Monday, 4 April 2016

How can I support Autism Awareness/Acceptance month?

I've been thinking about this for the past few weeks.

I want to support people on the autistic spectrum, and be with them during April - Autism Awareness Month or Autism Acceptance Month, depending on who you speak to, but I simply wasn't sure how best to go about it.

So on April the 2nd (Autism Acceptance Day) I was quiet. Reading stuff by people on the spectrum.

I could write a blog post about autism....but I'm not autistic. So really it would be a load of 'hearsay' mixed in with my own assumptions. Not helpful.

True, I have a few symptoms from other conditions which, from descriptions I've read, seem  a little bit similar to challenges that autists might face - like my poor proprioception (body awareness) which, when I get really tired turns into a feeling of disconnect between my body and 'me' - like my brain has lost track of limb positions and is heading towards panic because it can't 'find' them. Like my body is 'lost' and I need to find it/reassure it that it is still here, and it is OK. Then I need weight. Something heavy to connect me back to myself. Maybe a hug, or holding a child on my lap, or sitting on my hands and feet, or wrapping my legs around the chair legs, or curling up in a ball with my forehead on the floor, or repeatedly clenching and stretching out my hands. Anything that will give a bit of good, solid, reassuring pressure. Or I may rock - the moving muscles sending more signals to my brain than relaxed ones, giving the brain the feedback and connection with my body that it needs - then I have the brain space to think about other things again. If you ask me a question when I'm like this, the reply might be terse, or distracted, or non existent. I just don't have the brain space to process questions or conversation until my brain has 'found' my body again. It's very hard to explain this to someone who has never experienced anything like it - because for me it is a normal sensation, and an instinctive response which until I was about 26 I assumed everyone experienced. Fortunately it doesn't happen severely very often, even if it is a near constant background 'thing'.

Perhaps this is a little bit similar to what some people with sensory processing as part of their autism experience - and perhaps not. It is certainly not the whole picture! But what it does mean that if I am with someone who needs to rock, or flap, or move, or press the table, or curl up...or do anything else 'non standard' it makes sense (even if I don't understand it exactly). I don't find it odd, or embarrassing. I find it normal. And I find it reassuring. Because their 'being different' reminds me that my 'being different' is OK.

So while I plan to continue to chill about peoples differences, and give them space to be however works for them, I was still unsure of what I could do during this month.

Then I realised that all the keyring cards that I have created for people with autism, were made by working with people on the spectrum. People who have contacted me to say 'Can you make something to help people understand this' or 'Do you have anything to help me if that happens again'.

So rather than writing lots of blog posts, and trying to come up with some wise and insightful blurbs, I shall simply share the image of a card every day throughout April. A card that was not decided on by a medical professional or expert, but by an individual on the spectrum.

They won't be relevant to everyone on the spectrum, but they are all relevant to at least one individual, and are therefore worth listening to.

(P.S. I know that not everyone sees autism as a disability, but I am likely to refer to it as one quite often, because I am disabled and I see 'disability' as something that means 'differently normal'. Neither negative nor positive, just a statement of 'will do some stuff differently, because that is what works for me.' And that seems very applicable to autism.)