Updated: Jul 30
My blog interview for Papyrus Prevention of Young Suicide as part of their campaign for Autism Acceptance week 2023. The very fact there needs to be an 'acceptance' gives an indication to the depth of misunderstanding around Autism. I was invited by Spectrum Gaming to share my thoughts on this topic to help shed light on the challenges that autistic people face, as well as the strengths that come with being autistic.
How has being diagnosed as autistic impacted on your life?
I have an improved understanding of myself and my children who are also autistic, everything I thought was ‘wrong’ or a difficulty is actually just a different way of being. It is ok, I am learning to turn the narrative around and give myself more time and space in the right environment with people that understand. All the things that trigger anxiety and overwhelm can be made much easier once you start to view life through a neurodivergent affirming lens. It helps as a family that we are all on this journey together and have a shared and developing understanding of all our needs.
What do you think is the most important thing people should know about autism?
There is no single ‘autism’. Autism is not linear, it is multidimensional and fluid, it is dynamic and provides a unique way of body minds responding, interacting, and communicating with the world. Regardless of differences in neurology, everyone’s physical, sensory, social and communication needs are different, for autistic people these differences may have a more intense impact.
Autism is not an illness or a disorder, it is a different way of thinking and responding. I feel it is important to value differences by developing good relationships with people, especially in school settings for young people. Unless people understand individual needs and the impact of the environment then they cannot make changes to enable more positive outcomes and to support good mental health.
How can society be more accepting and accommodating to autistic people?
Generally we need more understanding and acceptance of all differences in society. For autistic and disabled people I would argue this is more important as the barriers are higher.
If non autistic people understood autistic differences are not deficits it would be a start. Autism is not a disorder and people do not need to be ‘treated’ or have ‘interventions’. There may be co-occurring conditions and needs that need extra support but most difficulties occur due to either a lack of understanding with people or environmental and sensory factors.
What are some misconceptions around autism?
Stimming – helps regulate the senses (it should not be stopped or inhibited).
Meltdowns and shutdowns – are caused by the environment (sensory / social) not meeting needs and so people can no longer manage. If autistic people experience meltdowns and shutdowns, it is because they have gone past their capacity to manage a situation. With more understanding this overload would not be as intense and not happen as frequently.
‘Restrictive or repetitive behaviour’ – special interests and hyper focus needs to be embraced. Monotropism is thought to be a core element of autistic identity. If we embrace monotropism we embrace a flow state, it allows deeper thinking, it is predictable, calming and joyful. Extra time and support may be needed to support and enable redirection of attention / transitions / executive functioning onto other tasks but this again is down to time, space and those positive connections with people that need to be compassionate and understand the need for flexibility.
Social and communication difficulties – what may be seen as antisocial may be the environment not meeting need, not the right means for communication to take place (are people more comfortable texting / email / talking / small or large groups / 1:1 / do they need an alternative method of communication? In the right environment and with the right people autistic people may be very sociable in their own way.
What advice would you give to someone who has recently been diagnosed, or to their family and friends?
Join a neurodiversity affirming and neurodivergent friendly support group. There is an amazing online community and reach out if you need support. "Let’s work together towards a more inclusive and accepting world for everyone" Autistic Burnout: A Family Guide is available here: Shop | Autisticrealms
Advice around talking to autistic young people about autism
Free resources around supporting autistic young people who struggle to attend school: https://www.barrierstoeducation.co.uk/
Here is a Padlet full of affirming autism resources which is updated regularly
**Article written from my lived experience as a parent and teacher.
Knowledge gained through various personal research and neurodivergent communities.
Autistic Realms is a space for parent support and teacher guidance.
I am not a medical professional or therapist**