Autistics, Autodidacts and Autonomy

So it’s done! I completed my MRes (masters in research degree) in September and should get my final result sometime next week. It has been HARD! The modules in research design and methodology, philosophy of science, mixed methods, interdisciplinary methods and public health all stretched me out of my comfort zone. But the individual research project I took on? Rewarding, emotional, validating, illuminating and EXHAUSTING! It’s no wonder that I have been ill since my hand-in week (oh the irony!) I am super proud of the result though and would like to tell you about it. Are you sitting comfortably?

Long term readers of this blog will know that I qualified in nutritional therapy ten years ago, have done a tonne of work on my own health and wellbeing over the years, discovered that I was autistic three years ago and am now a health and wellbeing coach over at Nourish, Align & Transform. So I have good first hand knowledge of how to support my own health and of how to keep challenges at bay that are common to many autistic people, such as chronic anxiety, insomnia and digestive problems.

But what I really wanted to know was, how do other women like me look after their own health and wellbeing? Women like me, who weren’t diagnosed with autism until they were adults. Women like me, who found that they couldn’t easily access support from relevant health services and so needed to take matters into their own hands. Women like me, who had a passion for learning about health and wellbeing but had to take their unique needs and requirements into account before applying information to themselves.

Over five months I read all the relevant academic papers I could get my hands on, designed my study, submitted a proposal, ran, transcribed and analysed interviews, and wrote over 12k words (abstract, introduction, literature review, theoretical framework, methods, findings, discussion etc.) in time for the deadline!

And, wow, the study findings were beautiful! The participants were dedicated and immersive researchers, who had found that discovering they were autistic transformed how effectively they were able to support their health and wellbeing. And yes, diet, supplements and exercise featured but, spending time alone, being in nature, creating and following routines, being creative and stimming* were just as important.

Without the means to use all of these strategies, the participants struggled more with high anxiety, insomnia, digestive problems, chronic pain, overwhelm and fatigue. But when they were able to use their strategies they were more likely to enjoy life, to be physically and mentally healthier, and able to celebrate their own autistic identities.

While I think that this requires further academic study (I’m on it!) I am passionate about making sure the autistic community has access to this kind of knowledge in a supportive environment as soon as possible. So, together with Rhi from AutistRhi I am setting up a resource website with article contributions from other autistic people who have found or developed strategies that positively impact their health and/or wellbeing.

These articles won’t be peppered with generalisations and references, or making any claims to cure or heal. Instead they will be talking about what helps that individual to thrive in what can be an incredibly challenging world. We are hoping to go live in the very near future and we shall be shouting about it on social media once it’s launched!

What else will you find on there? You’ll have access to the summary of my study findings, a list of autistic-led health and wellbeing workshops around the world and toolkit recommendations (such as noise reducing headphones and stim toys). In the meantime we are looking for other autistic contributors! If you feel you have a short (around 400-800 words) post in you and would like to be included then let me know in the comments and we can talk further offline. We aren’t able to pay, but we will include a 50 word bio with links to your social media and a photo.

I look forward to announcing our online launch soon! See you there with virtual champagne and gluten-free canapes…

* autistic people often employ repetitive movements or actions to soothe or focus, a process called stimming. Actions such as using stim toys, repetitive hand movements or rocking are generally considered to filter out sensory stimuli, relieve emotional distress and even amplify positive emotional feelings.

 

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