This post was originally written in 2018 for an old and now retired blog.
#AutismAwarenessMonth – a.k.a April – is a tricky one for many autistic people as commercial autism charities bombard social media with publicity stunts to raise awareness of autism prevention-and-cure research fundraising opportunities. This publicity is very rarely generated by autistic people themselves, but by parents who fear autism itself, and by profit-led autism charities with interests that lie in research and autism training that rarely benefits and often harms autistic people.
Somehow I missed all of this hype until two years ago.
And then my life took an unexpected turn.
During Autism Awareness Month 2016 a Standard Issue article by the fantastic Sarah Hendrickx ended up in my twitter feed. And it was about being an autistic woman.
I read it through several times. What Sarah had written resonated strongly with me. Which was odd because I wasn’t autistic. Her experiences were normal weren’t they? Same for everyone? No?
I did a bit of googling. Did a few online tests. Googled some more. Hmmm….
I booked a private assessment and in May 2016 I found out that I was autistic too! I cannot begin to tell you how relieved and happy I was. It was profound. It was soothing. It was celebratory. It explained so, so much.
And then everything got a little bit crazy. A diagnosis aged 43 means replacing the filter through which you have interpreted your entire life thus far. It means going deep. It means sifting through every memory you have of situations or conversations that didn’t make sense, of relationships that didn’t work, of having to behave in a way that was entirely confusing to you, of breakdowns, meltdowns and shutdowns; of the accusations of being stupid, lazy, uncaring or being over-dramatic; of trying to fit in and failing; of being tired all the damn time, of having your meltdowns used against you, of being laughed at and talked about for saying or doing things that you didn’t know were “wrong,” of not understanding people, having your natural stims laughed at, of being blamed for not-reaching-your-potential and of wondering why *everyone* seems to be able to navigate bright lights, loud noises, extremes in temperature and crowds of people except you. It means re-writing your entire life story from the perspective of the person hidden so deeply under a facade of who-other-people-wanted-you-to-be that you didn’t even know who you were yourself – to the perspective of the person you were actually born to be.
That’s quite a lot to process.
But the last two years have been incredible. My relatively newfound Autism Awareness has meant that I have now made friends that truly get me, that I don’t have to mask with, and with whom communication is startlingly and naturally easy. It has meant that I gained the confidence to jack in the job that made me ill and return to my passion: health and nutrition. It meant that I have been able to work with autistic clients to elevate their own emotional and physical wellbeing – to be thriving autistics rather than surviving autistics. And that I am now able to give workshops in alleviating stress levels for autistic people. Autism Awareness has meant that I have learned to forgive myself for all the things that I thought were signs of being massively inadequate and to begin appreciating my own unique skills and attributes.
How do *you* become autism aware? You learn from autistic people! You read books and blogs by autistic people. You attend conferences and workshops or watch videos presented by autistic people. You take the time to listen to your autistic friend, child, student or co-worker without judgement, embarrassment, interruption or preconceptions.
And, if you are autistic yourself? Let’s flood the hashtag with our own Autism Awareness! Elevate the autistic voices with recognition, with love and with joy.
Happy Autism Awareness Month my friends!
Please note that when I wrote this post I was a practising health and nutrition coach. Since embarking on a PhD in autistic wellbeing I no longer coach or advise on anything to do with nutrition.