by Nanny Aut
This introduction article has been prompted by three things:
- Advice from Chris Bonnello from Autistic not Weird. For those of you who don’t know Chris offers online mentoring sessions on his areas of expertise – not just autistic related topics – if you are interested you can contact him through his Facebook page. Before I started this blog, he gave me very useful pointers in how to get started and then he kindly did an eight-week review as to how to improve. His big advice, at that review, which I found too scary at the time was to put more of yourself out there. Information is helpful but people want to know more about who is giving that information.
- The excellent introduction article by Aiden Tsen, our new Autistic Village team member.
- The realisation that it is now three months since we started and we are still growing. Still only a tiny sprout in the grove of giant oak trees I am standing with, but growing. None of the negative demises of the blog, that I imagined, happened. Not least my concern that I wouldn’t have the executive function to write consistently and regularly, particularly after heavy burnout a few years back. Yes, there are occasional weeks I don’t manage to contribute, but because of the generosity of other excellent contributors, my occasional absence is not a major issue.
Given this blog is likely to become a permanent fixture in my life, it seems only reasonable that I introduce myself properly. I should have done so at the start, if we are honest. I didn’t because:
- RSD (rejection sensitive dysphoria): Is a nasty little liar who gets into my head. It tells me that no one cares about me as a person. My only value is the information I bring. Past experience has also given it a LOT of ammo to work with. ‘Who are you to stand there and say, ‘Look at me’’ it says.
- I have learnt in the past that it is safer to stay invisible and under the radar. If they don’t see you, they can’t attack you.
- Decades of being trained to mask and delete myself has meant being out in the open feels very scary and vulnerable.
Before we go further, this is NOT going to be a full reveal. I use Nanny Aut as my pen name for very good reasons. And so, I am not going to be offering identifiers. Who I am is not a secret but it is not for the public domain. I am perfectly fine with being aut on my own behalf, but me being aut in the public domain affects others I care about and that I am not ok with.
- My parents and siblings don’t accept that I am autistic. They see being autistic as shameful and embarrassing. Being openly autistic on my personal FB page garnered some major backlash from them and it was seen as deliberately shaming the family. To be open and honest as I need to be as Nanny Aut, in order to properly educate, would go against all their social rules. Plus, I have some very negative things to say about their parenting. It was well-intentioned but as destructive as a sledgehammer. And while I keep a healthy distance, and think their opinions are way off base, I still respect their feelings and would not wish to cause them pain and distress if I didn’t need to.
- I occasionally talk about my daughter. She is incredibly supportive and I always check back that she is ok with what I am sharing. However, she has a right to remain anonymous and even if she gave permission, I would never breach that right. Her identity is hers and hers alone to share.
With that caveat in place, here is my introduction.
I am UK based, in my fifties and was identified as autistic at 49. I am divorced with a grown-up daughter whom I am massively proud of.
From my earliest years I knew something was wrong with me. The concern and worry radiated off my parents when they looked at me. I was a non-speaker until nearly four and one of my strong early memories was of going for hearing tests and having people trying to get me to do things I wasn’t interested in. Then the doctor’s office where the doctor told my parents that I was basically a vegetable with the ‘responsiveness of a turnip’ and they would be best to put my institution and start their family again. And my Dad losing his temper and calling the doctor an idiot because there were no defectives in his family line. And him pointing out that I could read and that I had been reading for nearly two years. And getting REALLY angry when the doctor said it was wishful thinking.
They left the doctor’s office determined to prove him wrong. And while female autistics were not a thing back then, plus my parents were determined to believe I was ‘normal’ so wouldn’t have engaged in therapy if it was offered, I was still put through home-grown ABA. Compliance training and emotional abuse to ensure that I never presented as anything but ‘normal’ to the outside world.
This meant my needs were dismissed and ignored – my scratching welts in myself because of the nasty texture of nylon fabrics was dismissed as ‘allergies’, my response to high senses were dismissed as being ‘too sensitive’, my stimming was ‘annoying fidgeting’. For me to be loved and accepted in the family, I needed to be still, quiet and unemotional, and always put others needs before my own. Fawning was my way to keep safe. Plus, always be the top in my class. Academic worth was the major value metric.
Unsurprisingly, this did my mental health no good. I am a multiple suicide survivor, with decades of severe anxiety and depression. I drank copious amounts of alcohol to numb the world enough to cope. I still have severe exam phobia and will do terribly at job evaluations every time because I am out of my mind with terror at the thought of rejection. I went through abusive relationship after abusive relationship. When I did meet up with a good partner, I would panic, knowing they didn’t deserve to be stuck with someone as awful as me and I would treat them terribly to chase them off. I never felt that I had the autonomy to leave. It had to be the partner’s choice. Being with abusers made sense. They treated me the way that I had been taught that I deserved to be treated.
It took a therapist in my thirties to change that lens and realise that I was in fact OK and that I had been fed lies, both by my parents and abusers who used emotional manipulation to control me and by my RSD and cPTSD. They helped me feel safe enough to go solo and walk away from a toxic situation that I didn’t deserve, and more importantly, my daughter didn’t deserve to witness. For the first time ever, I was the one to end a relationship, ending my marriage, even though protecting my daughter, not myself, was what gave me the courage to do it.
By that stage, I was completely burnt out. I didn’t have the energy to mask any more, and if I was honest with myself, the mask had never once worked in gaining me any kind of acceptance. Encouraged by the therapist, I started to be myself. It was incredibly hard at first – thirty years of deletion hadn’t left very much. I didn’t know what my likes and dislikes were, only what made others happy. I had numerous roles that I played for numerous people but no idea who I was behind those roles. Every decision I made caused a major panic attack. I had always made my decisions based on gaining other’s approval or as an intentional swing to deliberately upset them, if I was angry at someone. How can I make decisions based on my preferences – when I no longer know what they are?
Slowly though we unpicked and examined. Things that had brought me joy as a child until I was told they weren’t ok. Things that I hated doing but did because I was supposed to. Instead of being ashamed for my social deficiencies and my ‘foot in mouth’ disease, I leaned into it. I admitted I was clueless despite my best efforts, I stopped doing eye contact because it skeeved me out. I asked people to let me know if they had enough of me talking on a topic.
This was massively helped by finding a friend like me, who accepted me as I was. I had friends before, but I never unmasked around them, and only one friendship lasted long-term. She was there through the mess, me falling apart, me struggling to raise my child by myself, me processing endlessly at her and she accepted me. It was also not one-sided, she was struggling too with a few things and we supported and accepted each other. And she trusted me enough to ask for help which was an incredible gift on her part.
Career-wise I have bounced around a lot. I have enough academic qualifications to paper a room, including a PhD and a teaching qualification. They have proven to be useless. In each case, I learnt more through my own research than from the material provided on the course. In the case of the teaching qualification, I have since learnt that, not only was the knowledge provided inadequate, it was incorrect, based on outdated research disproved 50 years ago. The only things that those pieces of paper prove is that I have figured out how to perform to the test, despite my severe exam phobia.
Despite my stellar paperwork, the academic qualifications never outweighed my social inadequacies in the workforce. If I worked to my best, I was told off for ‘making others look bad’. If I struggled then I was slacking off deliberately. If I tried to be nice I was ‘sucking up’. If I tried to talk to others I was a ‘chatty cathy’. If I kept to myself I was a snobbish ‘ice-queen’. The routine went like this – impressive CV, good interview (I have learnt to give really great interview from years of research in order to mask well), impressed employers. Two positive weeks where I am praised and told what a massive difference I am making, and then the cracks start to show. First little niggles, then little sabotages such as giving an eight hour project at four thirty p.m. to complete before morning, ‘accidentally’ forgetting to inform about meetings, mislaid documents, finding out my weak points and leaning hard on them. Then the ‘meeting’ – ‘We aren’t sure if you are the right fit for us here’ followed by the performance review where you are set up to fail and they can use to legally justify firing you. And on to the next job.
The exception was in running my own business. I loved that, I got to work by myself and only had to mask for client meetings which were infrequent. However, I really struggled with the executive function side at the start until I created some pretty elaborate support systems that did the executive function work for me. Sadly, the business was lost in the divorce.
I did my teacher training late. I had been an unqualified teacher for a year. My students loved me, and thrived. The best outcomes for this group in ten years. My leadership team weren’t so keen on my unorthodox approach and made a teaching qualification part of the job requirement, to justify letting me go. Teacher training was a blessing and a curse. I was identified as autistic – which later on opened doors to a world of new understanding – and immediately after identification, they tried to push me out of the course because ‘people with autism aren’t able to be teachers’. Direct quote after six months of trying to bully me off the course.. At the time I wasn’t aware of what is going on. I was approached by my supervisor who said my mentor believed I might have Asperger’s and they wanted me to be assessed so they could provide the best support possible. I agreed, not convinced they were right, but if they thought it would help, then I was fine with that. Once I was identified, everything changed. I was advised to put ‘Severe anxiety’ on my support documents, not ‘Autism’ as many schools discriminate against autistics. First warning sign I missed. Then I was given a week off to get my head around the information. When I came back, I instantly went into performance review for failing my placement – even though before the diagnosis my assessments had been marked as outstanding with minor improvements required. Apparently, the week off had given ‘cause for concern’. I then had a nightmare nine months of being gaslit and gamed. Had I been younger or hadn’t already had a stellar year of teaching, I would have quit. In hindsight, I should have quit given the massive damage they caused. And taken them to court for discrimination and emotional abuse.
This meant it wasn’t my best introduction to my new understanding of myself. As much as I had been heavily discriminated against for being socially awkward, this was nothing compared to what these supposed educators threw at me. By the time I left, while I qualified, I was in severe burnout. It took six months to gain back enough function to teach again. I used the time to start researching my neurology and found a lot of ‘Aha’ moments. And in those ‘Aha’ moments I finally found myself, and for the first time in fifty years I finally connected with my identity. It is still very much a work in progress, even now. And learning to stim and look after my neurology was like a miracle – decades of severe anxiety and depression vanished. Sadly, not my RSD and cPTSD – they still refuse to leave. Stubborn twatwaffles.
When I went back into teaching, I hit a major barrier – the behaviourist policies I was expected to follow. The names on the board, the shaming, the traffic light system, the numerous rules I was expected to enforce even though I couldn’t remember half of them and most of the rest seemed wrong and unfair. I couldn’t do it, it was so ethically wrong, which then made me a target for the leadership, and the bullying started until I finally had to leave. Even though I wanted to stay for the kids, I knew it wouldn’t work long run and would cost me my already fragile recovery from burnout.
Which then led me to here. If I couldn’t make a difference in school, maybe I could make a difference in education in the public domain. I spent the next few years applying my research techniques that I learnt in my doctorate in properly figuring out how my brain worked – similarities and differences with other autistics, using my high skill of pattern spotting to figure it out. It by no means qualifies as academic research. I failed to keep or note where I got most of my early information. I was in deep dive reading thirty to forty articles a day making notes to pattern spot purely for my own education. I hung around forums and got involved in the conversation about what it is like to be autistic. New ideas I then chased down and researched further. There is no system or rigour to what I did. Just an autistic following a deep interest and getting deeper and deeper.
However, when I shared what I found with others, it seemed that, for many, it was new knowledge. And it made a difference. Knowledge that’s held within the autistic community was by no means mainstream or available to parents. So, I became an educator on forums. Occasionally I was told I should start a blog. But that seemed a huge undertaking and I am not exactly the most technically literate person out there. My daughter had to teach me the basics of Facebook, and I haven’t progressed much further in my knowledge. Besides, who was I to say anything, when there are such powerful voices already out there. Chris Bonello, Jaime Heidel, Amethest Schaber, Neurodivergent Rebel, Autistic, Typing, Asiatu Lawoyin, Kristy Forbes, NeuroClastic, Aucademy, Valli Gideons – the list goes on and there are a lot more I owe my knowledge to and have failed to mention.
It was only when another autistic – The Wizard of Aut, talked to me about an idea to set up a group blog where it didn’t rest on the shoulders of one person that I seriously gave the thought consideration. And from those conversations Nanny Aut and the Autistic Village were born.
So here we are – a fifty-year-old (plus) autistic, happily info-dumping, at some length, on a regular basis on one of their specialised interests. Very aware that their experience doesn’t speak for every autistic – we are all human with the infinite variety of experience that comes with it, not Stepford clones. But confident enough in my pattern-spotting skills that I am reporting patterns common in autistic neurology, not just my personal situation.
Very aware they aren’t perfect and won’t always get it right. Most of my understanding as a parent was developed through my mistakes and fixing them rather than some innate skill you are born with. And my daughter, even now, will happily itemise every one of my mistakes – if you have a spare month or so.
Very aware that I haven’t learnt the art of brevity even after fifty years, and I appreciate your tenacity for getting through this ramble of my life.
But proud of the fact that I have never stopped learning and changing my mind as new and better information comes in. Proud of the fact that I am still here and still breathing, despite multiple efforts to exit over the years. And massively, and undeservedly proud of my daughter, whose awesomeness is a LOT more down to her than it is to me. All I had to do was get out of her way and let her do her thing her way.
Thankyou for keeping with us this for this journey, and I look forward to journeying forward with you all.
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