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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 lack of understanding, limited awareness or misinformation, people on the spectrum continue to be confronted with subtle or obvious mistreatment, covert or overt prejudice, loneliness because of how they think or communicate, and being overlooked for a work promotion they deserve. It takes 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. Stamina, grit and resilience are required to persevere in the workplace and in daily life. It takes grit to self-advocate and continue to stand up for oneself when there is inequity or prejudice.

Despite being diagnosed on the spectrum a few years ago, the majority of what I’ve mentioned above hasn’t been my experience.  However, the academic research I’ve uncovered, reading of academic texts and social media posts across various platforms, highlight some heartbreaking experiences. One example that comes to mind is a person wanting to self-harm because of continued mistreatment by management. It takes courage to just keep going sometimes.

I’ve just completed my post graduate qualification in autism studies and I’m really glad to have done it. It has opened my eyes in so many ways. I am not just someone with lived experience now, but someone who also is grounded with knowledge and evidence-based strategies which will prove beneficial for autistic people within the workplace and also just navigating life. It can be hard at times.

I have to say that despite all the neuro-affirming language I remain uncomfortable with the autism label mostly because I don’t see myself as having a disability. I have hyper-sensory challenges in a number of areas which can be addressed through simple accommodations. I have communication quirks and 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 exchanges. I’m not however, someone you’d find hanging around the water cooler having a general chin-wag.

The definition of autism is complex, and its’ complexity lies in the fact that it’s a spectrum. It’s a neurological and biological condition which influences biochemistry and because of this, has the ability to affect mood, the way people process information, think, behave and communicate. Sensory processing is usually affected, as is the ability to emotionally regulate. For some there are language and intellectual challenges too, but this isn’t everyone. In some ways the co-occurring conditions become just as challenging if not, more so. Anxiety, depression, OCD, gut issues, epilepsy, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and Tourette’s are some of the challenges people on the spectrum have to navigate – alongside autism. As the spectrum is so broad, people can go their whole lives not being aware they are 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 strategies. Diet and nutrition play a big role, as does the environment. Autistic people can be sensitive (while others are the opposite) and that’s why regular detoxification is important (from environments, people and problematic foods). I was talking to a nutritionist the other day who told me how she is starting to work a lot with autistic children. Once gut health has been addressed, she has noticed (and been told by parents) how challenges start to settle. This is something adults on the spectrum will also find beneficial. For adults, it may mean that anxiety is better managed (ie. not noticed at all), overall mood stabilises and bowel function becomes regular.

There is so much more to learn about autism in adulthood and across the lifespan of the individual. It is fascinating, exciting as well as challenging. The research in this space is growing, but don’t confuse this with being a trend. The rise in diagnosis is because medical and allied health professionals are becoming more aware and better trained in autism presentation, thanks to the research that is uncovering more about what autism is. This is a good thing.

If you are an adult and newly diagnosed on the spectrum, take a look at  ADULTS AND AUTISM – Courage Unravelled Email Sana to have a no obligation 20-minute call to see if I can support you on your work, health and life journey.

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