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You can be Autistic; you just can’t be Autistic

You can be autistic; you just can’t be autistic.

At what point are we going to begin understanding that to accept and embrace neurodiversity, autism in particular, we have to accept and embrace the whole of it? At what point are places of education, employment and other places relevant to living, going to understand that to fully embrace autism is to understand that there are struggles that come with it too?

Neurodiversity being such a buzz word at the moment, it’s not surprising that places of employment are having to make space for autistic people. But what if I have a meltdown in the workplace? What happens if I say something that is too direct and unforgiveable? What happens when I cannot meet eye contact with my manager? What happens then? Many times I’ve seen and heard that groups or places of employment “tolerate” autistic employees and yet when it comes to the struggles of autism, the sensory overload, the direct use of language, the not picking up of social cues, these attributes are less accepted. Autistic people’s differences in communication can lead to difficulties accessing mental health support. When we do access this support, the communication differences can bring so many misunderstandings that means we end up avoiding future support.

The hidden message is that people can be autistic, they just can’t be truly autistic. They cannot show a true self unless they want to be ostracised, or worse, lose their place.

This is where it feels that by allowing autistic people to be themselves could open a pathway for helping them to gain more independence and confidence in abilities, without fear of retribution when it comes to the more difficult aspects of autism.

Autism isn’t always a funny, quirky condition to have; it can at times be terrifying, frustrating, upsetting, unkind, and a destabilizing piece of our selves, where society holds us accountable for actions that we cannot always help.

Not just employment but accessing help and support can be challenging for these very reasons too. Unsure of how much time and patience a person has, an autistic person can develop such anxiety around something seemingly so simple, as asking for assistance in a shop.

I have personal examples of this. Sometimes I freeze in the moment. I might be trying to buy something, or ask for some advice on a product, and I’ll go over to the sales assistant practicing what I need to say. But when I get there I can sometimes end up just staring at them. I may start to ask for what I want but this won’t be quick enough, and the person will often then talk over me, or become impatient and reluctant to help me. I leave quickly, annoyed with myself for not finding the right words in time and embarrassed at how I came across.

When I’ve advised people on how they might improve communications with autistic people, I’ve usually included something like slowing down the words. Don’t assume lack of intelligence but slow down the words because processing can be a LOT slower for autistic people. If you think you have given enough time, you most likely haven’t, so give some more time, and this can help to empower autistic people to find their words, or ways of communicating.

If we think about the autistic differences in speech and language processing we can begin to develop a way of meeting each other half way; and sometimes the non-autistic person will have to go all the way to meet the other.

Support can be difficult for autistic people; we may struggle with asking for the right support, using words differently from what we mean, and having a backlog of traumatic incidents behind us that evidence our anxiety when asking for help.

That’s why organisations like Express matter so much - giving autistic people a voice, and an outlet. The support doesn’t just stop at the autistic people but it goes beyond them, to their families, who might have been standing up for their children for years, watching people dismiss and misunderstand them.

Being an autistic counsellor is such a privileged, because I’ve been in these situations so many times, where I have done my very best to ask for support, and this has been denied either because I have asked for the wrong thing, or because I have not been able to ask at all.

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