I was diagnosed in 2013 at the age of 43 after spending several years exploring this after my eldest daughter was diagnosed in 2002 and then my youngest in 2012. My initial feeling was one of relief that I finally had understanding some understanding of who I was. This was followed by a number of months in which I felt some level of guilt about having passed Autism on to my children. This began a journey that led to acceptance and in time Autistic pride. From right back to when my eldest was diagnosed Autistic I have always held the belief that Autism was just a different way of seeing and being in the world. As I came to accept my own Autistic reality this belief has only strengthened. I am convinced that I am not broken, less than, disordered or deficient, I am just different. Different but not less.
My explanation about Autism really depends on the context in which I meet new people. I am always happy to have a conversation about Autism and what it is like to be Autistic. I will happily engage people on any question they may have. Mostly I will say to people that I am Autistic and that means my neurology is wired a bit differently, it impacts the way I communicate engage in social interactions and can at times impact how well I function in life, particularly my executive function. I will say that I am not broken but I am different, this means I will go about things as an Autistic person – that everything I do I do Autistically, think, feel, communicate, hear, see, interact is all done as if through a different lens, and Autistic lens.
Autism itself doesn’t particularly mean anything to me but Autistic people do. They are my tribe, my people my shared community. They kind of mean everything to me. When I see them being treated poorly I am impacted, when I see them misrepresented I am impacted, when I hear them blamed I am impacted. This connection with my tribe drives my advocacy, my writing, my public speaking, my being involved with organisations and projects.
I am not sure that I can identify any particular benefits of Autism itself, but being Autistic enables me to think in very focused ways to have a prodigious memory. This has meant that I am a great person to have in a trivia quiz but also that I am a great analyser and logical thinker.
My creative talent is the ability to write pretty well. I do this mostly in my blogs and I am working on a book which I am halfway through. It actually took a long time and a lot of people telling me I was good at writing. It took university lecturers, friends, family, blog followers and colleagues. A lot of my childhood messages were not very positive and had me believing that I was not very good at anything and that I would never actually amount to anything. It has taken a lot of good messages from a lot of good people to change this perception. I publish my blogs on medium www.medium.com/@rochellejohnson, occasionally I have my writing published on a range of other online spaces including metro.co.uk, geekclubbooks.com and theestablisment.co
I feel mostly nervous when I’m creating. I second guess what I am writing as I write and after I write quite extensively. I wonder if I am just talking into the void or if what I have to say through my writing is something might have a positive impact on people who read it. Though in the end I don’t mind either way, I enjoy doing it and that’s what really matters. I think my Autism does help terms of being able to focus and be able to logically plan and execute a piece of writing. My ideas flow out of my experiences, my reading, my conversations and my observations and reflections of life.
My time at school was horrendous, I was relentlessly bullied. I attended several schools and was always sort of the new kid. The experience of being different, knowing I was different but not knowing why or how meant that I tied into the self-perception that I was somehow broken and wrong. I was not diagnosed and so attended a mainstream school. My teachers always believed I was quite intelligent however that never translated into good results. Except in exams, due to having an excellent memory I was able to answer exams quite well and achieved good results. My memory of a lot of school is that of finding places where I could be safe and kind of existing in a sort of hazy reality, as though I was experiencing school through a thick fog. I’d like to tell my younger self, “it will be OK, you aren’t dumb, or broken you are actually a beautiful lovely wonderful person and you are OK to be exactly who you are.”
It would be really great if schools could learn to accommodate Autistic people to spend less time working out ways to get us to follow the so called normal pattern and spend some time getting beside us, listening to us, trying to see things from our perspective and viewpoint. If teachers could understand and comprehend that there is pretty much always a reason for our behaviours, responses and reactions and try to discover what they are they would be far better placed to actually support us.
I am fortunate to have a great job in a great organisation. I work for ANZ bank as an Analyst in Technology. I am out and proudly Autistic and that is not just understood but seen as a valuable asset to my work and my team. There’s always room for improvement in any organisation however ANZ is very inclusive, we have employee networks for Diversity and Inclusion, Abilities and LGBTI people. One of the ideals at ANZ is that it is a place where you can bring your whole self to work. ANZ take diversity and inclusion seriously and have made increasing diversity in employment a part of their key strategies.
Prior to my current role I was unemployed for several years. The job finding process was really difficult. Not so much in finding positions to apply for but in getting through the recruitment process itself. Interviews are really difficult due to the intense communication and social nature of them, expectations of body language and interpreting that body language puts Autistic people at a distinct disadvantage.
We should hire Autistic people for exactly the same reasons as we employ non-Autistic people, for their skills, abilities and strengths. Organisations are starting to realise we bring many talents and strengths to workplaces, so far this is mostly seen in the IT areas but as time goes on I think organisations will realise that Autistic people are far more than the stereotypes and are all individuals with individual strengths and skills and the key is to look at Autistic candidates in different ways in order to allow them to put their best foot forward in the recruitment process and then we can access recruitment on a level playing field with everyone else.
Transitions really do involve a lot of change, especially a transition for a transgender person. It is a journey that you can’t predict how it will go, what will happen and where it will end up. When I began to my gender transition journey I was scared worried concerned but I knew it was a necessary step to take. One of the things that became clear was that this transition meant that every relationship I had was up for renegotiation. Would it remain intact or would it cease to be. How would they change if they remained. I knew I had to begin my transition as life was not working out the way it should, things were not hanging together. I was in such a state that I was destructive to my relationships and to my own success. One of the most lovely things I have seen in seeing my own transition has been seeing a veil of sadness and anger at the world lift. Apart from changes that arise in my physical appearance I am able to see a heaviness of heart and visible sadness life and give way to a happiness, vibrancy and joy of life. This is not something that I just see myself but something people who know me well prior to transition have said to me on numerous occasions. Transition is hard and it has many bumps and curves in the road and sometimes unexpected things can be really hard to deal with, the way I cope with this is to hold very tight to the knowledge that in being my true self, in living my truth out I am a better person for it. A better friend, a better colleague, a better advocate a better human.
In my spare time I like to write, run, drink good coffee and socialise with friends – especially Autistic ones. I tend to have favourite authors rather than characters. My all-time favourite writer is the late great Terry Pratchett.
I am saying I CAN to being able to be the authentic me.
A perfect world would be a world where the idea of normal was dispensed with. A world where being Autistic or being non-Autistic is equally valued and celebrated.
The I CAN Network creates a world that embraces Rochelle’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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