This is my 6th interview in my series Interviewing Late-Identified Autistics. Helen Reeves is a late-identified autistic. My questions are in bold and Helen's responses follow in regular typeface.
How old were you when you learned you were autistic?
52 years old
How did you learn you are autistic?
I was at university and it was noticed that I had an unusual learning style, I also had meltdowns over exams.
How did you decide whether to self-identify or diagnose?
I was being assessed for dyslexia when the psychologist noticed I had more issues going on. I then proceeded to a formal diagnosis of Level 1 ASD and Combined ADHD.
How did you feel when you learned you were autistic?
Very upset, I cried for three weeks as to what might have been if I had been diagnosed much earlier in life.
What is your gender? How do you feel this impacted your journey as an autistic individual?
I am female and I believe that because I was female my many struggles were just put down to anxiety and my shitty upbringing.
How did your friends and family respond when you told them you are autistic?
My mother wasn’t surprised as were other people close to me. I have always struggled with people and relationships in general.
Did you seek out therapy, coaching, or other forms of structured support for autism?
I was not in a position to fund these and am not eligible for the NDIS. Even though I need some sort of intervention.
How has learning you are autistic impacted your life?
Improved it 100%. My marks jumped to higher distinction level at Uni with the appropriate adjustments in place. I have since gone on to secure a role in a highly sought-after graduate program, Policy Futures Graduate Program, with the Queensland government. I am a much a happier person in general as I understand why I do things now.
How have you modified or adapted your life since learning you’re autistic?
I no longer feel guilty for not peopling and living a fairly solitary life outside of work.
In what ways does being autistic enhance your life?
I have always known I have a unique, enquiring mind that loves to problem solve. I now have more confidence in my ability to do that, instead of feeling useless for my failings.
What are some topics or activities you’re passionate about?
Social Justice, Politics, Animals and everything nature.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I get up very early and go to work and arrive home quite late, cook dinner for my son and myself, watch some tv to wind down and repeat the next day. Weekends I spend pottering around my home doing gardening or housework.
If you work, what do you do for work?
I am a graduate policy officer for the Queensland Government, Australia and am currently placed in Innovation.
Is there anyone else in your family who is autistic?
Yes, my mother, my grandmother and one of my sisters as far as I know.
What are some of the challenges you face in being autistic?
People just do not understand me and how I communicate and think.
What helps you prevent or cope with moments of overwhelm?
I withdraw and take time out to recoup.
What skills or strategies have helped you to work with your autistic mind?
I accepted a long time before knowing I was autistic that I didn’t function like others, my son has some disabilities which have required extensive surgery. In order to be able to function as his mother and carer I have been very careful about self care to enable me to be the best mother/carer I can be. I always take time out if I need it.
What is your experience with medical systems? Are there ways you feel they can be improved for autistic individuals?
Its awful here in Australia, there is no help if you aren’t eligible for NDIS of which level 1 ASD are not. I also have other chronic health issues such as hEds, heart disease (and a failing heart valve) and COPD. The health system is failing me at all levels, particularly because I am not good at advocating for myself.
How did being an undiagnosed autistic child impact your childhood?
Yes, I had a terrible childhood of persistent bullying at school and it was particularly bad at home by my sisters. My family are all very heavy drinkers so us kids were an inconvenience.
What ways did you camouflage or mask?
I have spent my entire life people watching in order to be able to mimic expected behavior, it is exhausting, and I still have to do it at work each day.
How has your identification as autistic changed how you view your childhood or earlier periods of adulthood?
I no longer hate on myself and my perceived inability to do certain things, I reached milestones much later than my peers with things like tying shoelaces, telling the time, riding a bike, wetting the bed and my writing is still terrible. I have been told this is possibly dyspraxia as I am also terribly clumsy.
How do you describe autism to people who are not familiar with it?
I tell people it impacts everything I do, I think differently, I feel differently, I hear differently, I touch differently, and I communicate differently.
What do you wish others knew about autism?
How exhausting it is to fit in to their world.
What is your advice for someone who thinks they might be autistic?
Try and discover as much as you can about yourself and autism and most importantly be kind to yourself and it is ok to be upset that you slipped through the cracks.
Are there any resources (books, articles, videos, etc.) you would recommend for people who just learned they’re autistic?
I am not much of a reader so not really. I just trawled the web for as much info as I could find.
Thank you for reading. I am looking for more late-identified autistic folx to be interviewed for this series. If you would be willing, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org