‘Being diagnosed autistic was the last piece of the jigsaw’

Now, I know I need to build in recharge time. Many of the “behavioural problems” I had at school make sense now. I tried hard, but was always two steps behind. There are many comorbidities with autism, other things that come with it, and I have dyscalculia too, so when I look at numbers they might as well be Mandarin. My parents didn’t understand, neither did the school. Neurodiversity wasn’t even a word. Autism back then was something young boys had.

I don’t take medication for ADHD, but have instead learnt coping strategies. But there is no “fix” for autism. You need to work with it. One of my superpowers is that I’m highly sensitive to smells. Standing in the supermarket laundry aisle is torture, as are nail bars. Walking into a house with a glade plug-in makes me physically gag, which of course I learnt to mask.

Certain smells create a sort of film across the back of throat. I can taste it in my mouth and on my lips. But this strong aversion to synthetic fragrances, I later realised, became the reason I founded the Little Soap Company in 2008. I couldn’t find pure, natural soap in any supermarket, so using essential oils I decided to make one. We won the Queen’s Award for Innovation in 2022, and I went to meet the King at Buckingham Palace.

Of course, there are drawbacks. I process things a lot more slowly, writing everything down to make sense of it. A simple shopping list takes me longer and directions I just don’t compute despite having a high IQ (autism has nothing to do with IQ). But the fact that I think, see, feel, smell and hear things very differently to NT (neurotypical) brains – is now something I can work with and not against. It’s something I can even treasure, now I can label it. 

They say only one per cent of the population is autistic, which sounds a tiny amount, but that’s something like 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK, and that’s an underestimate. Women and girls are often undiagnosed, as we become so good at masking. I think there’s a whole generation of lost girls out there, and I’m keen to raise awareness.

Having a diagnosis at 45 was empowering, it made me understand that I’m not broken. I don’t need “fixing,” I just needed to make a few adaptations. I’ve spent my whole life squinting, only to now finally see life in full technicolour.

As told to Susanna Galton

10 autism myths that need to be busted

Myth 1: “Autism is a linear spectrum”

It doesn’t graduate from “least” to “most”. It’s more of a colour wheel, and everyone is different.

Myth 2: “More boys than girls are autistic”

Boys are more frequently diagnosed because girls often exhibit different social and communication patterns.

Myth 3: “Autistic people lack empathy”

There may be difficulties interpreting non-verbal cues and body language, but there’s still empathy.

Myth 4: “Autism affects intellect”

People with autism aren’t either prodigies or intellectually disabled. Broad generalisations don’t work.

Myth 5: “Autistic people are socially isolated”

Struggling (possibly) with social skills doesn’t make you antisocial, or not be interested in making connections.

Myth 6: “Autistic people lack emotions”

Not true, they just have a different way of expressing them.

Myth 7: “Autism can be cured”

No, it can’t be eliminated

Myth 8: “Autism is a result of bad parenting”

It’s a complex condition with a strong genetic component, not caused by parental behaviour.

Myth 9: “Autistic people are violent”

While some people with autism may exhibit challenging behaviours, it’s more the result from frustration.

Myth 10: “Autism only affects children”

It’s a lifelong condition.

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