I've always enjoyed writing and so hope to use this platform as a way to share information, reflections and resources, in order to help more autistic young people and their families.
As my opening post, I thought I'd share an interview I did with Katie from Autistic Flair (an amazing online community designed to amplify autistic voices):
Tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Rebecca, and I'm based in South London. I love being by the sea and generally being outside. I am basically a big kid and have never lost the feelings of awe and wonder about the small things. I love stars, birthdays, Christmas and snow. People told me I would grow out of it but there’s no sign of it yet. I read every night before bed, have a passion for chocolate (and food in general) and am very caring to the ones I hold dear.
I have a love of learning, which led me to complete my Masters Degree in Autism and Education. Before this, I did a BSc in Psychology and my PGCE teaching qualification.
When and why did you start actively advocating?
I am a very empathetic person and always wanted to do something that would help others. After my Psychology degree, I started working as a Learning Support Assistant in a specialist school for autistic children. This is where my passion for autism first began, and I then did my PGCE to become a qualified teacher. However, in the mainstream classroom, I missed being able to focus purely on the autistic students and so then found my dream role as a Specialist Advisory Teacher for Autism.
I am blessed in this role as I am able to advocate for many different young people and their families. A lot of the role involves coaching and advising schools as to what they can do to better support pupils through education. But I found that there was a gap missing for the young person – how did they better understand their autism identity?
So, I then developed an Understanding Diagnosis programme, which I then went on to write two books about. Through delivering this, I have had the pleasure of hearing from so many young people about their direct life experiences of autism.
I find these individuals so interesting and inspiring. I am very passionate about language used and work hard to try and promote a positive understanding of autism, for example, by referring to ‘autism’ rather than ‘ASD’ and keeping informed on the preferences of actually autistic individuals.
My research project for my Masters was focused on inclusive research methods and finding out what approaches autistic individuals prefer. I have also worked hard to put together programmes of events and interest groups to increase a positive understanding of autism within the community, and to support different community groups to access information.
What do you love most about working with autistic people?
I love the difference. Each time I get complacent, a student will do something that I didn’t expect that keeps me on my toes. I value the honesty and through conversations I discover different ways of viewing things and this makes me question what I have been conditioned to accept as ‘societal norms’. I find that many autistic people find pleasure in the smaller or more unusual things in life and I appreciate that genuineness and dedication.
What was the biggest life lesson your job as a specialist advisory teacher has taught you?
Unfortunately, my job has taught me that change takes a long time. Seemingly simple things such as spreading the message around terminology, has taken years of dedication and I am still faced with people using the term ‘ASD’ on a weekly basis.
I haven’t accepted the fact that we may not see my vision for an inclusive society in my lifetime, I’m keeping hold of my childlike hope and optimism for that one! However, my job has also taught me that most people are kind and well-meaning, they may just not have any experience or information about autism and would like to help if they knew how to.
What myth would you like to bust?
That there are more autistic boys than girls! Statistically yes, there are more males diagnosed as autistic than females, but the current understanding is that it is closer to being equal.
The problem is, most of the previous research is focused on males and as a result, the diagnostic criteria has been centred around the typical male presentation of autism. This means that autistic females have previously been poorly understood and this has led to a generation of women who have not fully understood their identity. I heard recently of women in their eighties who were seeking out a diagnosis, showing how important it is to be able to fully understand yourself.
On top of this, us women are pretty good at masking differences (although this something men also do), looking around and copying what others are doing. Many autistic females do this to try and ‘fit in’ or feel accepted by society but the long-term result of this is often a feeling of exhaustion and a negative impact on mental health.
I am so glad to see so many autistic and proud women writing books, taking to the media and sharing their experiences via social media platforms, and I hope this will help to expel that myth over time.