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
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!
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.