What do you think the connection is between autism and courage?

To my mind, it’s stigma that binds the two. Let me explain. Due to people’s current lack of understanding of what autism is and isn’t, stigma remains. People on the spectrum therefore continue to be confronted with subtle or obvious mistreatment, covert or overt prejudice, loneliness because of how they think, and being overlooked at work or socially. It takes a lot of courage (as well as mental and emotional energy) for an autistic person to continue to lean into this discomfort that is all too obvious to them. They need stamina, grit and resilience to continue to persevere in the workplace and in daily life.  To stand up for themselves. To make themselves heard and to demonstrate, they are the better suited person for the job – even if some minor workplace accommodations need to be made.

Don’t get me wrong, this has not been my experience, but I’ve been doing a lot of reading of articles and posts on Linked In lately and the stories I read are sometimes heartbreaking. People wanting to self-harm because of continued mistreatment by management, for example.

Since being diagnosed with autism in 2020, it’s piqued my interest to learn more. I’ve had to get to know myself again through a different lens. For example, my hyperfocus is one of my autistic gifts (I really love it).

The diagnosis of autism has raised more questions and opened the door to different kinds of communication with my family. I’m one of the lucky ones as I have tons of immediate family support – now that they understand what’s going on.

In all honesty though, I remain uncomfortable with the autism label because I function very well and don’t have a disability. I have sensory and auditory issues and need to have some simple accommodations for this but otherwise I’m fine. I have communication quirks (don’t we all), am honest and direct at times. Anxiety creeps in at inopportune times (even when there’s nothing to be anxious about). I’m an introvert who thinks and processes information differently and who prefers the company of few people when socialising. I’ve had to deal with gut/digestive issues ever since I was born and as I’ve gotten older, immune and detoxification issues are becoming something on my radar. Most of what I have under the autistic label is invisible.

I look people in the eye, hold a conversation very well and love deep and meaningful conversations. I’m not someone you’d find hanging around the water cooler having a general chin-wag.

Over the last two years, my research has raised a few questions.

  1. ‘Why did the American Psychiatric Association take away the Asperger’s diagnosis in 2013 and just created a blanket Autistic spectrum ‘disorder’? How can the APA place a non-verbal toddler (this is a clear autistic marker, along with other factors) with a toddler who is verbal. This was an original marker identifying people with Asperger’s, along with other factors. Autistic differences are vast and this is now being acknowledged more through literature. People with an Asperger diagnosis still have challenges and traits that clearly define them as being on the autistic spectrum. It just may not be as obvious.
  2. The definition of autism. It’s complex, and its’ complexity lies in the fact that it’s a spectrum. Is autism a brain or psychological disorder or condition? My reading and research is moving me towards autism being a disorder of the brain and body based on affected biochemistry and neuropathways. Depending on what neuro and biopathways are affected, will influence how the brain processes information, how autistics think, feel and respond to the world around them.  Sensory processing is usually affected, as is the ability to emotionally regulate. Anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions tend to coincide with autism.
  3. There’s no question the autistic brain is wired differently. This isn’t good or bad. The question is, how far does the pendulum need to swing before variation is determined as being autistic?

Listening to long-time Autism practitioners and researchers Dr Martha Herbert and Julie Matthews talk about autism makes me believe there is hope that autism presentation can be reduced in people with the right interventions. Diet and nutrition play a big role, as does the environment. Autists seem to be a pretty sensitive bunch and that’s why regular detoxification is important.

I have more questions but the above have been enough to spur me on to enroll in a post grad course in Autism Studies. I simply want to know more and by knowing more and increasing my skillset in this space, it will allow me to help others in business, the workplace or those entrepreneurs, executives or staff members who want to understand themselves better and to focus on their strengths. This is what’s important. Lifting people up.

By doing this, perhaps these outwardly well-functioning people will have the courage to speak out about their diagnosis in workplaces, share any mental health challenges they face, and use their voice to call out bias, mistreatment and, be better understood.

Visit www.courageunravelled.com to learn more about how Sana can be of service to you, your organisation or audience.

Images: Greta Thunberg and Elon Musk – pixabay.com, Sana Turnock – photographer Joanna Zydel