The other day a fellow Autist from the USA said to me how pleased he was to come across an Autistic woman who speaks about neurodiversity. I had never actually considered myself through that lens. I am just Jeanette and I write things which are important to me. But of course I am an Autistic woman – not a choice, just the particular circumstance and gift I was given.
I do know about being a woman though and an Autistic one. I have faced many of the challenges, trials and horrors women can experience and those which sadly Autistic women so often experience – abuse, bullying, victimisation, being invalidated by those health professionals who did not understand what an Autistic woman looks like clinically. I spent many years isolated and friendless. I have been diagnosed wit health conditions I don’t have and told I was ‘too cool to be Autistic.’ I spent at least five years being preyed upon by apparently every creep and abuser in Australia. I’ve lost my identity to fit in with others, puzzled about my sense of self. I have been robbed, ripped off and taken advantage of. But it’s not all bad. I also have found some good things in this world as an Autistic woman. I know myself now through a strong identity of neurodiversity and Autistic pride. I love myself and will not stand for bullying or intolerance of myself or others. I know other Autistic women, many of whom are my friends – more than I could ever have imagined existed. I have gradually learned I have the characteristics common to many Autistic women and embraced them – empathy, creativity, deep thinking and a great passion to make the world better.
Today I had the immense privilege to meet a whole room full of young girls on the Autism spectrum and their mums and dads. I am an ambassador for an organisation called Yellow Ladybugs which is a social meeting group for young girls on the autism spectrum. I live in Canberra and the Yellow Ladybugs group is based in Melbourne so I had never been to one of their events. Today I was in Melbourne and attended three groups of girls doing painting at the National Gallery of Victoria. The organiser – Katie Sparkles (that’s not her actual name – she told and forgot how to spell it – sorry Katie 🙂 – thanked me each time for my involvement but it was an absolute joy for many reasons. I spoke more to mums than their daughters. I’m not all that good with young kids and am more confident talking to teenagers. I did have some conversations with the girls and put my mentor ‘hat’ on, building their confidence around hotter drawings. (Yes, Autistic people can be perfectionists even when we are very little! I told a couple of girls that there is no right and wrong in art which think helped a little). One little girl decided I was her new friend and put her little hand in mine wherever she wanted to go. It was lovely (and I was very happy that I have my working with children card!) It was lovely to see the girls enjoying their painting and talking to one another and the adults. I felt immensely protective of these young girls. As always with Autistic kids and young people, I see my younger self in them and want to protect them from the horror I experienced as a kid and young person.
It was great talking to some of the mums. I had a few mums come straight up to me and say ‘You’re Jeanette!’ and then we would get talking about her life and family. One thing I said to many of the parents was that there was nothing like Yellow Ladybugs when we were little and how wonderful it is that such groups exist now. Of course parents of Autistic kids often discover through their children’s diagnosis and discussions around it that they are on the spectrum themselves. So when I reflected on the lack of services for Autistic people in the past I wasn’t just reflecting on my own exeprience but on that of the person I was speaking to. That lack of services was a terrible thing. Basically us little Autistic girls in the 1970s and 1980s were different – perceptibly do and obvious to bullies and predators – but not different enough to attract any support and if we did get noticed and sent to a therapist then there was no diagnostic spot to place us. This either meant that our parents were told we were ‘acting out’ or that we got given a very unhelpful misdiagnosis. I have an Autistic friend who spent years in institutions for schizophrenia simply because they answered pychiatrist’s questions about ‘hearing voices’ and ‘seeing things’ literally. This person struggled until l their 40s when they received an Autism diagnosis which changed their life.
So I suppose accurate diagnosis is very important. The fact that there are increasing numbers of services and support groups for Autistic young people is fantastic and makes me very happy.
I am a bit ashamed to admit this but for years whenever I spoke at an event where parents complained about the shortcomings in Autism services for their kids I would respond with ‘well it’s better than the I was a kid!’ Th implication was that they should stop complaining because my education and childhood journey was much worse then anything now. Of course that was just me dealing with my own issues. I am happy to say that I am absolutely delighted that young kids on the spectrum – and young girls in particular – have access to social support and other supports. I looked at all those young girls today and just felt like giving them a big hug and saying ‘I so hope you avoid all the evil I went through. Go well and be amazing!’ When I think about what I have achieved with a horrible start in life, I can only imagine the opportunities those young girls today may have. And I understand we have not ‘got there’ yet around building a great word for our Autistic young people but today I felt we are heading in a positive direction .
So yes, I am an Autistic woman and I speak from something of a neurodiversity and Autistic Pride perspective. I long for the day that I don’t need to anymore.
Here is the link to Yellow ladybugs if you want to find out more: Yellow Ladybugs