Autism Roundtable // Imagining Autism

Finding Your Own Group Of Weird

Prior to the Living with Autism roundtable I had my own pre-conceived ideas about what it meant to be autistic. I bought into the Rain Man ideology and believed that autism was predominantly a male domain, with the notion that to be autistic meant living in an isolated bubble. I thought that certainly within those constraints public speaking would be impossible.

Two women on the panel, Annette and Chloe, were diagnosed as being autistic in their mid and late thirties, but were articulate, confident and gave a clear and coherent insight into their world of autism. They explained how society expected them to conform to a neurotypical model of what it is to be human, and how this leads to a myriad of mental health issues: obsessive behaviour; anxiety and sensory overload. Being female better equipped them to act out the neurotypical role publically but in their private lives they had frequent ‘melt-down’ moments. Listening to their testaments it was apparent that the reason for their late diagnosis was that as women they were able to mask things better than their male counterparts. This theme of ‘masking’ was also explored in a short film by Sharif Persaud, The Mask

Chloe showed a list of all the words that have been used by others to represent her, all derogatory and representative of the expectations of a neurotypical ideal. She now has found her ‘own group of weird’ and acknowledges that she is autistic and that is a intrinsic part of her personality. It cannot be removed. The overriding message of the roundtable was one of acceptance and inclusivity. Autism has its own set of rules. As one of the parents on the panel learnt, great minds don’t always think alike and sometimes we just have to learn to play differently and allow everyone to find their own group of weird.

-       Sandra Elkins


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Imagining Autism - University of Kent

National Autistic Society

Live It Well - Kent County Council

Mental Health Matters

Autism Research Centre