Each year April rolls around and it is time for autism awareness week.
This year, the start of April is different to how it has been in the past. With COVID-19, it feels like the whole world is topsy-turvy, and the preparations that we would usually do ahead of autism awareness week have been put aside in favour of trying to adjust to a new way of life.
There are times when being autistic is hard. This is one of those times, when there is change in every single part of my life, when my routines are all shattered simultaneously.
Routines and timetables help me. They soothe my brain. My project this weekend will be to design a timetable for myself and try to teach myself new routines. I am very fortunate in that I have the ability to work out my own timetables and create resources to help myself learn new routines. It will take a while before I am able to learn them, and I may need to get help, but I can make a start myself.
But it is hard, when you struggle to recognise your own emotions and internal states, to know what you need. People tell you to ask for help, but how can I do this when I don’t know what is wrong?
I could talk about the difficulties I have associated with being autistic. This is how autism is often framed – in terms of the problems. And on a day like today, when I am finding things a bit difficult, it would be easy to talk about the struggles.
But that is not what I believe.
I believe that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. We all have things that we are good at and things that we find really hard. This is a beautiful thing.
Being autistic, some of the things I find difficult are skills that neurotypical (non-autistic) people don’t even realise they have. There are things that neurotypical people know instinctively that I cannot see, or that I have to work very hard to understand – it’s exhausting!
But equally, some of the skills I have are skills that neurotypical people don’t even realise they lack.
No type of brain is better than any other.
I love working with people of different neurotypes. At Little Gate, there are people with all sorts of different brains – people with autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, learning disabilities, ADHD – among both the staff and the trainees. This diversity of neurotypes fosters creativity and means that as an organisation we are excellent at problem-solving. Some of this comes from having so many different ways of looking at the world and approaching a problem, and some of this is as a result of the work we do around accessibility. Having accessibility as one of our core values means we inherently recognise that there is more than one right way of doing things, and it means that we are well-practised in searching for new approaches to common problems. This leads to an organisation that is more resilient as well as more accepting.
Autism acceptance week is a brilliant opportunity to celebrate the strengths that diversity brings us. I hope that this April treats you well, despite the changes that we are all currently trying to adapt to! I will leave you with two recommendations for learning more about positive experiences of autism:
The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom – a blog post celebrating the joy that comes with being autistic
1800 Seconds on Autism – a BBC podcast with two autistic hosts about how they experience life