When I first got my diagnosis of autism, I was assured by the experts that nothing was different. I was still the same me that had walked through the door.
And I agreed.
When I told family about my diagnosis, I told them it didn’t change anything, I was still me.
And they agreed,
When I told friends about my diagnosis, I said, “None of this fundamentally changes who I am”.
And they agreed.
Off we all wandered in our own directions, happy that I was still me, they were still them, and the world wasn’t fundamentally different.
I was yet to find one of the most profound differences being autistic made to my life. I speak a lot about how Autism is the key to understanding myself, about its positives, about the wonderful life-experience being so involved with my senses gives me.
But lurking in the background is something else.
You see, back when I was “normal”, I’ll call those days Before Autism, I was pretty supported. At work there was an employee assistance programme that offered us normals counselling and support for free.
Back then if I wanted to pay someone for therapy, that was always an option. Back then, if I was struggling with stress then I had options.
I’ve mentioned my naivety before too. I knew support for autistic people was lacking, particularly where I live, particularly in rural, sparsely populated areas, but I didn’t quite realise what that meant.
Before Autism the counselling on offer wasn’t perfect for me. I remember trying to work out what the counsellor wanted from me, and giving them that. I remember describing a Shut Down in great detail and being told simply that brains don’t work like that, before being given a coping mechanism that didn’t fit with my thinking.
In some ways it helped by showing me what didn’t work. It encouraged me to work out my own techniques. Once I had my diagnosis and the key to what my real problems are, that made life a whole lot easier.
Deep down I believed that there might not be extra support. I’m painfully optimistic. Irritatingly so at times. But I’d read enough to suspect that it was true.
What I wasn’t expecting, what really smacked me in the face, was that not only is there no extra support for me, the support that was in existence, the support that everyone takes for granted now, isn’t there either.
I now have less support than I had Before Autism
I now know that certain things like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) should be modified for autistics. That there are therapies that may help deal with anxiety. That talking to someone trained in the way my brain works (or even better, an actually autistic therapist!) could help.
It all seems a bit of a no-brainer. Of course they would help. They help other people, why not me?
Why not me?
Because I’m autistic.
And no one in my area has the training. Not even the option of paying for it.
Not only is there nothing extra, but the support network that I had taken for granted Before Autism is gone.
I have no safety net in place.
Right now I don’t need it, but what happens if, when, I do? What happens then?
Did you know that so-called “high functioning” autistics have a suicide rate 9 times that of the average population? Link Here
That’s terrifying. I’m going to repeat it. Autistic people like me are nine times more likely to commit suicide (not attempt it, succeed at it) than everyone else AND we have a reduced support network.
So when I say, “There’s no support!” I’m not saying, “There’s no support above and beyond the level everyone else has!”, I’m saying, “There is often less support for adult autistics than there is for the general population!”
There are solutions. Solutions that would make counselling accessible. Include Neurodivergent Adjustments for all those training in Mental Health services. Include Autism as a necessary module, covering actual treatment. Make us boring and mainstream, make your services our services.
What we have now is not good enough. The choice between no counselling from responsible therapists who are unwilling to give advice when it could cause harm, or counselling from the potentially dangerous resource of those who are “willing to give it a go” with no understanding of autism.
The system is playing Russian Roulette with the Mental Health of Autisics.
I’m not asking to be treated as a special flower. I just want my safety net back.