Independent Specialist Speech & Language Therapist in Scotland
I’ve been at the Autism Europe Congress 2016 in Edinburgh this weekend. Feeling suitably bombarded with inspiration and information and shortbread. Time to start digesting it all!
The last session of the day for me had been Amanda Webster from Wollongong University on “Successful Autistic Women”. It was a fascinating qualitative study with insight into the journey of self-understanding of 10 women. Crucially it looked at “success” as being defined by themselves (the study didn’t set a typical definition of success or measure it in traditional ways).
For each of them there had been a journey to diagnosis littered with traumatic events and pivotal moments – and the diagnosis was key to “changing their identity”. I wonder if it was actually a case of unearthing their true identity and they peeled off the layers of identity society had stuck on them. Not identity as externally prescribed but identity as internally described.
I was struck by discussion around whether we should be telling girls and women that they “can achieve what they want to achieve” because “it’s not realistic”. Something about this really sparked me thinking. Who are we to tell people what they can and can’t achieve? – to prescribe that externally for them. The minute we do that we are stepping on possibility and growth. We need to aspire for our girls and women and tell them “go for it” and “I believe in you” and really mean it. We need to let them explore their hopes and dreams for themselves. We must not put them in a box or limit their thinking by “imposing” on them our lack of aspiration or sense of impossibility. We must allow dreams and hope (hopelessness is a terrible thing).
Let our autistic girls and women hope and dream and aspire and try. And be there to keep saying “I believe in you” and nudge them on. Sure enough many of us don’t end up where we once hoped to be – but it’s on/through that stumbling journey that we find the real treasure – our own true selves.
So as a society we need to all examine ourselves and ask whether we unintentionally squashing hope and aspiration? Are we telling people they can’t do it (with our words and actions). Are we telling them what their mask should look like, and teaching them how to tie it on? Or are we releasing them on a supported journey?
My favourite quote from Amanda Webster was the message from one of the “successful autistic” women on the study – the message to giveto other autistic girls and women. That message was “tell them they can do it too”. I think that sums it up. It’s what I will be telling the girls and young women I support. “You can do it too”… “You can….” “You can”.