From childhood, I have always loved to write. I had my first poem published at the age of 9 in my local newspaper. (It was all about how much I hated telephones, a foreshadowing of my adult autism diagnosis if I ever saw one!) I’ve been fortunate to have my work appear both online and in print, with my current project being my most ambitious to date. I’m writing my debut children’s non-fiction book, The Autistic Guide to Adventure, for Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
The idea for this book was sparked shortly after I had signed up to participate in the Berlin Inline Skating Marathon. Active pursuits have never come quite as easily to me as writing has, so I knew I was setting myself up for a challenge. I’ve always wanted to be more adventurous and to ‘live a life worth writing about’ (Benjamin Franklin), so rollerskating 26 miles through Berlin seemed fitting. Yet, as I began to search online for autistic athletes and adventurers whose stories could inspire and motivate me, I soon realised that there were very few when compared to the overall size of the autistic population.
That started me on my current path, to advocate for accessibility in the great outdoors. Whether it be participating in a sport, going on an adventure or simply existing with nature, there are many simple ways that these activities can be made more accessible for those of us who are autistic. I hope that my book will help children to feel more confident to try something they’ve always dreamt of but never felt they could do because of their support needs.
It was two years ago that I came across an article in Women’s Health magazine that genuinely changed my life. The author had written about how she had been misdiagnosed with depression and anxiety, only later to find out that she was in fact autistic. I recognised so much of my experiences in her writing and knew I couldn’t ignore the opportunity to find out if I was the same. It took me several months to find the courage to ask my doctor for an assessment, and 6 further months from that conversation until my assessment actually took place. But finally, at 23, I was diagnosed as autistic. It was a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, it answered a lot of questions that had been accumulating since my childhood. On the other, it highlighted that a lot of the struggles I had faced when I was younger could have been avoided with the right support.
Light and sound
The sensory inputs that I find the most challenging to regulate are light and sound. Light can be from anything from the sun to a lamp to my laptop screen. There are rare days when I am so hypersensitive that I have to have the blinds closed and sunglasses on just to be able to work on my laptop. Most days, however, it is enough to have my screen in grayscale mode with a blue light filter on. With sound, I particularly struggle with artificial noises such as the ticking of a clock, the humming of an electrical appliance or the roaring of a lawnmower. I can’t tune them out as ‘background noise’ like neurotypical people seem to be able to do. If the television is on, for example, you’ve got little hope of maintaining a conversation with me, because my brain will be continuously flitting between your voice and the one coming from the TV!
Allie and Calmer
In order to regulate my auditory inputs, I used to wear ear defenders for several hours almost every day. Whilst I benefitted from their ability to reduce background noises, I was experiencing a lot of neck and shoulder pain from wearing them for so long. That’s how I came to the decision to try Calmer earplugs; I knew they didn’t work in exactly the same way as ear defenders, but the reviews that I had read suggested they would be a worthwhile alternative to consider.
Having worn the earplugs for several months now, I could not recommend them more highly. They are the first thing I put in when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I take out before I go to sleep at night. I can still hear all of those little sounds that I used to find unbearable, but they no longer elicit a response of stress and anxiety from my brain and body. It’s truly extraordinary.
At first, the earplugs will probably feel uncomfortable. You will need to experiment with how they sit in your ear to find the right fit and for me that process took about 2-3 days. Now, I wouldn’t want to live without them. Since introducing the Calmer earplugs to my toolkit of sensory supports, I’ve noticed that I can spend longer in social settings without feeling overwhelmed. I also only need to wear my ear defenders on rare occasions. You can bet these earplugs will be sitting snug in my ears as I rollerskate 26 miles through Berlin next year!