Autism Acceptance Month

Hi I’m Sam, 

I’m a mother to 2 children a gentle 7 year old boy (with Tourette’s syndrome) and a nearly 3 year old wild girl.

Image credit: Samantha Severini

I was diagnosed with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia (some times called Developmental Coordination Disorder) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when I was at university. If I was a child now I think any differences would be more apparent, but back when the public view of Autism even more misunderstood than it is now, it wasn’t even a card on the table (and looking at the care many adults received at the time, that may well be a blessing).

I had always been a book worm, quiet with not too many friends… my mum would describe me as a sensitive child who mostly liked to pretend to be a cat, in my own world or “half a job” as I would get distracted by the smallest thing and forget what I was meant to be doing. my Nan would call me “Dolly day dream” – I loved art and drawing, couldn’t tie my laces and was never allowed white clothes or to use the good china (unless of course you didn’t want to keep that particular plate in one piece).

Accepting my diagnosis was the most wonderful gift to myself. I no longer spend my life trying to live up to standards and goals that are not suitable for me, much like if you can’t keep a beat, you probably wouldn’t try to become a drum teacher. I am more aware of my own self care and know that, yes I can do social parties but not every day, I’ll probably want to leave early cuddle my dog and have a quite weekend to recover from the over stimulation hangover.

Essentially autism means my brain struggles to filter what is useful information and what’s not so when I walk in to a room it processes everything, a person who is not autistic’s brain will triage information, disregard the hum of the lights and background music (unless it’s relevant) and help you carry out whatever action you went in for – mines a bit like a Triage nurse at A&E except everyone is coming – no 111, no doctors or pharmacist or even friendly online mums playing guess the rash – everyone is showing up at A&E for attention and my poor Triage Nurse gets overwhelmed very fast – so now I know she may need an extra day or two for recovery after a beyond busy shift.

This can be helped by reducing things to process – keeping things the same means I can account for them faster, so I can knock some things off the list – it’s why small changes can make a big difference, I can wear ear defenders to block out some noises, personally I’m very sensitive to colours and have trouble with what I call visual noise (there may be a real term for that but I may have just made it up) keeping things within a simple colour palette benefits me massively and objects that don’t reflect light (less plastic more wood) little things like this prevent meltdowns (which are effectively my triage nurse shutting the doors and collapsing on the floor.) 

Everyone’s Autism is different, face to face I’m told I am calm, reassuring and likeable with a slightly too intense liking for the Harry Potter franchise considering my age (cough 34) I stim (emotional regulation technique) by drawing, or more commonly scrolling through Facebook groups like the hangout and I get a lot out of a community that doesn’t judge me for not making much eye contact – but let’s face it we are all probably looking at our kids anyway 

Image credit: Samantha Severini

So what can you do to help? 

Understand that just because someone is having trouble expressing or communicating their feelings – or even in many cases (especially for adults) not expressing them because they are concerned about the reaction they may face if they get it “wrong” somehow – it doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings, aren’t intelligent, don’t feel empathy or don’t care.

Invite the child in your child’s class and add a note to the parents to message you if you can help make accommodations, trust the parent to say no if it’s not suitable but don’t let them be the child who never gets invited anywhere, we’re autistic but we still like cake!

Teach your children understanding and model it “well you know you find maths hard, well lucy just finds lots of noise a bit much sometimes – we’re all different” – “sometimes Riley screams because he is feeling overwhelmed and it can be hard to find the right words, we all feel overwhelmed sometimes can you think of a time you felt overwhelmed?” “Jenny chews a necklace because it helps her feel calm – what makes you feel calm when your anxious?” Most children are hugely accepting of differences when it’s modelled to them.

And know that people with autism are as different from each other as people without autism, stereotypes are harmful because they never tell a complete story we are as wonderful and varied as the rest of humanity.

And above all – we don’t “suffer” with autism it’s part of who we are, we suffer from people’s lack of tolerance for diversity and with a little love all flowers bloom.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope it was found insightful.

Image credit: Samantha Severini

Huge thanks to Sam for giving us such a wonderful insight for Autism Acceptance Month xx

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