about me

I always read the About section of a website, because otherwise you don’t know what biases that person/organisation may have. So, I felt it was my responsibility to share some personal information with you, so you understand why and how this website came about.

The Gentle Autistic website is funded by me, a late-diagnosed, late-to-every-appointment woman, based in the UK. I have no affiliation to any organisation. I receive no payment for sharing recommendations, such as books or other websites. I had in my head that I needed to produce a dictionary of neurodivergencies that was thorough and accessible, not too bland, not too clinical, maybe just a teeny bit of personal opinion in amongst the facts? Because there seems to be no agreement on what all these terms mean, which are the ‘in’ words, which have gone out of fashion. I was too scared to join any established community groups in case I used the wrong language and got laughed at or, worse still, didn’t know how to be ‘one of the gang’ like people who have always known they are on the spectrum!

So, I thought I’d start compiling an A to Z for others like me, learning as I went – that’s where it all started. My glossary is VAST and I imagine will continue to grow for the rest of my life, because I love it – it gives me a sense of calm (all good lists do).

The rest of this is simply a little bit of background, so by all means skip it and go to the fun bits.

Here goes…This year I have finally found out who I am, who I have always been, and who I will be for the rest of my life. I’m so proud, and so sad, that I’ve clawed my way through at least two thirds of my life without being able to cut myself any slack for underperforming in all the roles that society laid out for me, not least my role as a Mum.

As the title suggests, I am a late-diagnosed autistic with ADHD, and ADHDer, is the best attempt so far at trying to make a bunch of awkward looking, largely consonant, letters into a cuddly sounding word. I can see why aspie became a popular term for autistic people; it does sound appealing and cute and I think we deserve a nice-sounding identity – it will help us all talk about it more.

ADHD can be so frustrating, when I’m trying to get this website written, for instance, and my ADHD is ‘in charge’, I only seem to be able to sit at the desk for a couple of minutes of spinning my chair, checking that I haven’t completed a single item in my diary, before remembering that I was in the middle of cooking (burnt), that the clean washing has been sitting in a steaming, damp heap since yesterday, that my house plants are all gasping, that I’ve cut it too fine to get to the hospital appointment and the pile on my desk is so deep, I can’t find the paperwork, including directions – long sentence – sigh. It IS frustrating. When my autistic side is in charge, I am at the desk, writing for ten, eleven, fourteen hours, without remembering to eat unless my husband reminds me, but BOY do I get things done – it’s a beautiful obsession (special interest)! I feel this is who I am. I’m chaotic and I’m energetic and enthusiastic and obsessive about the things I love. I’m not sure I want those things taken away, even if I could. I see my ADHD and autism as two sides of the same coin – I cannot imagine being asked to separate those two aspects of me – they are connected permanently, like twins who get irritated by each other but cannot imagine life without each other.

Oh yes, the other thing I do is talk a lot. I am what those in the trade call ‘hyperverbal‘. Onward…

Anyway, I have been developing this website since April 2023, since my clinical diagnosis. I’m 54 years old and it took me to reach breaking point at the end of last year – total shutdown and a feeling of wishing I could just have oblivion (what would be described in the neurotypicall world as a whopping great nervous breakdown) to get here. I very, very gradually started to get the help I so badly needed. Even then, help was inconsistent and mostly involved putting me on anti-depressants and benzodiazepines. I had to fight hard every step of the way, at a point in my life when I didn’t have any fight left in me.

It wasn’t my clinical diagnosis that made me realise I’m neurodivergent – that just gave me the validation I needed for myself – a lovely badge of authenticity so that I could rid myself of the feeling of imposter syndrome…why is it that our society makes us feel that, until we get an official, medical diagnosis, we don’t have the right to identify? Nobody knows us better than we know ourselves, after all.

It was actually meeting several neurodivergent members of an anxiety group that I was attending, that made me question who and why I am. I felt so completely connected to those people, I went away and wondered why. [Side note – those same people are now my gang – we’re called The Rubber Chickens*] and though our group sessions have long since ended, we are still a gang. We went out for lunch the other day and booked a table in the name of The Rubber Chickens. The waiter actually expected us to turn up in chicken costume… and neurotypicals say WE are the literally minded ones!

*We’re called the Rubber Chickens because we used to have to pass around a squeaky, rubber chicken dog toy when it was our turn to speak in our anxiety group!

I was lucky enough to have a diagnosing clinical psychologist who is passionate about identifying all the forgotten generations of autistic women, who have slipped through the net because, until very recently, autism and ADHD were associated with boys. Unusual behaviours, depression, anxiety, and so much more – have not been associated with the possibility that we are neurodivergent. Each time my mental health has taken a dive, I have been given medication, been told I had post-natal depression, that my struggles were situational and they would pass if I changed my environment, that I needed a hysterectomy to rid myself of hormones (which I went ahead and had at 44). All of these may be true, but none of them got to the bottom of WHY. Why did I feel so different? Why couldn’t I just be like other mums, other wives, other friends, other employees. Why did everything that I watched other people doing, seemingly without effort, every day, seem like a complete impossibility to me?

Hormones, upbringing, my unwillingness to ‘demand respect’ from an abusive partner – there was a lot of blame aimed in my direction and I am only just starting to retrain my thinking, now I have the full picture. I’m so proud, and sad, that I’ve spent so much of my life in the dark. And I’m still here, finally in the light.

In my late twenties we got a computer, a word processor really – it didn’t have fancy wizardry, like internet connectivity. I was an at home mum, raising three children under six, and I started writing on this chunky beast of a machine. I found a passion that I had dropped in my teens. I was so happy for that fortnight, until my bully of an ex-husband went ballistic and told me I was neglecting my duties – the house was a mess, his dinner wasn’t ready, the washing up wasn’t done, I hasten to add that my kids were always at the centre of everything I did, that was never an issue.

I stopped writing and I have only written a couple of things since. If I’d understood that I NEED my special interests in order to feel alive, that would have really helped me feel less guilty. I didn’t understand how I’d lost time, I was so absorbed in my passion. It frightened me because I knew that other mums weren’t doing that. They were going to NCT meetings, coffee mornings, remembering health visitors were about to knock on the door. They did the stuff that mums were ‘supposed’ to do. I was just weird.

So, this website is me finally saying it’s okay for me to write. And I really hope that it is writing with a purpose – to help other people not feel like outsiders any more. We are magnificent! And I do really mean that. I love who I am, I always have. I just haven’t understood why I am, and therefore I’ve wasted a lot of energy trying to change myself so that I could be more like people that 1) I could never be and 2) I don’t want to be!

My new identity has given me an amazing new relationship with my Mum, who, whilst being interviewed in my assessment, found out that she too is autistic (three generations of our family discovered we were autistic within a couple of months of each other!). We understand each other so well now, and we are able to understand that when we are quiet, when we retreat, it is about our own need to do so for our health, and it’s no reflection on anyone else. That, and discussing our many co-occurring conditions and quirky traits in a new light, has been the very best part of it, and I feel as close to my Mum as I did when I was a little girl. I feel so grateful for that after decades of struggling in that relationship. I feel that there’s nothing we can’t talk about together.

I am not a medical professional or an academic, though research is what I do best and I would have loved to have been in a financially secure enough position to continue with a PhD, as my tutors had hoped. But by then I was a single mum of three under 11 and academia was still the preserve of the privileged. Despite that, I gained a joint First Class Honours degree in Psychology and Women’s Studies and that, I achieved, in 2005. I was also awarded the Rachel Beales Memorial Prize for outstanding achievement – awarded to one mature student each year – that made me incredibly proud… though I still didn’t attend my graduation! I’ve established several successful and diverse businesses – from vintage furniture to horticulture – two more of my special interests.

ALL of these qualifications and successes were only possible because I’m neurodivergent – I’m autistic. And autistic people are at their very best when exercising their passions – their special interests.

Scrolling back through, I see this is quite a long piece of writing! But then, if you’ve spent any time at all around neurodivergent people, that will be nothing new to you. This is one glorious place where we can let our words flow – there’s no word limit in our world.

A final, and very important, word: this website is inspired by my children, for all sorts of reasons. Not least because I owe them an explanation, one that I haven’t had before now.

 

Contact: emma@thegentleautistic.com