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autism masking social skills Uncategorized university

What would I be, without my autism?

I’ve not posted in a while but I’ve been super busy with work, volunteering and Uni. I got the news that I passed my exams this morning which is great and I’m pretty happy with the way my life is going right now. I just thought I’d write a bit about something that I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently.

I think once you gain an autism diagnosis, it’s a constant learning process. There’s always more to learn about it. After all, it’s a very complex condition that exists on a spectrum so there are many different ways that it can be experienced by other people. So the more and more I learn, the more and more I get these realisations of ‘ohhh, that’s why I’m like that/ behave that way’. And then on the converse, the more I think ‘wait a minute, is my ENTIRE personality and identity autism?’. Now you may be forgiven in assuming that it doesn’t matter either way – which is possibly true. However, do I really want my entire identity to be autism?

Personality is defined as:

The combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character.

While identity is:

A person’s sense of self, established by their unique characteristics, affiliations, and social roles.

I think it’s important to note that anyone, regardless of there disability or condition, will exhibit different personalities. Some people are very individualistic with their disabilities, others identify with the condition and feel proudly part of a group. I think it’s hard to know whether something is an autistic trait or a personality trait and often there is a big overlap. For example, I am a very happy person and get very easily exited by things. Some people would describe me as being like an overexcitable puppy. So my question is: Is my personality a happy go lucky one or, do I just see and feel things very intensely as a consequence of my autism?

We can broadly speak of autism using the analogy of a sportsman. Yesterday morning, I cycled to a nice little spot on the river and had a lovely swim. I was thinking about how much I loved my bike and how I would struggle to live without it. Life just wouldn’t be the same. We can say the same about autism. If the cycling is taken away from a cyclist, that part of the person will no longer be. Just like if you take the autism away from an autistic person, that part of the person will also cease to be. Cycling makes up a massive part of a cyclists life – it’s what they do. Without it, the thing that makes up there identity is gone. It’s the same with autism I think.

Personality is much to do with peoples perceptions and how they respond and react to different things and a lot of autistic people react similarly to certain external stimuli. It could be thought of as like a cake. Imagine you have different options of base eg. Chocolate sponge, vanilla sponge or carrot cake. And then you can also choose sprinkles, fondant icing or buttercream frosting. Imagine that all autistic people have the same base ie autism. However they can have different toppings because there’s extroverted autistics and introverted neurotypicals. Some base and topic combinations are more common than others but that doesn’t mean that either is a given. Neurotypical people can have the same toppings as autistic people just like they can have the same traits.

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That’s not to say that my autism isn’t connected to my personality. Because it is. It is a big part of my individuality. However, I do think that there is more to me than my autism. It is a part of me but not all of me.

This kind of links into whether we use person first (person with autism) or identity first (autistic person) language. Person first language distinguishes clearly between the person and their disability – however many people argue that there is no need for autism to be separated from the person. I think the issue a lot of people have with person first language is that it kind of gives the impression that autism is an accessory. A bit like a handbag that you can just leave at home if you want. Really, autism can’t be cured or just used as an accessory, it’s a neurological difference that affects someones day to day life. You could argue that person first language would require you to say ‘person with gayness’ or even ‘person with masculinity’.” This wouldn’t really make sense. Some people prefer person first language whilst others prefer identity first language. I don’t really have a preference so long as people see me as more than my autism. I feel like often, when I tell people I’m autistic, they can’t see beyond it. I think it’s mainly due to stereotypes and lack of education. Hopefully in the future, this will change.

But to conclude – I think that my autism makes me me. It has caused me a lot of struggles in my life but also a lot of successes. I think that over time, I have learnt to flip the coin and use my autism to my advantage rather than let it be a negative. This has actually come from learning about autism and how it relates to me and my individuality in great depth. I know exactly how it effects me and exactly how I can manage those effects.

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autism decision making loneliness social skills university

How to get better at socialising as an autistic person

People with autism don’t tend to have the best reputation when it comes to social skills. Autism is primarily a social communication disorder so wether it be due to inability to read people, to understand social cues or make eye contact – as a person with autism, socialising can be very stressful. Despite this, I know many autistic people who thrive in social situations and in this post, I want to try and understand why.

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Things you may be doing wrong

  1. You don’t know what skills you need to work on.

If you don’t know where you are going wrong then you can’t possibly know what to work on! Once you’ve identified where you are going wrong, you can work to push yourself to overcome them. For example:

  • If you get anxious making phone calls, try making one in the next week.
  • If you find yourself interrupting people when they are talking, challenge yourself to let people finish what they are saying before you talk.

2. Not socialising with the right people

I used to think that I was rubbish at socialising but when I came to uni and joined societies where people with similar interests went, I found that actually, I’m okay at socialising. I just needed to find the right people. People are generally nice and will accept your differences just as you’d accept theirs.

3. Not socialising in the right place

I find that if I meet up with people in groups and indoors, (for example in a cafe) I really struggle to participate in conversations because I can’t focus on everything that is going on at once. When I arrange to meet people, I often suggest going for a walk as I find it a lot easier to talk as there is less pressure and it is more acceptable to have periods of silence.

4. Dwelling on negative thoughts and overthinking

It is very easy to spiral into thinking about what you are doing wrong and ways you’ve messed up when reflecting on social situations. However, it is important to practice self compassion because everyone makes mistakes! Rather than overthinking things you may have done wrong, learn from them. Identify where you’ve gone wrong, think about how you can do things differently next time and move on! This is easier said than done, but by focusing on thinking about what you can do going forward rather than what you have done wrong, you are doing something positive and proactive.

5. Not getting on with people

Sometimes, you may perceive people to not like you or sense friction when really, you are just misinterpreting them. Some things you could do to get over this are:

  • Learn about other cultures. Friendships aren’t all about similarities. Sometimes you’ve got to appreciate differences too. Look up documentaries, exhibitions or books on different cultures so you can understand them more.
  • Keep and open mind and try not to jump to conclusions.
  • Ask questions – Rather than saying “You’re wrong!” ask “How come you think that?”

Ways to overcome these problems

  1. Study other people

Socialising is an art and is just one of those things that is better learnt through observation than learning a set formula. Think about:

  • What is their body language and eye contact like?
  • How do they make people feel?
  • What do they talk about?
  • What are their energy levels like compared to the other persons?

2. Visualise

Another thing you can to to improve your social skills is visualise certain scenarios and play them out in your head. It links to the above paragraph because you can visualise yourself doing the things that a ‘good’ socialiser does.

3. Active listening – encourage people to talk about themselves.

Active listening is a really good skill to have and will make people want to spend time with you. I actually did an active listening course a few years ago that really helped me. Some top tips are:

  • Show that you are listening through your body language. For example, make eye contact, nod occasionally as they talk and lean forward slightly.
  • Listen to non verbal cues. Are they rubbing their eyes because they are tired? Crossing their arms in defence? Or maybe they are just smiling.
  • Try to focus on listening and not preparing your next question while they are speaking.
  • Say ‘yeah’ or ‘uh huh’ to show that you are listening.
  • Don’t try and solve their problems, just offer a listening ear.
  • Ask questions relating to what they’ve said or repeat or paraphrase things back to them eg. ‘It sounds like that made you really upset…’

4. Start and end the conversation right. To start the conversation:

  • Ask a question eg. ‘How’s your day going?’
  • Ask for their opinion eg. ‘What do you think of the new….?’
  • Give a compliment eg. ‘I love your t-shirt! Where’s it from?’
  • Make an observation about the surroundings eg. Isn’t the wether great!’

Then to know when a conversation is over:

  • Summarising statements eg. ‘Well, I hope it works out for you!’
  • Short pleasantries eg. ‘It was great spending time with you!’
  • Mentioning meeting again soon eg. ‘We should meet up again to do this again!’
  • Referring to other commitments eg. ‘I have sooo much work to do later!’

Non-verbal signs include:

  • Packing up belongings
  • Looking at their watch or a clock
  • Appearing distracted

Hopefully these tips will help you have better social interactions!

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Uncategorized

Getting a job as an autistic person

This is going to be the first post of a series on employability for autistic people.

A report by the Office for National statistics gives a shocking statistic that just 21.7% of autistic people are employed. This shows that the majority of people with autism are unemployed. Autistic people have so many strengths that they can give to society, so why do we have so many issues with gaining employment?

  1. Lack of access to opportunities

One of the biggest factors in getting a job is being able to prove that you are well qualified for it. This is often achieved through past experiences. There is a definite lack of schemes that allow autistic people to gain skills that are required for work. The schemes that there are in colleges are often for the most well performing students only. Additionally, the education system pushes a lot of people into pursuing a uni degree when actually, there are a lot of other options! Especially in things that you may have a special interest and excel in!

I think autistic people can really benefit significantly from work experience and internships. These experiences provide opportunities for autistic people to develop their abilities as well as gain pints to add to their CV. However these are often highly competitive and require a lot of effort to secure.

Volunteering is a great way to get round this. It opens up so many opportunities for employment. Charities always looking for new people it looks great on a CV as well as being a good transition into work. Volunteering at St Catherines hospice was a great way for me to prove that I had the communication skills and dedication required for my degree and it really helped me develop my people skills. When thinking about starting volunteering:

  • – Think about what interests or excites you.
  • – Think about what time or skills you can give.
  • – Research
    you can:
  • 2. The recruitment process

Often, job advertisements are wordy and full of jargon that serves to deter autistic people. Questionnaires that ask you to rate how much you relate to certain characteristics are often misleading and hard to fill out. Often job skills are listed that aren’t absolutely necessary for the job meaning they are misleading.

For example, I worked in a warehouse for just under a year – A job that would be great for most autistic people however in the job description, it listed teamwork and communication s as a must. I very much think that you could get by without being particularly strong in those areas – There are much more important skills that should be focused on. Someone could be the best team worker in the world and not last a day in that place because of the fact the work is so repetitive. So don’t get put off by job descriptions!

Sections on application forms that allow you to disclose a disability are useful because employers are obliged to provide reasonable adjustments to overcome potential barriers or disadvantages. In my opinion, it is better for employers to know because sometimes, if you are attempting to mask your autism, you could come across as shifty or being ‘not quite right’ which may put employers off as they can’t quite put their finger on it. If they know that it is due to autism then it won’t effect the interview. (Plus it is good for them if they can prove that they employ a diverse range of people)

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3. The interview

The interview is usually the hardest part of the process for both neurotypicals and autistic people alike.

Interviews are heavily orientated around social skills and first impressions which makes things harder for autistic people. Making eye contact, understanding verbal and non-verbal cues, knowing when to stop when answering questions, thinking in abstract ways and coping with the different environment.

The environment is a massive factor when it comes to interviews. They can be highly overstimulating in an already stressful situation and lead to an autistic person underperforming. Things like the noise of a busy work place taking your focus away from meeting the interviewer for the first time, bright fluorescent lights giving you a migraine, the smell of the receptionists perfume in the waiting room making you feel ill… These are all things that can render you unable to perform at your best.

One thing that I am really grateful of lockdown for is the fact that all of the interviews for things I applied for were over phone meaning I could focus on the questions at hand rather than an overstimulating environment. I had a lot less to focus on because I couldn’t see the interviewer so my answers were better.

Now, post COVID some interviews may be in person again. I think a good way to prepare for interviews is by watching a variety of videos online of people being interviewed and practicing their mannerisms. If I was to have an in person interview, I would make sure to prepare by making a checklist of worries to tick off before the day eg:

  • Do I know how to get there and how long I will take to get there?
  • Do I know how long the interview will take? Is it split into sections?
  • Do I know what time the transport home will be?
  • What am I going to do after the interview?
  • What is the dress code?
  • What will happen once I arrive? Is there a reception desk?
  • What questions might they ask?
  • Who will be interviewing and how many interviewers are there?
  • How can I answer general questions such as ‘tell me about yourself?’?

Some of these may not sound important but things like knowing what I will be doing after the interview are really helpful for me as I really like to know what I’m doing and when so if I don’t have a plan for the rest of the day, I will be thinking about it during the interview. Some of these questions are things you could ask the employer in a nice email.

A reasonable adjustment some people may have is having someone in the interview with them, to rephrase difficult questions. Some employers may also offer work trial periods. A good thing to look up may be the the Kickstart Scheme which is open to people that are aged 16-24 that are currently claiming Universal Credit and are at risk of long-term unemployment. They provide support in gaining employment. 

A good place to find good general interview advice is at prospects.co.uk

Top 5 tips

  1. Think about what you are passionate about and research jobs in that field – enthusiasm counts for a lot in an interview!
  2. Consider getting some volunteering experience.
  3. Try to think about how you can relate things you’ve done in the past to skills that are required for the job you’re applying to.
  4. Get some interview practice.
  5. Be communicative with potential employers about any reasonable adjustments you may need.
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autism decision making hyperfocus loneliness masking obsession Uncategorized

Autism and the need to be busy all the time

In my previous blog I mentioned that in order to overcome my loneliness, I tend to make myself really busy in order to feel like I have a sense of purpose. I thought I’d unpick that a bit more.

Just to put things into context – A few weeks ago, I had a two hour exam, followed by a meeting with a charity I’m a youth campaigner, a two hour meeting for a peer research job I have followed by a meeting with an environmental group I’m part of. And then, after all that, I still had to log some hours of work. So, when I say I’m a busy person – I really am!

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I just feel like I function well in chaos. Everything I need to do is constantly whizzing round in my head. I like it like the though. It’s like my head is constantly being pulled in all directions. I don’t so much get stressed but excited. I think the emotions are very similar and my body confuses the two meaning I am not so much effected by having so much on my plate but rather in a constant state of being happy and looking forward to things.

I’ve not seen much online about hyper productivity and autism but I’m sure it must be common. In society today, I think it is extremely easy to be pulled into the trap of trying to find purpose. We are generally taught that we are valued by how we contribute to society rather than the value we give to our own lives and those closest to us. There are pressures from all round to be productive and as an autistic person, prone to take things to the extreme in order to appear normal – hyper productivity occurs.

A while back, I tried to change. I tried to do less. It didn’t go very well. I figured out that the issue wasn’t in the things that I do, it was in the way I did them. I am very prone to attempt to multitask but I think what I’ve learnt is that it is better to give my attention to one thing only, rather than multiple things at once – whether it be with studying or spending time with friends. I find that the more busy I get, the more busy I want to be.

There are two sides to the coin of being really busy and motivated to do things. It can be a bad thing. When I first started Uni, I really struggled with prioritising the things I needed to prioritise. I was clinging onto the things that had kept me busy throughout lockdown when really I should have given them up. I think that it was my way of coping with the change of moving out because it gave me a sense of normality while distracting me. I always that because I hadn’t reached burnout yet that I was fine, however I wasn’t devoting energy to the things I needed to.

So why might Autistic people be more prone to this?

Desire to fit in

I think a lot of the narrative in society, especially since the pandemic, tells us that we have to be productive all the time. Volunteering for things, even when our plate is already full. Making promises and having to rush tasks just to make it work. Being consumed by work all day every day. And then once you’re technically done with a something, you feel guilty for not doing more. It’s a vicious cycle. You judge yourself for what you haven’t done, rather than looking at what you have done. Yet being hyper productive is a way to feel worthy, fulfilled, and in control. And so you become obsessed.

Obsessive nature

A really common theme in people with autism is the obsessive nature. Obsessions give stability, security and control. Sometimes however, with people who mask a lot, we can fall into the trap of becoming obsessed with whatever is socially acceptable, just taking it that extra bit too far. Social media is definitely a place where toxic productivity festers, for example through tweets about spending the pandemic learning new skills and utilising every second. Many people focused on productivity during the pandemic. Many people felt afraid and uncertain so tried to gain control. If you are busy, you are distracted from fears of the future. It was all over – free courses online, really amazing experiences being offered online and widening access to things that we’d never have imagined doing before. But – How do you know when to stop? For me, that’s where I struggle.

Executive function

Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.  I’ve seen it described as having a role similar to a conductors in an orchestra. It manages and organises each musician. Tells them when to begin, how fast or slow, and when to stop playing. I struggle knowing when to stop things and when I’ve done enough. I get hyper focused and as a driven person, take on more and more.

 Hyperfocus

I think Hyperfocus is a less talked about autistic trait. It involves a person becoming fixated on a specific thing, topic or event. It’s more than just concentration. It can mean that we are extremely productive and get a lot done. I can go all day going from one important thing to the next, sending email after email that would take other people hours to write. It seems easy because I am just in this mindset of ‘go go go’. However all this does have its draw backs in that we have less energy for other things – often the important day to day things like admin tasks or keeping on top of washing.

Something that I have used to help me with this is time blocking – assigning certain times to certain things. I find it so easy to get lost in doing something that it gets to the end of the day and I realise I’ve spent far too long on one thing to the detriment of another.

Time blocking is a time management tool that divides your day into separate blocks of time. Specific tasks are allocated to each block. 

By setting reminders on my phone, I have to move on once the time is up. At first it was really hard to do because I hate leaving things unfinished and often my brain will keep looping back to the unfinished task but now, I just view notion (the app where I keep everything on my laptop) as a second brain so I can just tell myself that it’s okay because all the work I’ve done is still there, it’s not going anywhere and I can pick up from where I left off. Changing my view to this really helped me.

I think another reason I struggled with time blocking is the fact that I work best when I want to do something rather than when I’m being told I have to do it. What I tend to do to get round that is split all the tasks that I have to do up, and then give myself options that I can choose myself for each time block.

All of this has really helped me because before, I was consumed by my work and not balancing things very well at all. I was trying to just fill every minute with ‘finishing things off’. Now, I still fill every minute but I also have specific times for things like socialising, meeting people and running. And because I have specific times for certain things, I make sure to give my undivided attention to each thing I’m doing rather than trying to multitask.

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autism loneliness masking

Autism and masking

I’m just starting this post with a quote that I find very important when thinking about high functioning autism.

“(so called) mild autism doesn’t mean one experiences autism mildly… it means you experience their autism mildly”

Adam Walton

It is very much relevant to girls on the spectrum who go to great extents to mask their autism in an attempt to appear “normal”.

Masking: When autistic people present or perform social behaviors that are considered neurotypical. 

I was diagnosed with autism in March 2016. It came about after my therapist suggested it. I remember her first introducing the idea to me and being quite shocked, almost offended. I didn’t see autism as something that people like me would have. When I thought of autism, I thought of the vulnerable and disabled people that my parents work with – not me. They work with autistic people so how could they not know? The therapist showed me a leaflet and told me to highlight the things that affected me in either green, amber or red to represent the extent to which they related to me. I was surprised to see that a lot of them described things that I experienced. Ultimately, it was up to me whether to be assessed or not and I just thought that if it could give me answers that I should go for it. I also knew that the people at school with autism got a lot more support than I was at the time. I wanted to be more supported because school was awful so any way to make it easier was a bonus. I would be able to access practical support and be able to advocate for myself.

I think if I had been diagnosed as a child, that perhaps things would be different. I may have been over supported and as a result, be less independent and more limited but as a teenager, I could have control over what support I was given.

I was involved very little in the actual assessment. They mostly asked my parents lots of questions about my development and childhood. My high school teachers also had to fill in a questionnaire. I was only there for a very short time. I was asked questions, had to do a role play and read a book. I remember before I got the autism assessment, my parents told me not to ‘pretend’ to be someone I wasn’t. I think they thought that I might ‘act’ autistic to get the diagnosis. I tried to act normal. I was told that there were no right or wrong answers but I knew that certain answers would result in a diagnosis and some wouldn’t. I struggled with the role play and also making eye contact with the assessor. I also felt quite nervous as my parents and someone else was watching through a one- way screen. I didn’t read any blogs, watch youtube videos or read books on autism before my diagnosis because I didn’t want it to influence me. All I did was read a leaflet given to me by my therapist. I wasn’t an expert in autism so I didn’t know the ‘right’ answers or relevant things to share with the clinicians. I was just myself.

I wasn’t surprised when I got the diagnosis because I’d known my whole life that I was different. I think that the biggest thing that my autism diagnosis has given me is being able to understand myself and know who I am. I have been able to reconcile with myself for growing up thinking the way that I was, was my fault. I actually think now, that it is more of societies fault for not accommodating for anyone different.

So why didn’t I get a diagnosis sooner?

It is largely accepted that there is a gender bias in Autism diagnoses with more males being diagnosed than females. I believe that there are many flaws in both societies perceptions of autism and also in the way it is viewed by health professionals. Many women go undiagnosed because they present differently to autistic men. Much of the indicators for autism don’t take into account gender differences in autism. Women are generally better at hiding their autism compared to men and are simply viewed as a ‘bit different’ or ‘shy’. For some people, living behind a facade is fine and they get by but for many women, it is exhausting to be constantly pretending that you are someone you’re not; only being yourself when you are in a ‘safe’ place. Women get diagnosed with every other mental health condition but autism because they are compared to the male representation. They gain labels that they don’t fit.

But the main reason…..

Masking

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As said above, masking is when autistic people present or perform social behaviours that are considered neurotypical. 

Masking has different motivations in different people however ultimately it comes from a desire to fit in. Sometimes, things like personal safety can depend on masking and therefore a person needs to mask. It is often a subconscious effort: behaviours learnt by observing others, adjusting the way we speak to match the tone of others, learning through watching TV programme or practicing making certain facial expressions.

At school, I often felt different to everyone else. Micro insults meant that I changed my behaviours. Small comments led to me fine tuning my behaviour to eradicate anything that made me appear different. These habits became ingrained in me.

Some ways that masking may be shown is:

  • Forcing eye contact (This can be very uncomfortable and also make you appear shifty or on edge if it isn’t done right)
  • Imitating friends or peers (This is often detrimental as leads to loss of identity)
  • Disguising stimming (such as using leg jerking or nail biting as more socially acceptable stims)
  • Forming a mental bank of rehearsed social cues

The result of masking can be very detrimental to autistic people. It is utterly exhausting to be constantly repressing your true self and leads to a loss of identity as well as potential mental health issues.

So if the consequences are so bad, why do we mask?

  • To succeed in school or a job
  • Avoid stigma or bullying
  • To make friends
  • To fit in
  • To feel like you belong

Ultimately, masking is a reason why many autistic females go undiagnosed and if I look back at my childhood, it is apparent that I spent a lot of it masking.

Really, it is no wonder that my autism went undiagnosed. I was visibly a bit different but not different enough to warrant a diagnosis. Something needs to change in the autism diagnosis process to enable girls to get a crucial diagnosis before reaching a crisis point.

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autism loneliness

How to not be so lonely as an autistic person

Loneliness and Autism is often misunderstood. It is a common misconception that autistic people prefer to be alone however many people with autism actually do want to share time with other people, share thoughts, feelings and ultimately be understood.

With autism, there’s a constant struggle between wanting to spend time alone, be absorbed in narrow interests and repetitive behaviour, and wanting to connect with others.

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

I have always struggled with loneliness. and I think it is very much due to my autism. I think I felt most lonely at school. It’s hard to be friends with people when you are the odd one out. Even when I was with people, I felt like I didn’t belong.

People know the definition of loneliness, but there’s a misconception that it means being alone. Not quite. I am quite empowered by solitude. Often, people feel lonely when surrounded by people. I think I felt most lonely at high school because I compared myself to the sociability of others.

Loneliness is the most awful feeling. It feels like being the person who nobody wants to pair up with; being the third wheel; sitting people watching at lunch, wishing you could be like them; lt feels like crushing disappointment; doubting every ounce of your being; being full of things to tell people but realising you have no one to talk to; It is making a fool of yourself in front of people because you’re socially awkward; It’s realising that no one needs you or wants to be with you; You’re in a busy room, laughter surrounds you in a suffocating chorus, but no one notices if you are there because you’re not funny enough, not happy enough, not cool enough, you’re not enough; You try to smile at people as you walk past, for a small reassurance that you do exist, but they always have other people to smile at; It’s sitting there, surrounded by people, eyes glazed over and your throat constricting.

The thing I’ve come to realise is that I don’t feel lonely when I’m alone. I feel lonely when I am surrounded by people who don’t understand me. It is this lack of understanding that builds a wall between me and other people. I know that when I can relate to people, I don’t feel lonely. It is human nature to have social interaction, even for introverted people like me.

People always tell us that it is good to be different and that we should embrace it but despite their nice sentiment, it’s usually only meant within certain parameters. You can’t be too different – only the type of different that fits within social norms.

I think the common causes of loneliness in autistic people are related to the way society treats people who are different.

People are afraid of what they don’t understand and what is different. It is something that protected us in the past. People try to eliminate differences because they pose a threat. They like their communities to be uniform because it makes them feel safe. Seeing someone different forces people to examine themselves and their own beliefs which most people dislike doing so rather than change themselves, or accommodate person who is different, people like to exclude and alienate them, further exacerbating their loneliness.

I think communication can also be a big barrier to not being so lonely. I really struggle being in a group of people and often end up third wheeling. I prefer to meet people one on one. I think it’s hard to explain this to others. If friends are meeting in a group it can be hard to explain that I do want to meet them, just not in a group. I might also struggle to explain that i’m not declining an invite somewhere because I don’t want to meet them but more because I don’t like the activity. I can be very blunt over text as well which can unintentionally offend people. When trying to make friends, my lack of eye contact can put people on edge or make them think i’m anxious. All these differences make it really hard to maintain friendships and lead to me feeling lonely.

I still struggle with loneliness these days just not so much as I did before and for the time I was in a relationship, I didn’t really feel lonely at all.

When you are lonely, you can be your own best friend.”

To try and stop myself being lonely I try to be part of communities that have the same sort of goals as me. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll find someone exactly like you (and if you do you are extremely lucky) so it is good to think about any interests you have that other people may also have. For example a really enjoy running and Parkrun (a free, weekly 5k run) is a really friendly community I am part of, and where I have met some great people. A lot of the steps towards alleviating loneliness involve putting yourself outside of your comfort zone – which is hard but so so worth it. Sometimes, you’ll put a lot of effort into people and they won’t reciprocate but you’ve got to realise that it isn’t so much a reflection on you but them and you’ve just got to persevere. You will find your people eventually!

The first hurdle in getting into a good group of people is getting over the initial stage of first meeting them. Here are some tips:

  1. Focus on the other person – rather than focusing on yourself and how you are coming across, focus on the other person, it’ll make you less self conscious.

2. Ask open ended questions that can’t just be answered with yes or no. Think about ones that start with the Ws, What, where, when, why etc

3. Comment on the surroundings, things like “I really like the food here”.

4. Make small talk – it’s best not to talk bout heavy subjects or anything provocative when you first meet people but instead talk about things like the weather or anything interesting in the news.

5. Ask questions about things you have in common.

6. Laugh at yourself – humour is a great way to get over any embarrassing thing you do.

7. Be an active listener – show that you are listening to people by asking follow up questions and showing that you’ve understood.

8. Fake it till you make it – sometimes you’ve got to act confident to start feeling confident!

I think that one of the reasons that I like to be so busy all the time and taking part in so much social action is because I try to get over my loneliness by having a sense of purpose. It is a good thing to do however it can limit your chances at having a good social life! So it’s all a balance really.

Categories
autism book Poetry

I published a book!

Late last summer, I decided that I wanted to do something purposeful and have a project that I could work on over a period of months so I decided to put together all my poems about autism into a book, as well as produce illustrations and explanations for the poems. It was hard work and I found the editing very tedious but it is finally here.

My poetry book allows unfiltered access into the mind of a recently diagnosed autistic female and reflects on the many emotions associated with being on the spectrum. Many of the common traits associated with autism are touched on in the book and the meaning behind the poems are explained in detail. These poems are written from the perspective of an autistic individual who appears fairly normal due to masking her autistic traits, but they also show the repercussions of this and what it feels like to be an outsider in a society made for neurotypical people. They also offer insight into certain autistic behaviours, explaining why autistic people do things different. In addition to focusing on autism, there are poems about anorexia. These poems offer a glimpse into why so many autistic females end up with eating disorders in adolescence.

All in all, Not Neurotypical shows why our society needs more people who understand autism. Many people on the spectrum are misunderstood and therefore cannot access the freedoms they deserve. This means that autistic people cannot reach their full potential and in general, have lower life expectancies.

Categories
autism breakup medical school

5 Ways to get through a Breakup as an Autistic Person

Breakups are unpleasant and the emotions they bring up are complicated. Grief, confusion, heartbreak, anger, sadness, anxiety…. All of these are normal reactions. Even if things ended well, you’re still likely to have some sort of reaction.

For autistic people, a breakup is arguably just that bit harder. A breakup brings uncertainty. and disruption. Whether it be routine, identity or even your home – everything changes. Nothing is set in stone anymore, future plans up in the air. The unknowns can seem overwhelming and leave you wanting to go back to a relationship, even if it was toxic.

You can’t start the next chapter of you life if you keep re reading the last one.

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

1. Don’t go searching for a quick-fix

This is going to take time. No matter what anyone says, there is no quick fix. everyone is different and processes things in their own time. It’s as much as taking each day as it comes as it is anything else. Accepting that it will take time and that you will heal is a big part of the process. It is so hard to accept that something that was once a massive part of you and your life will become a memory and it is normal to feel like you are going through a bereavement. As you grieve the loss of what you thought would be your future, think about future aspirations to replace your old ones. Use the time to pause and think about where you are in your life and what you want moving forward. There is something positive to be gained from every experience if you look hard enough to find it.

2. Try to write down your emotions and piece them together

It’s important to identify and acknowledge your feelings.Autistic people often (contrary to popular belief) experience more empathy, this means that you may have a good understanding of how your ex feels. you may feel both angry and sad for them at the same time. You may be frustrated because they hurt you but you still really care for them. It may be painful, but trying to suppress or ignore your feelings will likely make them come out in another form. Allowing yourself to feel the pain and emotions may worry you but these feeling won’t remain intense forever. Grieving is essential to the healing process and the intensity of the emotions will decrease over time. No matter how strong your grief is, it will not last forever.

3. Don’t blame yourself

There will always be ‘What ifs’. There will always be something you could have said or done but you can’t keep replaying the past – it’s already happened. Don’t dwell on who is to blame but look at things from a different perspective. This could be a good learning opportunity. It’s useful to focus objectively on what the relationship was lacking and how it failed. A chance to see where things went wrong and how you can make sure they go better in the future. You could even buy a journal specially for writing down these thoughts and feelings.

Autistic people are great problem solvers. Try and look at this as a time of self growth. Things will change in the future and to move on, you need to understand and process what happened. The more understanding you have, the more you can learn from what happened.

4. Reach out to others for support

I think this one is the trickiest for people with Autism. A lot of articles will suggest meeting with friends or making new friends however for autistic people, socialising is the last thing you want to do when you are feeling rubbish. It is hard enough in normal conditions. If it isn’t too much you could ask to meet up with a friend for a walk as it is often easier to talk to people whilst walking and not face to face. Additionally, you may feel like your ex is the only one who truly understood you and who you didn’t have to mask around – so it can feel pretty isolating and lonely. Despite this, there are a lot of people out there who can support you, whether it be family, counsellors or support groups. People who have been through painful breakups themselves are especially helpful as they know what it is like and can give you hope.You could also join a new club or group because even if you don’t make any best friends straight away, face to face contact usually helps improve your mood.

Photo by Dio Hasbi Saniskoro on Pexels.com

5. Try to focus on positive coping mechanisms

During any time of high stress, it is exceptionally important to look after yourself.

  • If you struggle to stop and are constantly on the go, it may be an idea to treat yourself as if you have flu.
  • Get plenty of rest and time to recover.
  • Pay attention to what you need and don’t be afraid to say no.
  • Don’t be pressured into making any important life decisions whilst you are in such an emotional state either as you may regret them in the future.
  • Stick to a routine. This is probably one of the most important ones as sticking to a routine will help structure your day and give you purpose.
  • Avoid using Dugs, Alcohol or food as a way to cope. There are better, less destructive ways of coping. If you are an obsessive person, it may just be a good idea to avoid drugs and alcohol completely.
  • Eat, Drink, Sleep and Exercise – Everyday!

A few coping mechanisms to try

  • Eat some crunchy vegetables (strange one but it actually relieves a lot of tension!)
  • Start a new project (distraction is always good)
  • Do some volunteering
  • Write a letter, imaging you’re giving a friend advice on how to cope with the situation you are in
  • Go running

It may hurt. It may feel like the world is ending. But you’ve got this!

Categories
autism medical school university

Autistic Medical Student

I am a medical student, and I also have Autism – two things most people might not expect to hear together. The phrase ‘doctor treating autism’ seems a lot more natural than ‘doctor with autism’.

I was diagnosed with Autism in 2016, aged Fifteen. Fifteen is quite late to be diagnosed with a lifelong condition; however, it is broadly accepted that there is a gender bias in autism diagnoses, with more males being diagnosed than females and females gaining later diagnoses. I believe that there are many flaws in both society’s perceptions of Autism and how it is viewed by health professionals. Many women go undiagnosed because they present differently to autistic men. Much of the indicators for Autism don’t take into account gender differences. Women are generally better at hiding their Autism compared to men and are simply viewed as ‘ a bit different’ or ‘shy’. For some people, living behind a facade is fine, and they get by, but for many women, it is exhausting to constantly pretend that you are someone you’re not, only being yourself when you are in a ‘safe’ place. Women get diagnosed with every other mental health condition but Autism because they are compared to the male representation. They gain labels that they don’t fit. A diagnosis isn’t for everyone but for me, it enabled me to be myself. Yes, people view you differently after diagnosis, but it was good for me; people were more understanding of my quirks, and life became a lot easier.

I thought it would be helpful to just give a bit of clarity on what Autism is.

What is Autism?

According to Autistica, “Autism affects the way people communicate and experience the world around them. Autism is a spectrum of developmental conditions, including Asperger’s Syndrome.” They then go on to list the symptoms as

“delayed or absent speech

difficulty with listening, concentrating and understanding

frequent repetition of words and phrases

taking things literally

difficulty sensing and interpreting people’s feelings

difficulty expressing feelings

over or under sensitivity to sound, touch, taste, smell or light

rituals or repetitive behaviours

disliking changes to routine

difficulty making friends and socialising”

Autistica

Some people would say that I have ‘mild’ Autism, but there is no ‘mild form’ of Autism. Autism exists on a spectrum, and all individuals with Autism have traits in common that can vary in intensity. One of my favourite quotes is,

“[So-called] mild autism doesn’t mean one experiences autism mildly…It means YOU experience their Autism mildly. You may not know how hard they’ve hard to work to get to the level they are.”

Adam Walton

It took a long time for me to get where I am today, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come, and I’m ready to work really hard at university and hopefully become a doctor.

If we think back to the above list of autistic traits, it may seem as if there is no hope for an individual with Autism becoming a professional. However, just like neurotypicals, we all have strengths and weaknesses that can be developed. I would argue that medicine actually selects for autistic traits. The above list only tells half of the story; there is also a list of more positive qualities that actually make an autistic person very employable.

  1. Autistic people usually have a greater interest in and dedication to their hobby, meaning they have great expertise. A strong work ethic and drive mean autistic individuals can progress through training programmes while minimising the effect of their personal life.
  2. Communication with autistic people can be very concise and clear. This means less miscommunication.
  3. Autistic people may have excellent attention to detail which is very desirable in some jobs. Many autistic people can easily spot anomalies, patterns, and errors. We are also very good at looking at things from different perspectives and suggesting new ideas. This is great for the problem-solving side of medicine.
  4. Autistic people are generally very self-aware and only need a few things in order to feel content. As long as there is routine and structure, we are mostly happy. This is a positive trait for being at medical school because there is a lot of self-study and time spent studying whilst others are ‘having fun.
  5. Autistic people are likely to be very reliable, honest, loyal, and committed. Because we are different ourselves, we are generally very open-minded and non-judgmental, which makes good doctor-patient relationships.
  6. Contrary to popular belief, autistic people are incredibly empathetic and develop excellent communication skills. I was really pleased when I was told that I give good eye contact by my communication skills teacher as it is something that I have worked really hard on overtime.

The issues that autistic people encounter during medical school are likely to be unrelated to the degree. However, due to the Equality Act, which involves ‘Reasonable Adjustments’, there is a lot of support out there to assist autistic students. There is also the DSA (disabled student allowance), which can help people by providing aids to studying.

Photo by Bekka Mongeau on Pexels.com
Categories
climate graphic Poetry

Poems for COP26

I was recently commissioned by a climate group, who hosted an event in the lead up to COP26, to create some artwork based on the sessions I attended.

Climate 2050 is a volunteer and youth led organisation that aims to empower young people to take climate action.

https://www.2050.scot/

COP26 stands for Conference of the parties 26. As it is the 26th time the UN climate change conference will occur. This year, it is hosted by the UK, in Glasgow from the 31st of October to the 12 November 2021.

The below link is to a zine produced by climate 2050 after the ‘let’s talk about COP26 event’ and it explores some key points.

Here are the poems I wrote:

This poem is about loss and damage, a rarely talked about consequence of climate change.
This poem is about reframing our perspectives, it’s so easy to get caught up in it all and get overwhelmed but anxiety can be turned to action and we can learn to fam in love with the creativity of solutions.
This poem highlights the importance of climate education.