Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Interview With Amy Alward- Autism Acceptance

My name is Amy, sometimes I write about my autism experience as wakingcanary at my blog, http://hereirawr.wordpress.com"

I was diagnosed about two and half years ago after a severe case of autistic burnout caught up with me at 43.  My life to that point had been a constant dance of blame, denial and covering up my differences--hiding the bits of my autistic self so I could appear more normal.  Getting a diagnosis as an adult woman began a tremendous journey toward my own acceptance of self, but it was a difficult journey.  Professionals often didn't want to believe that I could be an adult on the spectrum, evading diagnosis for so long.  Others seemed to doubt that women could be on the spectrum at all.  Even my then-husband refused to believe the diagnosis that brought so much peace and understanding of myself.  In the course of accepting myself, I learned that others may not be willing to do so, and that health demands you let them go.  This is certainly painful, but better for all concerned in the long run.

What is your life like as an Autistic person?

Since I have lived as a neurotypical and as an autistic, I can say that my life has changed some.  I have learned to accept my own limitations, and learned to listen to my own body.  After years of trying to do everything everyone else seems to do so easily, I was burning reserves of energy that I didn't have, and had learned to ignore the sensations of pain, exhaustion and other warning signs of ill health.  Out of necessity, my autistic life is quieter, with a pace geared toward my capacity, rather than pushing through a list of scheduled appointments and too many things to do.  My to do list fluctuates daily with my physical well being, and there are times when I have to manage my obligations carefully.

What is the most difficult about being Autistic, for you?

The most difficult part of being autistic, for me, is balancing life.  There are times when my physical needs for down time are in conflict with my need for contact with others.  These are hard choices.  For so long I thought I was anti-social, but really my need to be away from people is more of a factor of exhaustion, sensory overload and confusion over processing demands.  All humans have social needs, and I think too many of us take up a perspective of shoving social interaction away when really we need and crave it, just under controlled sensory condition.  It also helps to have people around who can give you the processing time you need, and can be accommodating when you just don't have the capacity to fully join events or outings.  This is a constant struggle for me.  I often end up in meltdown or ill from over exertion, and at other times have to endure deep loneliness because I don't have the capacity to interact with others.

What is the most joyful, fun, exciting thing about being Autistic?

My near-photographic memory makes learning a great deal of fun.  Add to this that I tend to cope with information in small bits, that I then string together and assimilate into a whole, and I've got some talents that amaze others.  I think it's a talent a lot of us have, because the processing issues require us to take in small chunks at a time, then make sense of it later.  I can spot one puzzle piece in a 2,000 piece puzzle and know it was exactly the one I had been looking for--others find that exceptional, but to me it's just how I work.  As a musician, I tend to feel music by phrase and arc or shape--something I'm learning not many ever learn to do, as they learn note by note.  As a researcher, I was exceedingly good at synthesis--taking facts from multiple sources or disciplines and threading them together into a more cohesive explanation.  Now, as a massage therapist, I can easily visualize the anatomy of my clients, analyze the motions and actions of any problem areas and easily zero in on ways to relieve the pain.  Taking things apart and putting them back together, figuratively, is a tremendous joy for me.

How has the Autism Acceptance Day/Month effort over the past three years affected you personally? 

The Autism Acceptance events have been an essential part of my own acceptance, after all, it's only been over the last three years that I have been diagnosed and come  to terms with what that means.  Having a public forum of others on the spectrum, all speaking from their experience has made a world of difference.  I am far more functional now that I accept my differences and allow myself to be my own unique person for the first time in my life--no longer a puppet to public opinion, social dictates and forever trying (failing?) to be normal.  The voices I have met have inspired me to no longer view my diagnosis as something to be cautious or shamed about, but to embrace it wholly and honestly.  No, it's not all unicorns and rainbows--but it also isn't all darkness and gloom.  Truth is somewhere in the midst of those--something I never would have realized without the help of the Acceptance community.

What is one thing about acceptance that would make a difference in the world?

It's time that we own our neurodiversity in a positive way.  It's time we lead the way for researchers, instead of them telling us how we are.  Acceptance is the first step to realizing that our voices have merit.  We have much to say, and the hope of a better quality of life for all autistics starts here.

Thank you so much, Amy. I think we have come a long way, and will continue to move forward, in getting the message of acceptance out, so that Autistics both young and old will not have to live in a world where they don't know that acceptance is a possibility and a right.

1 comment:

  1. I'm learning to accept my limitations, too. I'm 9 years into my diagnosis. I don't usually figure out that I'm exhausted until I completely break down and fall apart. I don't deal well with stress, either. I hope to eventually figure those two things out. My psychiatrist recommends SSDI before I collapse. I like to keep busy, but am learning how to relax.

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