Friday, April 7, 2017

Interview with Alexandra Forshaw- Autism Acceptance Day 2017

Today’s interview is with Alexandra Forshaw, whom I have known on Facebook for several years. I am very glad to get the chance to post her thoughts for these ongoing Autism Acceptance Day and Month interviews. She writes:

I am 43, married with one grown-up daughter. I am a trans woman.

What is your life like as an Autistic person?

My life these days is pretty good. Since self-diagnosing several years ago I have learned that putting accommodations in place helps a lot. Things like stimming when I need to instead of trying to suppress and hide it as I was pressured to do through most of my life. Being my autistic self openly uses a lot less energy every day and leaves some over to cope with the unexpected things life has a habit of throwing at everyone. Like a lot of people I know, events over the last year have made me more politically active, and I have been making a bigger effort to promote autistic rights.

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

One thing I used to take for granted, that I have since learned is shared by a sizeable fraction of autistic people, is the way I think without words. It sometimes gets called visual but that is woefully inadequate to convey the sheer richness of the world inside my mind. Putting it into words is like the difference between the sentence, "I ate a slice of pizza" and the experience itself. I've developed a certain skill with language, the written word especially, over the years as I've tried to communicate some of the inner richness but it's only really other people who think in similar ways who truly understand how it feels.
Understanding and the connection that springs from it is one of the best things to have come from being autistic and getting to know other autistic people. My closest friendships are with other autistic women who can identify with my experiences because they share them.

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

People look at me and they see a confident woman with a stable marriage who can hold down a job and manage day to day. They don't believe me when I say that I'm autistic. There's a lot they don't see. They don't see that I was pressured into leaving two jobs when aspects of my autism affected my ability to do the work. They don't see that even though I am in my 40's I have never successfully lived independently. They don't see that I was deep in debt for years because I can't manage household accounts despite having won Math awards when at school. They don't see me on those days when I am overwhelmed and unable to function. And because people don't see all this they imagine it never happens, that I don't face obstacles in my life.

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

I first became aware of it through blogging a couple of years after it started. Between that and the almost complete lack of knowledge exhibited by most people I met in "real life" it became clear that this was going to have to be a sustained effort over many years. One positive effect is that media coverage means that many people have now at least heard of autism even if they don't properly understand what it is. A few (and I unfortunately do only mean a few) have been sufficiently curious to ask me for more information, but there's a long way to go. In some ways even being transgender is better understood by the public at large than autism, so there's plenty more still to achieve in terms of getting the message across.

What does "moving beyond awareness" mean to you?

To me it is absolutely critical. Awareness only means that people have heard the word autism before but don't have any knowledge about what it is, what autistic people are like and what our needs might be. My personal goal is for autistic people to receive the same recognition, respect and rights as anybody else. It begins with education, teaching about autism and autistic people to build understanding. That leads to acceptance, which leads to being treated fairly by society.

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

As I said above, it is about being treated fairly. To be given equal access through accommodations as a matter of course. The same goes for any disability, or it should. I'm a great believer in the social model of disability: that disabilities arise from obstacles and can be countered by suitable accommodations by society. We'll know when autism is accepted because those accommodations will be provided routinely. Until then I will keep pushing for acceptance whatever ways I can.

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