I knew I wanted a character and I knew I wanted to be part of a hidden world. This is because I am autistic and often find myself dreaming of a place where I can be myself and be with other people like me, who understand me. Autism is not something that people are aware of or how complex it can be. It is especially hard to reach people who are neuro-typical without any training in how to communicate with us; at least that is my experience. This lack of education is something that I feel very strongly about and want to change.
As I see it there are two steps that need to be taken to bridge or overcome this issue, these steps are as follows:
Empower people who find communicating and expressing difficult. Due to the lack of awareness, when I received my diagnosis I thought there was no one else like me out there. I have always been presented with stereotypes of autistic behaviour that is nothing like me and I was experiencing a flood of new information, about how vast the autistic spectrum is. Everything I thought I knew was turned upside down and I was struggling to make sense of it all. I had so many questions…Where do I fit on the spectrum?, Why has this only been noticed when I’ve been like this all my life?, My life could have been so different if I had known earlier…how do I go forward now? I tried asking the professionals who were supporting me through the post-diagnostic process, they were able to answer many of my questions but I still felt extraordinarily isolated from society, like I was watching the world go by rather than being part of it. I wanted someone to relate to, connect with, which brought me to my next big question ‘If the spectrum is so big and there are hundreds of people like me, where are they?’
Autism: A Hidden World
Ever since I was little I have loved the idea of secret worlds, worlds of faeries, spirits and magical creatures. The part I love most about reading is that I can enter a whole new world that only I can see, only I can control, a wonderful safe place. I think this concept is more dear to me now than ever as in a sense I am part of that world, you may not notice me or know how to reach me but I am here. As important as that safe space is to me I also want to share it with people who matter to me, I just didn’t know how. I still don’t, but I’m trying every day. I couldn’t explain verbally how I was feeling, I couldn’t process my thoughts in a way that made sense to those around me, so I came to the conclusion ‘If I can’t tell you I’ll show you’. I started drawing. I want to express myself through my character, a creature from a hidden world. I want others to be able to look at my narrative drawings and see they are not alone in the world, raise awareness and help others, give them another safe space, one that is connecting them to the world around them, a world to share.
Encouraging others to listen and persevere. At this point I have been able to find a way to express myself that I enjoy and works for me, but I can’t use that method in circumstances that require instant responses. Getting people to be willing to listen to me and spend time and effort trying to understand me has proven to be very difficult. I was wondering if anyone else like me had this problem and found a way around it, so I Googled it and after some searching and rephrasing I found The Curley Hair Project.
An amazing woman Alis Rowe, who is autistic, has made a whole website and social enterprise dedicated to helping people like me and people to understand me. Alis has created a character for herself “The Girl with the Curley Hair’, her character is a line drawing stick figure who is drawn in various situations that show how the situation is experienced by the autistic person and how others should support that person and respond in a way that creates a positive outcome for both people.
As amazing as this discovery is to me I don’t want to copy Alis’s work, I want to make something unique to me even though it’s for the same cause. Social Media, Advertising, posters, leaflets, (Alis even makes music!); these are all ways I can promote awareness through my character.