As I enter the theatre space and sit down a young woman asks ‘Who hasn't had their shoes touched?’ I raise my hand and the young woman scuttles into the row and touches both my shoes. This is Katy.
We Live by the Sea is a story where one of the people has autism but it is not about autism. This latest work by Patch of Blue Theatre Company weaves story and pathology without being definitive. It is a story of tenderness, hope, compassion, honesty and understanding.
Katy is diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. Her mother left the day she got diagnosed and her father left in search of ‘work’. This is a performance written as much in metaphor as the straight language of the everyday. It is a story of lost people looking for the things they lost, a girl with autism and her imaginary dog, her older sister Hannah and Ryan, a new boy in town escaping the city.
We are told Katy likes the truth and routines. We learn the days she has fish fingers for tea, Saturdays watching Ant and Dec, the colours assigned to each day and that she has a tank of sea water named Gerald, in fact all her possessions have names. Katy makes up stories to mediate the transitions through the moments in life and it becomes clear she has repetitive actions designed to self-soothe. Her imaginary dog Paul Williams helps her through difficulties and they share a secret language. She goes to mainstream school where she is bullied and lost her extra support due to funding cuts.
Hannah could have gone to university ‘if only things were different’. In this respect she is one of the many young people who have put others needs before their own. She is part of the estimated 350,000 young adult carers (18-24) in the UK. This number is steadily growing, with a significant burden falling on child carers, currently 166,000 in England alone. The impact of being a child and young adult carer can be wide reaching from being bullied, social isolation through to a lack of opportunities and poor health outcomes. Many young carers are not known to authorities.
Katy is unusual in that as a female she already has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder diagnosis at 15. Autism is a disorder with a perceived gender bias, in that more boys are diagnosed with it than girls. Whilst overall prevalence is increasing for both genders, more females are being diagnosed than ever before.
Historically women are often repeatedly misdiagnosed and mis-medicated before a successful diagnosis and treatment is employed. Part of the reason for this is the expectation of traditional societal gender roles and traits. However, psychiatrists were not necessarily looking for Autism so may have diagnosed, for example, the Eating Disorder manifest rather than the autism behind it. Finally women tend to be much higher functioning on the spectrum of the disorder, combined with a better propensity for ‘masking’ the disorder to ‘fit-in’ within the normative society. (AM)
We Live by the Sea is on at 16.30 at Pleasance Courtyard until August 29th. Wheelchair Access, Level Access, Hearing Loop, Wheelchair Accessible Toilets - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/we-live-by-the-sea
Gender and Autism: http://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/gender.aspx
The Lost Girls: https://spectrumnews.org/features/deep-dive/the-lost-girls/
Young Carers: https://carers.org/about-caring