the diagnosis of females on the Spectrum. What I read was like ‘switching on a lightbulb’. And yet I was still unsure if I was just trying to make myself fit a set of descriptions. An official diagnosis was a most cathartic and reaffirming existence. It is something I will never regret.

There has been a lot of intrigue from people about my diagnosis, and it seems to challenge their idea of what Autism is, and how it can present. I think we’re a long way from imagining the average Autistic as the savant Raymond in ‘Rainman’, but we’ve still got a long way to go to get non-Autistic people to understand that we are many and varied on the spectrum, and how we present is very individual. I describe myself as having a brain that is wired differently and that I am very governed by my senses, which are extremely finely tuned. I don’t gloss over the fact that I am both abled and disabled by being Autistic. I find people hard to read in a conventional sense, but I can ‘feel’ very quickly any discrepancy between what a person says and what they are trying to hide emotionally. I seek out information by observing and ‘feeling’ emotional energy from others; it’s hard to explain, but it’s usually very accurate. Listening to music is an amazing experience. I hear different elements of the song so clearly as separate entities, making my skin ‘prickle’. I love cooking, and when I taste something, everything is an explosion of different flavours. I’m a very deep thinker, but I’m also a big kid! I can still get as much joy out of the ‘Wind in the Willows’ as I did as a child, and I love being 52 going on 12 when the time is right!

School was unfortunately not a happy time for me, and like a lot of kids, I experienced considerable bullying and I felt very misunderstood. I was a keen learner, and I just loved history, English, Biology and a lot of the practical subjects. Although I was a passionate learner, and did so well in many areas, I couldn’t grasp simple concepts like telling the time, and left or right. I found I couldn’t cope with a lot of verbal instruction; I’d tune out because I was overwhelmed and I still remember the horrible feeling of being asked to answer the question the teacher knew I couldn’t, because I had retreated into my inner world. I can’t change any of my childhood experiences now, but I do wish that I’d had an I CAN mentor or someone similar to reassure me that things would get better. I credit my stubbornness for helping me get through life so far. Even when I was young, if I was told I wouldn’t be able to achieve something, I’d stick the proverbial ‘finger’ up and would attempt to prove everyone wrong. It worked most of the time! I tend to be a positive person too. It doesn’t mean I pay no heed to struggles. For me it just means being scared but still having the courage to give something a go.
I’ve been a secondary teacher now for a long time, and although I never knew I was Autistic, my experiences at school very much influenced my own practices. I love working with students; it’s hard but exhilarating. Kids can be so intelligent, sassy, funny and shrewd. They know when you’re being genuine with them, and building relationships is crucial in my practice, as is allowing kids to ‘save face’ when dealing with problems.

This year, I was so excited to have taken up a role as a case manager in our school’s Learning Enrichment Department. My job is to liaise with students, parents and teachers to provide the most inclusive experience for our kids. I work with a lot of Autistic students. Given the ‘right tools’ to enhance their learning experiences, Autistic students can thrive. This could mean something as simple as being able to use a Live Scribe pen, being able to stim with a fidget spinner to improve concentration, or planning an assessment around a special interest as the topic. It’s a humbling job and I get to work with some brilliant kids. The most rewarding thing is seeing the incredible talents that Autism bestows upon students. I want them to be proud of themselves, and I want them to be able to experience success on their own terms. I want teachers also to assume there is competence there, even if someone cannot express it in conventional terms and that sometimes we need a break from the sounds, lighting and noise of the classroom. Sometimes students become anxious with unexpected changes around them and behaviours need to examined in the context of how we operate. And most of all, lets involve Autistic students in determining their own success by letting them tell us what helps them, rather than what we think they need.

Things are changing slowly, and the world is hearing more from Autistic voices. We can explain ourselves with opportunity, but ideally there needs to be changes made in society to make for greater inclusivity. There are still so many Autistic people not in work, and in my opinion, society is poorer as a result. Given the chance, we can make the most amazingly loyal employees. We strive for competence and we don’t like to ‘cut corners’ and do a sloppy job. And all of this before we even mention our talents!

The I CAN Network creates a world that embraces Lisa’s strengths. We need your support to continue creating a society that empowers young people on the Autism Spectrum. Join us by donating to our next venture: holding one of our acclaimed camps in Queensland.
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