The Authentically Autistic Health Files: Florence Neville (Me!)

The Authentically Autistic Health Files are a celebration of health and wellbeing practitioners who, like myself, are both autistic and working with clients who are autistic. As you might expect, our unique life experiences, understanding and skills give us particular insights into many of the challenges that our autistic clients may have.

Please do contact me if you would like me to send you a questionnaire so that you can be featured on this blog. You are welcome to remain anonymous and I will always get you, as the featured practitioner to approve copy before I post.

As requested by the other practitioners who’ve filled this in already – in my own words, here I am:

Florence Neville: Health and Nutrition Coach

florenceneville.com

Basic Biography

Although I have had a lifelong interest in health and nutrition (I remember secretly musing on diet plans for my peers when I was only eight years old and my earliest career choice was to be a doctor or nurse!) I actually trained in and gained my degree in music; meaning that my twenties were spent performing, recording, teaching and managing the shop for a violin workshop.

I left the field of music in order to focus on bringing up my daughters in my early thirties and studied for my Diploma in Natural Nutrition when they began school. Unfortunately not long after qualifying I had a breakdown which crushed any confidence I had to feel able to offer advice. Instead I took a job at my local pharmacy – a job that, while it taught me a great deal, was highly unsuitable to my neurotype.

Despite, in retrospect, clearly fitting the criteria I had no idea that I might be autistic until a chance reading of this article by Sarah Hendrickx in April 2016. Luckily I was able to get an appointment with her soon after and was given a diagnosis of Aspergers within the month. A complete reassessment of my life and then learning to work to my autistic strengths gave me a boost in both understanding and confidence, resulting in me feeling able to leave my pharmacy job and re-start my nutrition practice in the Autumn of 2017.

Your Health Business or Specialism

Over the years I have thoroughly researched and experimented with various dietary models including vegetarian, low fat, low calorie, vegan, raw vegan, wheat/dairy/sugar free, paleo, primal, low carb, zero carb and traditional. They all have their pros and cons, but the crucial point is that not one of them is suitable for everyone at all times. What suits me may not suit you, and what suits me now may not suit me in ten years.

So, part of my job is to really get to grips with an individual’s nature and nurture make-up in order to be able to provide a set of guidelines that will enable them to heal most effectively given their genetics, symptoms, lifestyle, budget, and geography. Most of these guidelines will be dietary but helping them to understand how to use light, movement, sleep and rest patterns are also crucial. Seeing a client’s health and wellbeing transform is an incredible honour and I find it really exciting.

How Does Being Autistic Impact Your Health Practice?

I think that my neurotype gives me a specific and unique skillset to work with. I love to research and I am good at spotting patterns, or indeed spotting broken patterns in a client’s health in a way that conventional medicine is not always able to. For instance, if a client is experiencing a difficult menopause I am looking to balance her hormones but I am also working out why that imbalance occurred in the first place; it might be that her adrenal system is overtaxed or that she isn’t eating enough of the building blocks to support progesterone production; it might be that she is eating too many oestrogen mimicking foods or that her liver is overloaded; maybe it’s an emotional issue or perhaps the symptoms are actually due to something else altogether.

I like being able to break down a complex issue and offer it back to an individual in a way that is both easier to understand and gives them the practical tools necessary to work with their symptoms. My role is largely to educate and empower. I have noticed that many autistic people have a unique skill in this area. We don’t tend to accept what we are taught at face value but instead tend to take a different route when internalising a collection of information. “Why?” is of more interest than “What?” when we are figuring out “How?” and so we love to explain how we got to that answer. Having said that, it’s not so easy to explain when we suddenly just know the correct answer without any apparent route whatsoever!

What Considerations Do You Take into Account with Autistic Clients?

My autistic clients tend to have thoroughly researched their own health issues well before making the decision to book a consultation with me. They have often been repeatedly fobbed off by doctors who have not been able to spot patterns and so have tried to self-treat (or just ignored) symptoms on an individual basis. As autistic clients tend to have a more complicated health picture than non-autistic clients I tend to have more “knot unravelling” to do.

I have also noticed a tendency for autistic clients to apologise at the outset for being blunt, outspoken and needing to be given a lot of background information. In fact, this is how I much prefer to work – these qualities make my job easier!

While I don’t seek to treat autistic clients differently I am still learning quite how wide the range of executive function challenges are from one client to the next. This is why a dialogue is so important – it’s not appropriate to just issue information and a set of recommendations based on what will make the most difference to an individual’s health if they will be overwhelmed by the information and not do any of it. Meanwhile some clients prefer to jump in at the deep end from the outset.

Do You Have or Have You Had Specific Health Challenges of Your Own?

Over the years my own health challenges have included anxiety, depression (including five major breakdowns,) insomnia, chronic constipation, compulsive eating, acne into my late thirties, frequent and extreme bouts of fatigue, multiple bouts of tonsillitis (including emergency surgery for quinsy,) asthma, aching joints and frequent lung infections.

I find that, for me personally, all of these have responded well to a diet based on healthy fats, organic vegetables and meat; and well sourced supplements together with some lifestyle changes and certain naturopathic techniques. I am in better health now, in my mid-forties, than I have been at any other time of my life! I also see an amazing acupuncture and zero-balancing practitioner in Bristol and she has worked miracles when I need extra support.

What Are Your Own Health and Wellbeing Routines and Non-Negotiables?

I require a great deal of down-time. Clean air, sunlight, organic and minimally processed foods; eight hours sleep, walking and periods of silence are crucial for me to remain physically and emotionally healthy. Paying attention to the seasons in terms of food and lifestyle keep me connected and grounded. Working with varying energy levels over the course of my menstrual cycle is vital. And, while I don’t drink much, really good coffee makes me feel good!

Sensory Toolkit

The autistic community is generous with tips on navigating the outside world. I learned a lot from my Twitter friends! Since I learned to keep a “toolkit” in my bag at all times then being out and about causes far less stress. My kit includes both blue-blocking glasses (for the rare occasion that going into a fluorescently lit supermarket or department store is unavoidable), sunglasses, ear-plugs, headphones, rescue-remedy spray and a hanky doused with essential oils.

Meltdowns and Shutdowns

My meltdowns and shutdowns are rare these days but are generally triggered by being overwhelmed (social and/or sensory), by intake of junk food or by mould exposure. I need to be able to escape either to a quiet and dark safe place or into nature; I need calm reassurance (because I am generally frightened by my reaction) and I need grounding. It will often take me several hours or even days to recover, during which I will likely be mute and unable to pull my face into any kind of expression. I have been incredibly lucky that my husband has never once assumed my reactions to be tantrums and sulking and has always instinctively known how to support me.

What Are Your Plans?

I am really excited that there is now a growing understanding that nutrition, done right, can support autistic people to truly thrive and play to their own incredible strengths; and I love that I have the opportunity to help drive that forward in my practice.

My pie-in-the-sky dream is that one day I can be part of a linked practice that brings together autistic practitioners (nutrition, bodywork, herbalism, coaching etc.) with someone who can effectively deal with the day to day stuff (answering the phone, appointment setting and dealing with the finances) for those of us with executive functioning issues. Maybe one day…

Who Are Your Health Inspirations?

So, so many… I am always inspired by people who push the boundaries in health fields. I would recommend reading anything by Nora Gedgaudas or Dr. Christine Northrup. I love listening to the range of guests on the podcasts The Lifestylist, Bulletproof Radio and ReWild Yourself. Mark Sisson’s website is a fantastic resource.

Do You Have any General Advice or Closing Words?

Balancing rest and play is crucial. I hibernate in winter so that I am more able to get outside and be part of things in the summer. If I have been sociable on any one day then I will need at least one day to recover. A good night’s sleep is crucial if I am to be able to even speak to anyone the next day but that sleep is only possible if I have nourished myself well during the day.

 

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The Authentically Autistic Health Files: The Silent Wave

The Authentically Autistic Health Files are a celebration of health and wellbeing practitioners who, like myself, are both autistic and working with clients who are autistic. As you might expect, our unique life experiences, understanding and skills give us particular insights into many of the challenges that our autistic clients may have.

Please do contact me if you would like me to send you a questionnaire so that you can be featured on this blog. You are welcome to remain anonymous and I will always get you, as the featured practitioner to approve copy before I post.

In her own words, here is The Silent Wave:

The Silent Wave (a.k.a. Laina Eartharcher.)

I specialize in Functional/Integrative Medicine. I earned my certification last year as an Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner (IFMCP), one of 13 different sources of post-doctoral training.

I’ve also studied Functional Neurology from the Carrick Institute, completing 21 of the 24 required classes before discovering and switching to Functional Medicine. Since then, I have begun to gravitate toward – and carve out a niche of–people who can’t seem to find answers and relief anywhere else.

I get the “weird stuff”, the complex and multi-dimensional cases, and I enjoy solving them.

thesilentwaveblog.wordpress.com

Basic Biography

I’m Laina E, 40, from South Texas, US. I changed university majors 8 times before discovering integrative medicine at age 25-26. Once, in very poor health at age 23, I discovered natural healing and integrative medicine, which prompted me to get into the field to help others.

My Asperger’s/autism discovery happened much, much later, at age 38.5, while perusing research articles in medical journals. My current setup is self-employment, co-ownership of an integrative medicine clinic with my partner. I work very part-time, and I’m very selective of the people I work with. I juggle work-life balance, and I currently struggle with motivation issues.

Unrelated facts: I love martial arts, cats, Texas, world philosophies/religions, nature, digital art, writing, road trips, and the desert.

Your Health Business or Specialism

My main health-related interests are: biochemistry, nutrition, multicultural health systems (Chinese, Japanese, Native American, Indian/Ayurveda, Egyptian, etc), microbiology, pathology, genetics, toxicology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, hepatology/detoxification.

How Does Being Autistic Impact Your Health Practice?

There is an *absolute* impact (lol).  Being on the spectrum gives me the extra ability to delve deep into an issue and tenaciously latch on to it, without letting go until I’m satisfied. For example, I have spent a full 8 hours straight researching the biochemical metabolism of Lysine (lol).

I’m a perfectionist.  I balance the scientific with the artistic in my practice, in terms of creating graphical/visual patient education handouts and summary reports for patients.  So, Asperger’s/autism is a superpower for me.  It helps that human biochemistry and solving mysteries/puzzles are special interests for me.

But it is also a disability as well.  It is extremely difficult for me to meet with people; I cannot take walk-ins or appointments on short-short notice, nor can I see more than a handful of people in one day, nor can I start before 10am and nor can I got much past noon. And definitely not on Mondays (too anxious) or Fridays (too fatigued).  So, my Aspergian/autistic condition does limit me in that way. There’s also the social awkwardness and an incredible energy expenditure devoted to masking my natural autistic traits in order to “look ‘normal’” and gain the trust and acceptance of others.

What Considerations Do You Take into Account with Autistic Clients?

I haven’t had too many people on the spectrum yet. I give them a long leash, helping them find ways to work my recommendations into their daily routine. I make it clear that they can be themselves in my office, including stimming, lack of eye contact, expressing themselves in a way that comes natural to them, etc. We can meet in person or by phone (if they don’t want to leave their house). I’m also looking at setting up Skype and email programs, or perhaps secure 2-way online chat, but haven’t moved on that yet.

Do You Have or Have You Had Specific Health Challenges of Your Own?

Oh lord yes (lol).  I have 3 autoimmune disorders (including hearing impairment that is getting progressively worse; thyroid issues that sap my energy and motivation; and neurological degeneration that makes me clumsy and compromises brain function at times), EDS (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome or hypermobility spectrum), and I’m entering a rough pre-peri-menopausal stage. I also have histamine excess, a herniated disc in my neck, and post-traumatic stress issues, along with sporadic depression, dental problems, Non-24 sleep disorder, and documented heavy metal poisoning.

Support – I rely heavily on my partner. Very heavily. I try to eat a clean diet (although I could do much better!).  I try to get plenty of downtime. I work in the office 3-4 days a week, usually going home at lunch. I take Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal formulas and nutritional/herbal supplements. I get semi-regular acupuncture and spinal decompression treatments. I text my friends and family. I blog, although not as much lately. I also keep a journal blog, which I’ve been spending more of my time on lately. I do plenty of leisure activities. I do need to get more physical activity and mediation, though 🙂  I also have two lovely kitties!!

What Are Your Own Health and Wellbeing Routines and Non-Negotiables?

I must be gluten-free 100% of the time or I crash. I must have a fruit and vegetable smoothie at night or I feel crappy. I must take care what music I listen to, or I can get depressed or hostile. I must avoid subjects that I’m hyper-empathic to. I must be on the couch, with the lights and TV on, doing things on my laptop, in order to fall asleep. I must get cuddle-time in with my kitties. I must journal on my journal blog. I must go outside (in the winter) for about 20 minutes every night to cool down my nightly hot flash.

In the summer, I must have sushi to keep me balanced. In the winter, I must have more beef and chicken to keep me balanced. I should start drinking more herbal tea; I felt my best when I was doing that.

Sensory Toolkit

Weighted blankets!! OMG these rock. Those are more of an inside thing, though. As for going outside, I rarely do. When driving, I must have my iPod hooked into the truck stereo and be able to sing along. I must have my iPhone to play with when out and about. My husband does all the talking for me if we have to interact with anyone (like at a restaurant, the grocery store, etc).

Meltdowns and Shutdowns

Too much stress, too much peopling, too low blood sugar, certain times of the month, criticism, bullying, assumptions or accusation especially if false and/or unfair, animal cruelty, dealing with complaining or otherwise obstinate patients, financial woes, etc.  Lots of triggers LOL. Excess noise or harsh lighting, etc.

What Are Your Plans?

Spirituality, meditation, different means of exercise/physical activity, etc – personal areas of health interest/research. As far as our practice, I’d love to incorporate more personal training, more massage therapy modalities (Rolfing, etc), more Ayurveda, yoga, etc.

Who Are Your Health Inspirations?

IFM and Dr Mark Hyman have been inspirational.  www.ifm.org and  www.drhyman.com

Do You Have any General Advice or Closing Words?

I wish I would’ve gone a slightly different path in terms of schooling, but that’s neither here nor there at this point 🙂  Above all, I must learn to take care of MYSELF so that I can take the best care of others that I possibly can. Set the example; cultivate what people WANT – the energy, vitality, health, radiance, etc.

It’s easy to say (and hard to do), but don’t worry about the financial aspect. Seriously, just focusing on each patient and moving from one patient to the next, focusing on each in turn, will automatically generate the income. Also, I wish I would’ve known not to sell myself short! I gave WAY too many discounts and undervalued myself way too much in the beginning, thinking I was doing people a favor. Never apologize for the need/desire to be paid sufficiently for our services. Never feel guilty for expecting others to uphold their end of the Law of Fair Exchange. People do NOT respect someone who gives their time away – I may have thought I was doing them a favor, but actually I wasn’t. It backfired every time and I dang near burned out my first and second years in practice. Sometimes I’ve got to put my foot down.  If I give an inch, some will take a mile; boundaries are important.

It’s OK to say no and/or draw a boundary. I can’t control how others will respond to that. It took me a long time to learn that I will never please everyone because some people 1) have unreasonable, unrealistic, impossible expectations that NO ONE will ever meet, and/or 2) have decided to be angry and unsatisfied no matter where they go or who they deal with (even at the grocery store) because they’re simply unhappy people. There’s no cure for that, so I had to stop beating my head against a wall (figuratively) trying. 🙂

Overwhelm in the Classroom

Humour me for a minute. Can you remember back to being in primary school? Were you ever in the position of really not understanding something like a maths question? What did you do? Did you put your hand up and ask for help? That’s the correct thing to do right? That’s what you are supposed to do. Put your hand up, ask for help, listen to the teacher’s advice, complete the task, get on with the next activity. Easy!

Now me, my husband and daughters have all had very different experiences of being in infant school, despite attending pretty similar schools, but not one of us did the hand-putting-up-thing if we could possibly help it. We were all renowned for being good in school, and we all had above-average learning abilities. But put our hands up, speak out loud and risk being stared at? Hell no!

Instead we had our own techniques for dealing with being at our desks, staring blankly at something like a maths problem and not knowing how to solve it. We were discussing these over dinner last night. Here are the some of the various approaches we used:

  • Crying
  • Cheating
  • Doodling
  • Sleeping
  • Running away

Asking for help did not at any point feature on our preferred strategies. I’d be interested to know if it was one of yours. Would you like to know what my favoured approach was? Shall I tell you a story? It’s a forty year old story but I suspect it is still relevant today.

Despite reading fluently long before I started school and happily writing pages and pages of fiction, I just didn’t get how the rules of maths worked. I liked counting rhythmically or melodically and I’d often walk or skip round the playground counting my steps until the end-of-playtime bell rang. But multiplication? The analogue clock? Fractions? Um… Nope.

On this particular afternoon in 1978 I was in a noisy, smelly and chaotic year two class, doing basic multiplication with the aid of stacking bricks  – to work out 5 X 6 for instance, you’d make 5 stacks of 6 bricks and then add them all up. Stacking bricks for multiplication seems like a great learning method to me; great for both visual and kinaesthetic learners. So what could possibly go wrong?

Well, unfortunately, there weren’t enough bricks for my sum. And I couldn’t figure out how to resolve this seemingly easy predicament with any success. And did I mention that the classroom was noisy, smelly and chaotic? Three times I queued up to have my book marked. Three times I was distractedly told “no, do it again.” From the repeated rubbing out of my mistakes I was making a hole in the page. I got increasingly agitated. And there didn’t seem to be any way out.

What to do? My teacher didn’t register my distress because I still hadn’t learnt that facial expressions were generally necessary to communicate emotion (it was a few years yet before I figured that out and had to painstakingly teach myself the relevant faces in the mirror.) I couldn’t ask anyone else because I didn’t really have any friends. But I hated not being able to complete the task; too many people were moving around and being noisy; the air was too close, my brain felt jammed, and the sheer frustration was becoming rapidly overwhelming.

Dear reader – this six year old made the decision that that she felt most suitable. She quietly put her book in her drawer, slipped out of the classroom, collected her corduroy shoulder bag and red, hooded coat; crept out of school and (trembling all over and envisioning police cars coming to catch her) quickly walked the half-mile journey home. My instinct in stressful situations is to run away. Something as simple as not being able to do a maths problem was stressful enough to merit my running away.

I sometimes wonder how common this instinct is for kids. Schools these days are pretty difficult to escape from now that security has become such an issue. And that’s fair enough but If I’d been in the same position now, where would I have run to? I know that some schools have fantastic strategies in place for kids who become easily overwhelmed and need to retreat until they can cope again but this certainly isn’t standard. At least not yet.

 

The Authentically Autistic Health Files: Toni Boucher

The Authentically Autistic Health Files are a celebration of health and wellbeing practitioners who, like myself, are both autistic and working with clients who are autistic. As you might expect, our unique life experiences, understanding and skills give us particular insights into many of the challenges that our autistic clients may have.

Please do contact me if you would like me to send you a questionnaire so that you can be featured on this blog. You are welcome to remain anonymous and I will always get you, as the featured practitioner to approve copy before I post.

In her own words, here is Toni Boucher:

Toni Boucher

Autism Consultant, Writer, Speaker.

I work with autistic teens and adults around the world to help them reach their relationship, school and career goals. I also consult with families and companies to help create autism friendly environments and approaches.

I’m 47 years old and have been obsessed with autism since I first learned about it in high school. I’ve been working with autistic people since 1989. To learn about how I discovered my own neurodiversity you can read part of my story Confessions of a Closet Aspie.

Working with other people on the spectrum really helps me to function more effectively as a professional because my natural rhythms and patterns are very similar to the people I support. Traditional work hours and patterns have always been challenging for me to maintain but since my clients also are nocturnal, intensely focussed, obsessed, have sensory issues and require periods of recovery after being out in the world I can meet my own needs and accommodate my clients natural tendencies at the same time.

The Authentically Autistic Health Files: Laura Z. Weldon

The Authentically Autistic Health Files are a celebration of health and wellbeing practitioners who, like myself, are both autistic and working with clients who are autistic. As you might expect, our unique life experiences, understanding and skills give us particular insights into many of the challenges that our autistic clients may have.

Please do contact me if you would like to me to send you a questionnaire so that you can be featured on this blog. You are welcome to remain anonymous and I will always get you, as the featured practitioner to approve copy before I post.

In her own words, here is Laura Z. Weldon:

Laura Z. Weldon

Health Coach, specializing in supporting clients with chronic mental and physical illness and people who identify as highly sensitive or neurodiverse. I am also a Pilates instructor and have completed Cranialsacral II and Reiki II trainings. I am halfway through my education to become a naturopathic physician (we are primary care doctors in 20 US states) with an additional masters in integrative mental health.

Laura Z. Weldon, business name Weldon Wellness, neurodiversity work under Autistic Empaths

Basic Biography

I grew up in Kentucky, a Southern state in the US. I was diagnosed as an adult, so I grew up being called “shy, sensitive, and gifted” rather than autistic, which I am both grateful for, as I was able to establish my identity outside of diagnosis, and regret, because I needed support in ways no one recognized.

My childhood memories are coloured by my sensory experiences – grade school was coarse pig hair carpeting, fluorescent lights and the smell of fluoride. My weekends in the country with my grandparents were spent reading books alone in trees and swimming in the river while never touching the bottom.

After high school, I moved to NYC to complete a BA in English Literature at Columbia University. I was always fascinated by how people thought, I suspect because I knew that my own experience was different from others’, and this is partly what drew me to literature – it offered a way to glimpse into the thought processes, interactions, and insights of others. I lived and worked in New York City for six years.

I was never someone who was certain about my path; as a child, when someone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say “5 feet 9 inches tall.” My vague intention after undergrad was to pursue a MFA in creative-nonfiction, but I waited because it didn’t feel like quite the right fit. In time, like many others who work in health, I came to this field through discovering what helped me heal myself. I attended a 2-year post-bac pre-med program at the University of Louisville in KY and then applied and was accepted to naturopathic medical school.

I moved across the country 3 years ago with my partner and our Doberman Huxley. My partner has been one of my best friends since middle school; he is not quite neurotypical, but not autistic. I call him my partner rather than my boyfriend to reflect both my queer identity and the fact that we share our lives together. We now live in Portland, OR while I attend the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM), the oldest naturopathic medicine program in the United States. I am pursuing both the ND degree and an additional master’s degree in integrative mental health.

I turn 30 this year. I first had a counsellor suggest I may be autistic 5 years ago, while discussing my difficulties in social situations at parties and other overstimulating environments, but I did not pursue a diagnosis at that time. After several years of gradually coming back into my body after a lifetime of what I call “functional disassociation,” the underlying sensory triggers became clearer.

I first went for an evaluation for sensory processing disorder, and then after reading memoirs by autistic authors and learning about the differences in the female phenotype I found myself resonating with other aspects of autism. I saw a psychologist who specializes in women on the spectrum last February, and after a few rounds of tests and interviews was diagnosed autistic (what would formerly have been Asperger’s). I felt that getting an official diagnosis was important for several reasons for me personally. As a future mental health professional, I wanted to know how mainstream practitioners would identify traits I found in myself.

I wanted to be open about my diagnosis to show that autistic people are not all one pattern of experiences and behaviors, and that even if I “do not look autistic” my experience is still similar to others who may fit a more stereotyped definition (typically the male phenotype). I wanted to be able to get the accommodations I needed at university to attend lectures remotely and wear sunglasses in conference rooms in the clinic. The bonus I did not expect to come with my diagnosis was finding community and connection around shared experiences, particularly through the #ActuallyAutistic community on Twitter.

Health Business and Specialism

I have worked as a health coach and Pilates instructor since 2012. My “special interest” has always been humans, our minds and emotions, and over time it has evolved from literature to psychology to medicine (and what a beautiful combination those fields are together; see narrative psychology/medicine in traditional or indigenous practices, for example).

I love working with people one-on-one, learning and exploring together how their thoughts and emotions impact their behavior and lifestyle choices. I strongly believe that there is a way for everyone (who is not in an acutely stressful situation, like extreme poverty or other traumatic contexts) to find a way to live a balanced, healthy, and enjoyable life. (Yes, even people with disabilities and chronic illness – health does not mean without challenge and there is no one “perfect” way to be healthy.)

My role is in supporting people to make these changes, gradually and experimentally, to improve self-awareness and discover what dietary choices, movement practices, and other forms of self-care work best for them as individuals. The fact that there is no one right answer for every person or even for a single person over a lifetime means that this work is always interesting and personalized, a journey of learning about another person’s way of being in the world.

Every suggestion I make to a client is an experiment. I offer an idea and if it fits for them they try it out. If they do not follow through, or find that they did not like it or for any other reason it wasn’t right for them, then that suggestion is either something they need greater support on OR it simply isn’t right for them and their lives, so we move on and try something new. Lifestyle changes should never be a question of willpower.

Specifically, I do a lot to support GI health and emotional balance. Many clients work with me to support them on elimination diets to discover underlying food sensitivities, do Candida protocols, or switch to therapeutic diets like low-fodmap for SIBO. When appropriate, I incorporate mindfulness practices (as they suit the client) and suggestions for maintaining an enjoyable movement practice (I don’t talk much about “exercise” because our bodies are made to move; it should not have to be a task on a to-do list.) I work with vitamins, minerals, and herbs as appropriate and in conjunction with clients’ physicians.

My decision to pursue a degree in alternative healthcare through naturopathic medicine, instead of allopathic or MD medical school, grew from a frustration with the medical system. I am in no way against pharmaceutical medicine or allopathic care; in acute situations it is truly a miracle of modern medicine. With chronic conditions and mental health, however, I found those approaches overly reductive and algorithmic, and I was frustrated by the lack of initiative to seek out true underlying causes of imbalance and disease. In addition, many doctors seem to have lost their role of “physician as teacher”; I hold this aspect in highest regard, as I believe it is our duty to help patients understand their bodies and how to care for them, even if it takes a little extra time.

As a result, much of my work with clients also involves some degree of patient advocacy. We talk through questions to ask their physicians, what symptoms are important to bring up and have addressed, and how to maintain a sense of agency in an interaction with such a strong power dynamic.

While in medical school I do not take on many clients at a time, but I love this way of working with people and find it powerful and educational for both client and myself, so I intend to continue working in this capacity part-time throughout my education and even once I am a physician.

How Being Autistic Impacts My Health Practice

I am still working out exactly what being autistic means to me and what aspects of my personality and thought process are attributable to being autistic and which are simply me. I know that I pick up on patterns easily and can think of “out-of-the-box” solutions, which is helpful when clients feel like they have tried everything and there is nothing left, and which will be helpful in diagnosing patients in the future.

I am less likely to make assumptions about someone else’s experience because I am very aware that how we seem on the outside and what we feel inside can be vastly different. Many practitioners are unfamiliar with or even judgmental about the idea that someone can be “highly sensitive,” whether that is a personality trait or as aspect of neurodiversity, so people who know that they are more reactive to their environments and even supplements and medications often feel relieved to have that recognized and addressed.

Ironically, I think that my high capacity for empathy is part of being neurodiverse; I experience some degree of mirror-touch synaesthesia or emotional and physical empathy which allows me to have a glimpse into other people’s internal experience and connect with them more intimately and authentically. (Just don’t ask me to talk to a group of people at the same time!) I am also frankly honest about myself, so when it will serve the client to hear something about me I share it without hesitation, which I find helps build trust and communication.

One of the practical ways being autistic has impacted my work is that I see the majority of my clients online, using video chat services. While I am in medical school I am expected to be out in the world more than my system finds ideal, so being able to work with clients from the comfort of my own home is immensely helpful. I also find it is helpful for my clients, as many of them deal with social anxiety, movement or transportation challenges, sensory overload, and other things that may it easier for them to communicate from their own homes. I suspect telemedicine will become more common in the future.

What Considerations I Take Into Account with Autistic Clients

While science is frustratingly lacking in explanations, there are many physical and neurological aspects to being autistic that are often ill-addressed. Common “co-morbidities” as they call them include anxiety, depression, migraines, digestive issues/IBS, epilepsy, connective tissue disorders and so much more.

I think that the connection between sensory overload and anxiety is incredibly important and better addressed when seen as a neurological response to a context the body does not feel safe or comfortable rather than a mental health issue (although simply being autistic in a neurotypical world can certainly have mental health repercussions).

My approach with an autistic client would be similar to all of my clients in that I always work in a personalized, individualized way (“If you’ve met one autistic, you’ve met one autistic), but it would certainly have more of an emphasis on GI health and the gut-brain connection, as well as managing sensory input and unique dietary challenges, including texture sensitivities, lack of appetite awareness, and executive function difficulties with preparing meals.

I think it is always easier to understand a shared experience, so being autistic myself I think helps both by being able to offer suggestions that have worked for me and to allow my clients to feel more comfortable to be their unmasked selves. For example, stimming during a session, not making eye contact, or preferring to have the session by chatting/typing instead of speaking would all be perfectly okay with me.

My Own Specific Health Challenges

After undergrad, the stress of the education and living and then working in such an incredible but overwhelming city took its toll. I became quite ill for several years with the early stages of a (still undiagnosed) autoimmune disease, and other symptoms that I now understand were autistic traits and processing challenges emerging because my body was under duress.

By discovering and eliminating my food sensitivities, healing my gut lining, and rebalancing my microflora I was able to enter remission. My primary challenges now are SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) which limits my diet considerably, migraines, and sensory dysregulation. I use my sensory toolkit and a lot of GABA supporting herbs to decrease my migraine frequency and intensity and keep the volume of the world at a reasonable level.

I have a primary care doctor who monitors my physical symptoms, but I work primarily with a Chinese medicine practitioner who uses acupuncture and tuning forks to improve my processing and help me stay grounded in my body. He thinks of digestive issues and sensory issues as one and the same – they are both challenges with taking in and integrating the outside world.

Health and Wellbeing Routines; and Non-Negotiables

I am not as attached to routine as many others in the autistic community, but there are certainly practices and boundaries that have helped me thrive. My strongest routine is that I stop working by 8pm every night to eat and relax on the couch with my partner and dog. I need this time to switch off my hyper-focused brain or else I will have difficulty sleeping.

I have switched almost entirely to online shopping and delivery, which eliminates the excessive sensory input and stress of shopping in stores. I go to a sweat lodge ceremony once a month to support myself spiritually. I take a few yoga classes a week, because they keep me flexible and strong while offering an hour of quiet and grounding movement. I eat only things that don’t aggravate my body, but don’t restrict anything else (translation: I eat a lot of chocolate).

Finally, I have realized that my periodic hypersomnia (needing to sleep more than 10, 11, or even 12 hours a night) is directly correlated to overstimulation and simply being out in the world more than I can tolerate, so I allow myself this sleep and recovery time without judgment or self-criticism. Also, herbs, herbs, herbs (see my toolkit).

Sensory toolkit

I never leave the house without a valerian root tincture. Valerian is a GABA (inhibitory neurotransmitter) supporting herb that is traditionally used for sleep, but I find that if I take it before entering an overstimulating environment my tolerance is considerably higher and my anxiety much less (and, interestingly, I don’t get sleepy). I take several other less intense herbs that support GABA as well, including gotu kola, damiana, and skullcap.

My noise-cancelling headphones have literally changed my life, especially for air travel. I keep sunglasses in my bag for fluorescent lighting, and an earthy essential oil blend that helps me feel more grounded and can block out unpleasant smells. I wear very soft clothing, down to wire and clasp-free bras. I wear a puzzle ring when I leave the house that I use for discrete stimming. At home, I have a weighted blanket that helps during meltdowns. I’m also hoping for some special earplugs for Christmas that reduce background noise rather than block sound!

Meltdowns and Shutdowns

Shutdowns for me are almost entirely sensory and show up in very graded ways. Some days, after too much input/processing the day before, I feel this “veil” sensation that makes me feel like everything I am interacting with is far away, as though behind plexiglass. True shutdowns, when speech becomes more challenging and my face becomes less expressive, are rarer now that I know and respect my limits most of the time, but are common when shopping, after being in a fluorescently lit clinic for several hours, and during the holidays when I am in a home with 20+ family members.

The only way to come out of a shutdown for me is to check out of the world temporarily, either by staying home for a day or two or preferably going camping. Meltdowns for me are a result of an overtaxed system (again, usually sensory, but can also be too much social interaction) with the addition of an emotional stimulus, even a small one that would not normally upset me very much. This then implodes into a rush of overwhelming feeling and tears. Not much can be done during a meltdown other than wait it out, but I do really like deep pressure from either a weighted blanket or a hug from someone very close to me.

Future Plans

My primary focus of research is on sensory processing sensitivity. As a personality trait this can be called “high sensitivity” or “HSPs (highly sensitive people),” and I believe it overlaps with emerging diagnoses like sensory processing disorder and many people on the autism spectrum, myself included. I have a survey up on my website where anyone (they don’t have to be neurodiverse!) can explain what their sensory experience is like that I am using to guide my research into areas that will be directly applicable to clients and patients.

For now, while in medical school, I am not trying to expand my business so much as the people I work with. I would love to have more neurodiverse clients so I can continue to learn how best to support our community.

After I graduate, my intention is to return to my home region and practice as a natural/integrative psychiatrist and bodyworker. I would love to have half of my practice online as it is now, working as a health coach or naturopathic consultant for highly sensitive and neurodiverse clients, and have the other half be an in-person practice supporting the local community. The region where I am from deals with high rates of opioid addiction and poor rural mental health services that I feel would greatly benefit from an integrative mind/body/spirit approach.

Within the scope of bodywork, I am also learning how trauma shows up in our bodies and our disconnection from our physical experience, and how bodywork can be used (gradually and safely) to help re-establish a safe and healthy connection to ourselves and our inner experience.

My Health Inspirations       

I’m afraid this list is too long to go into! (I’ll start with you Flo, for taking steps to change your career and help in this way!) I have a goodreads list of books I recommend you can see here: https://www.weldonwellness.com/laura/. If anyone wants a suggestion about a specific condition or topic I’d be happy to offer them by email.

This past year I found Aspergirls by Rudy Simone very reassuring and full of useful information.

General Advice and Closing Words (Prompted by my question: What advice do you wish you had been given? What advice do you give yourself? What one great piece of advice would you like to give readers of this post?)

Be unapologetically, authentically you, because only you can offer that to the world.

Poppy’s First Christmas Eve

Poppy’s First Christmas Eve

On the evening of the 24th of December 2004 we were living in a rural Victorian end-terrace cottage with a 17 month old daughter, a 5 month old cat and a daughter just weeks off being born.

We had our first proper tree, bare except for tiny, twinkling lights, a kitchen that had seen me bake my first ever christmas cake and roast my first chestnuts; and Simon had artfully twisted armfuls of holly, ivy and mistletoe around the house.

The fire embers were glowing, the candles were pooling and Maya was peacefully sleeping in her new big-girl bed. In the chimney-breast alcove in our bedroom, watched by Poppy, our fierce fluffball of tuxedo kitten (who, despite our best efforts insisted on sleeping on our bed from the day we bought her home) we made a small pile of Maya’s presents, topped with her first ever stocking.

We sat back, exhausted but happy; and as I rubbed my huge, pregnant belly. Poppy briefly left the room only to return with one tiny sock of Maya’s which she solemnly placed on top of the present pile before padding back to bed.

A Twitter Giveaway!

A Twitter Giveaway!

STOP PRESS!

I am giving away three free places on Flojo’s Easy Detox four week online course for a January 2018 start!

What is Flojo’s Easy Detox?

Flojo’s Easy Detox is a quick and effective route to improve your health and wellbeing which I developed a few years ago but have revamped in the last year to make it even easier, even more delicious and to have even better results!

Each week I email you a worksheet tackling four general health tweaks to make – which could be as quick as doing my one minute breathing and visualisation exercise, as simple as reducing your reliance on caffeine or as delicious as trying out some of my super easy recipes free from sugar, gluten, dairy, soya and processed fats. Then, once you’ve let me know any questions or concerns you might have about the week ahead, I email you with advice that is unique to you in order to help you get the best out of the course.

What Do You Need to Do?

Simply tweet a link to your favourite recipe from my Health and Nutrition Coaching site florenceneville.com, say why you like it and include the hashtag #flojoseasydetox in your tweet.

How Are the Winners Picked?

On the 15th, 22nd, and 29th of December 2017 I will go through that week’s #flojoseasydetox tweets and pick one person to win a place. I will quote-tweet the winning entry so remember to check your notifications! (I will also try to DM the winners, but this will be dependant on twitter settings.)

What Will the Winners Get?

If you win you will get:

  • A detailed preparation sheet complete with a shopping list for any out-of-the-ordinary ingredients and products.
  • A questionnaire in which you get to outline your own current health conditions and concerns so that I can tailor the course for you where necessary.
  • A carefully structured worksheet each week, designed to help you both look and feel better each week, without any sense of overwhelm.
  • A weekly personal email from me, and also a follow up email at the end of the course.

Please note that you are welcome to start the course any week during January 2018.

Why Might Someone Want to do Flojo’s Easy Detox?

I will let people who have already benefitted from the course tell you that!

“Change happens when you make small shifts. I feel like a tight knot has been loosened and I am so hugely excited and grateful.”

“After just a week of starting to re-programme my body and eating habits I felt energised and had a much more positive state of mind.”

“… sleeping, bloating, skin is all better!”

“I’ve loved feeling that I have someone alongside to guide me and make it a personal experience. I’ve never felt awkward asking questions, and I’ve had some really good personalised responses to push me in the right direction.”

“I’ve felt  supported, held and not judged – which is major for me.”

“Your nutritional practice is amazing! I’m in awe of your knowledge!”

“I’m feeling more energised and more in control.”

“My skin feels softer and the dry patches on my elbows have vanished!”

“I really enjoy starting the day, more awake from a better night’s sleep, and feeling refreshed”

“I found it gave me the confidence to make lots of other subtle incremental changes and that has had a knock on effect on everything from work to relationships!”

What If I Don’t Win a Place?

Don’t worry; it’s not a course that breaks the bank! Until the end of January 2018 Flojo’s Easy Detox only costs a one-off payment of £40. Contact me here if you are interested!