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Being a Part-time AAC user, Internalised Ableism & Mental Health – Chat with Harriet Richardson (Hat Talks)

Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast – Episode 19

by Adina Levy

Play. Learn. Chat - Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast Logo

Show Notes:

In this episode, I chat with the amazing Hat, also known as Harriet Richardson, a significant voice in the neurodivergent community. Hat not only is an autistic ADHDer but also shines in her roles as a speech and language therapist, blogger, and public speaker. We discuss AAC, Internalised Ableism, the joy of claiming ND identity, mental health, consent for goals, and her beautiful dog Meeno.

Watch this chat on Youtube: https://youtu.be/G2QpnnR2GJ4

LINKS:

Hat’s Website: www.hattalks.uk

Hat on IG: https://www.instagram.com/hat.talks.uk/Β 

Hat’s Etsy shop with resources including her communication cards: https://www.etsy.com/shop/hattalks/?etsrc=sdt

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Transcript:

Adina: Welcome to the Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast. I’m Adina Levy from Play Learn Chat. I’m a neurodivergent speech therapist. And I’m obsessed with creating a world where neurodiversity is understood, embraced, supported, and celebrated. Join me as we have conversations about autistic, ADHD, neurodivergent experiences, and I share how you can support neurodivergent children in your world.

Let’s all work together to make change where change is needed so that the world can be a more friendly place for neurodivergent people and for everyone.

Hat: Hello! I’m so happy to be here.

Adina: It’s very, very amazing to, yeah, to connect with you in this way that is outside of just the little Instagram squares and messages. So I’m really excited to see where we go today.

Hat: We could go anywhere. We really could.

Adina: I shall start with an introduction for those who don’t know Hat, aka Harriet Richardson.

Uh, she is at HatTalksUK, that’s Hat. Talks. UK on Instagram. And Hatalks. uk on the internet. She is an AuDHDer, so that’s an autistic ADHDer like me. She is a semi speaking speech and language therapist, a blogger, a public speaker, and she works with neurodivergent children. Who’ve experienced developmental trauma. She’s recently gone into autism assessment, which is very exciting to me and very needed.

I’m so happy you’re in that role. She is a dog mom to a beautiful autism assistance dog in training called Meeno, who I’m quite obsessed with. You may not

realise that. Yeah, I didn’t know about that. Just

anyone who shares their dog on Instagram is doing a service to us all. So thank you.

Hat: He’s more than a service dog to me.

Adina: How long have you had Meeno?

Hat: about a year and a half, so we got him, yeah, well I don’t know, I’m not good with timescales so it could not be anything like that, um, but yeah we, I think we got him like maybe two summers ago or something like that and he is just the best addition to the family ever.

Adina: He looks very, very cuddlable

Hat: he does not leave me alone. He is constantly on me for a cuddle.

Adina: I hope that that’s helpful. I assume it is most of the time.

Hat: Yeah, absolutely. All that deep pressure, like he’s learning all just to, you know, relax onto me and lay on me and yeah, it’s really, really helpful.

Adina: Cute. I have like a long term dream to get a dog. So in the meantime, you know, your photos will have to do

for me, so thank you.

Hat: You’re very welcome.

Adina: As we’ve done in typical like autistic fashion is we’re very prepared for those listening. Um, we have a bunch of questions, but also in typical ADHD fashion, we may get completely lost and, you know, let’s just see where the wind takes us. Absolutely. Shall we kick off by, uh, hearing a little bit about how you view neurodivergence in your own life and in yourself?

Hat: Yeah. Um, so for me, it’s like absolutely huge. Um, it’s an integral part of who I am, which hasn’t always been the case because, um, I was late diagnosed. So I was diagnosed at 26, last year.

And it’s kind of been a bit of a wild ride, because pre that I had no idea that, you know, I knew my brain was different, but I didn’t know that, you know, it was an autistic brain, an ADHD brain, and there were lots of different things going on, um, that were different from everyone else. And, I think now that I’ve understood my own neurodivergence.

I will tell everyone and anyone that will listen, like, I’m autistic, I have ADHD, um, and I think that’s really helped other people around me be really positive about it and see it in a positive light, like I do when someone comes to you and be like, oh, I’ve got some really exciting news, I’m autistic, they’re not then going to go, Oh, that’s awful.

We’re going to go. Oh, right. Yeah, cool. Um, so I guess, yeah, everybody around me has sort of learnt to understand that for me, it’s, it’s a positive thing. Um, but that doesn’t mean that, you know, at times it isn’t disabling because for me, it is a disability. It affects me. Every part of my life, positively and negatively, everything that I’ve done in a positive light has been, you know, in part as a result of being neurodivergent, but also the struggles that I’ve had.

Uh, a lot in part because of my neurodivergent brain. Um, so yeah, it’s just, I think like since diagnosis, it’s been very much that I’ve started living my life and not someone else’s life and how other people want me to live it. So yeah, it’s been like this huge like identity. Amazing experience. I just see it as like this huge, huge part of who I am and I love that.

Adina: It’s pretty fascinating and wonderful to hear that reflected in you. And I can see it in your work. I can see it in the conversations you have online and what you share. There’s, there’s a balance there.

You know, you’re not sharing it’s all roses and perfect and wonderful because there are some realities about being neurodivergent that are not easy.

Hat: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But you know, like some days. I find, um, the executive function parts, you know, the, the kind of planning organisation parts of ADHD, I find it so disabling at points that, you know, there can be days where I just don’t get anything done because my brain is just not in the right place and that can be huge and it’s a source of real frustration.

Um, so yeah, it’s not all roses.

Adina: And I think there’s a lot we can, you know, laugh and joke about and sort of accept ourselves, but also recognise there are some really hard moments and days where nothing happens. And then we might, I don’t know about you, but I, for one, certainly, um, don’t go easy on myself when the nothing happens, that’s, you know, there’s many layers of challenge there.

I hope it’s okay to point out, we were laughing a moment before we hit record at the clock on your back.

Hat: Backdrop.

Adina: As a possible example of executive function challenges that it’s been out of battery for quite some time. And I don’t want you to feel, um, called out, even I’m calling you out because I wanted to share.

I had these boxes in my hallway, kind of trinkets and things that we picked up from my grandmother’s apartment before she was selling it. And they just sat there from the day I got home from picking up the trinkets, they just sat there. And sat there. There’s like decisions unmade or actions not yet done.

And finally, something sparked me, I decided to deal with it. Part of it, I had to put stuff in a box for my brother who doesn’t live here. Um, so I timed myself. It took me eight minutes. So it took me four weeks to get to the doing. It took me eight minutes to put the stuff in the box and put it away.

Hat: Yeah, it’s mind blowing, isn’t it? Not so hard, but very hard. You know, it would literally take me, what, a minute, really? Um, but yeah, the brain needs to get there. Yeah,

Adina: and I think that having a balance of recognising what’s… Not funny, but you know, laughing at ourselves in a sense of just accepting that this is just how we are, not getting too down, but also noticing that, um, you know, there are some tricky realities about this brain.

Hat: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, a lot of the time I use a lot of humour to like, sometimes to mask how much I’m struggling with things, but also just because I feel like if, if I don’t laugh about it, I will just cry. Um, and sometimes it is so much easier just to. Well, laugh, cry, a little bit of both. And, you know, my partner will very much join in because, you know, his brain is definitely not neurotypical.

And, living in a household of two neurodivergent people who… Can’t initiate a task a lot of the time is really hard, but if you can laugh about it together, it makes it so much easier.

Adina: Certainly. And especially that dynamic in the relationship, you know, rather than being at each other for doing or not doing things in a certain way, it’s more about just existing to the best that you can.

Hat: Yeah, absolutely.

Adina: Now I want to ask about your special interests. But I want to have a guess. I want to do a guessing game. Is one of your special interests neurodiversity and autism and ADHD?

Hat: Really? You would never have guessed. Yeah, I mean, oh, it’s, it’s only been that way since my diagnosis.

So like, it’s, it’s been a, the strongest. special interest for about a year now, year and a half, and yeah, I just soak everything up like a sponge. Um, I don’t stop reading about it. I don’t stop talking about it. I feel like I’m getting to the point where I’m annoying everyone around me because I literally just do not shut up about it. Yeah.

Adina: hear ya. I feel it. I live it. Um, but I think there’s something to be said for having a really Maybe it’s lucky when our interests happen to intersect with just, I will say, being really darn good at our jobs and helping lots of people, because other people want to know about this thing that we’re interested in, like… Yay.

Hat: Yeah, I know. That’s the, that’s the awesome thing. It’s just like, you know, people want to pay me to info dump about my special interests. Like, it’s a dream job, is it not? Absolutely.

Adina: I was thinking the other day… Like writing a book is probably a one day thing. I don’t know where in the timeline it goes, that is the ultimate info dump.

Hat: Yeah, I mean, I’ve done it. I’ve written a book. I just info dumped about, you know, every neurodivergent experience that my brain has had in a book. And yeah, it was long, um, and it took my dad a while to read it. Um, but yeah, it, it just getting it down on paper is so helpful.

Adina: That’s awesome. So yeah, like maybe a form of therapy and also just really helpful for other people to understand the thing that we’re interested in.

Hat: Absolutely, yeah.

Adina: What else could you say are your special interests, whether they’re like through life or sort of transient at the moment?

Hat: I don’t know if you’ve found this, but as an autistic ADHDer, it’s, you know, I will have these really Lifelong special interests, but I will also have these really quick ones that, you know, appear overnight and then they disappear the next day.

Um, so it’s kind of quite hard to keep on top of it. And I think growing up, potentially, my parents went through a lot of, are you actually gonna stick at this this time before we spend all this money? so yeah, it’s quite hard to keep up, but I have always, you know, like the book that I’ve just talked about, I’ve always been absolutely passionate about writing.

I mean, my play was certainly not typical play growing up. I would sit and write as play. Um, you know, all these stories and just hours upon hours, I’d just get lost in it. Um, and it’s the same for kind of… Just words, generally words. I love lyrics for songs. I don’t necessarily like the music, it’s more like how the words sound together, and I can just listen to the same lyrics over and over again, um, and another thing is animals.

I’m just so passionate about animals, obviously Meeno is, It’s a huge special interest, but I’ve, growing up I was, I was a cat person. So, I was a cat. I say that with absolute certainty. Um, I communicated in meows. There was no English language coming out. It was cat language.

And dinosaurs as well. I, I love dinosaurs. Um. And I know you saw my dinosaur bag that I got for my birthday. Yeah, I’ve awakened that special interest.

Adina: Fantastic. One of the other people I had a chat with the other day for the podcast, we talked about the idea of going back to what you loved.

As a child to find your joy and going back to like, basically the more childlike you are, perhaps the more honest you’re being to yourself in terms of meeting your true interests and desires and preferences. And we probably squash that down a lot in our grownup worlds.

Hat: Absolutely, yeah, I mean, since diagnosis I’ve just been like, right, I’m back on with the dinosaurs, I’m going to collect everything dinosaur, and people have just gone, yeah, okay, yeah, you do that.

Adina: Ain’t hurting anyone and it’s bringing you joy.

Hat: Exactly, yeah. I think my special interests and how they present potentially like a lot of, um, girls and women, um, sort of led to misdiagnosis because I didn’t collect facts necessarily about things. But it was more sort of like, I liked collecting dinosaurs and I like looking at them and things like that. I think that’s quite common really that to have interests that are kind of. Typical, I say in air quotes, but, they’re not seen as that intense.

Adina: So, like, being super duper obsessed with horses is like, oh, all girls like horses. Well, not that much, actually. Let me tell you something about horses.

Hat: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Adina: I found it really interesting in my diagnosis process that I, one of the assessments, and I cannot remember which questionnaire, there were many, but one of the questionnaires was asking about imaginative play and I basically got marked down, as in marked less autistic for doing a lot of imaginative play.

And I feel like to me that whatever that particular assessment was, it’s quite faulty in its premise because to me, imaginative play was an escape from real life social play and interactions. And it was like one of the most autistic things about me.

Hat: Yeah. Going into the autism assessment, basically what I’ve been listening to is that you’re looking out for both sides of these things, so it’s not that you’re looking for limited imagination, you’re also looking for really extreme imagination. Um, because I completely get that, you know, mine was just, it was complete escape from reality.

Because that was a coping mechanism. Um, and yeah, it’s not just autistic people aren’t imaginative at all. Like, you can be so imaginative. So yeah, not sure about that one.

Adina: It makes a lot of sense though, when you put it that way. So then it’s more the interview piece where I think a lot more of the detail comes out.

And yeah, I guess looking for the extremes. I’ve never been an autism assessor myself, so I think it’s like a really interesting world. I’d love to know more. I just get really excited when, neurodivergent people are assessing other neurodivergent people is so important. That was part of my process, it was joyful,

Hat: it’s almost like I’m not sure, but I’m getting to the point where I’m sort of like, do we need a person with lived experience on a diagnostic panel?

Because I just worry so much that things get missed, that if you haven’t got that lived experience, do you understand exactly what might be going on for that person and why they’re doing what they’re doing? Um, so yeah, I’m just slowly moving towards that way.

Adina: It’s a very good line of inquiry. Really important.

Yeah. And I think there’s a bit of a… Neurosparkly radar that we have to some degree, like, I don’t know about you, but there’s, it’s not that I’m in the process of diagnosing friends and family, but it becomes a lot easier to go. I think I get you and I think I know why and I think we’re more similar than different in certain ways.

Hat: Yeah, it’s tricky. I mean, there are a few people that I’m really close friends with and, you know, I got my diagnosis and then I was sort of like, hmm, you’re really similar. And I was sort of like, I will never ever say to someone, I think you’re autistic, I think you have ADHD, because I would, that wouldn’t work for me, but it’s about like, just dropping things in, like, well sometimes I do this, and then letting them kind of come to their own conclusion, and the amount of friends that I have that have gone, ooh, I think I have ADHD, I’ll be like, Uh huh.

Adina: Yeah. Just let them come to their own conclusion. I like that.

We can’t change people’s minds or bring them along the journey. They have to get there. Um, there’s something that you shared, which is that you’re a part time AAC user. So for those who don’t know, the acronym AAC stands for augmentative and alternative communication, which actually refers to any form of communication that is not.

Speech. So not words coming out of our mouth. Uh, I think a lot of people, uh, starting to use AAC to really only talk about sort of a high tech speech generating device. Are you seeing that online? That it’s sort of getting used in that different way. So that might be for some people. You might hear the term AAC and think, Oh yes, it’s like an iPad, that kind of thing.

Anyway, I’d love to hear about how AAC helps you in your life, how you use it, any challenges that you face, anything you want to share about AAC use in your life.

Hat: Yeah, so this is becoming another area of passion. Um, I’m mostly a voice user. However, I sort of use a text to speech app part time.

I also use communication cards, which are basically just flashcards that say certain things on them. Used a lot of sign in the past. Now, I don’t feel like I use… AAC as much as I should do. Um, and a lot of that is my own sort of internalised ableism. , I was forced into speech from being really young.

And I think that was because there was a lot of shame around me not speaking because I was a very articulate and chatty child. People just saw it as you’ve got the words. You can speak, so you should speak. I completely understand that, you know, from someone that’s not identified as autistic, it must be really difficult for adults to understand why this child isn’t speaking.

And I think potentially if I was growing up now, I would have maybe had a selective mutism diagnosis. Um, In part, growing up, I did struggle with selective mutism, so that, you know, that anxiety around talking. Um, but now it’s, it’s not about anxiety, it’s, it’s very much about my capacity to speak. Um, so a lot of the time growing up, it was in school was speech time.

That was when I had to use my voice. I didn’t feel like I had a choice not to. And then I would come home and I would have to be in, you know, cat language, um, just to kind of help recover from that much speech that I was using. Um, and I’d kind of write things down or gesture to things. And that was okay for a certain period of time, but as you get older, your expectation to speak becomes a lot greater.

And it becomes quite childlike, you know, inverted commas, not to be speaking. So… It was very much, you need to start speaking now, what’s going on, you’re being rude, and I think I was, you know, going to my grandparents house and I wasn’t able to speak and my grandpa was going.

What’s going on? You can speak, speak. Um, and obviously growing up undiagnosed, like it’s, it’s something that does happen. It’s a shame that that’s the case. But, after diagnosis, I started to use AAC again. , so. I use it a lot at home with my other half, um, he really understands why sometimes I can’t speak and, the, it doesn’t matter if I’m using text to speech or I’m using my voice, um, he doesn’t really care either way, you know, I’m still communicating, But I think the biggest thing that’s a struggle is that being a speech therapist, I am and have constantly encouraged other people to use AAC.

Um, and it’s almost like I feel quite guilty the fact that now I’ve got this internalised ableism of forcing myself to speak and not feeling comfortable using AAC in the wider community. That’s a really hard barrier to get through, as a semi speaking person. It’s just, it’s that, it’s that shame.

Um, yeah.

Adina: It’s a very tricky one to unpack. Whatever the support is, whether it’s support to communicate in a different way, I had a recent one. Very different scenario, but, so support to put my shoes on I recognised a few weeks ago that it’s getting really hard for me to put my shoes on.

And I would like a bench near the door so that I could sit and put my shoes on. It just sounds like the most obvious support. And even being a physical support, I would think that even myself and the world would accept it more than a kind of more psychological internalised. type support. And yet I pushed against my need and I even knew what the solution would be.

The self talk was all, Oh, I shouldn’t need that. I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. And I don’t know if that feels familiar. The I, I shouldn’t, Whoa, that is a potent phrase. That is like, I’d love us all to challenge it, but it is so hard to move past that. I should be okay without this support.

Hat: Yeah.

It’s a huge barrier. Absolutely. Um, and I think if you’ve been fed those messages all your life of you should do this, you know, it’s, it’s going to take a lot of unpacking to go back through and be like, actually, no. Um, and. I’m getting there with it. Um, you know, I went to a wedding a couple of months ago and for the first time ever I used AAC at a wedding.

Like, it was huge.

I had a period of mutism. I um, was just really overwhelmed. So basically what had happened was, um, I was fine, but then there was this, the singing waiters that come through. So he came into the room, dropped a load of spoons right by my ear, not anybody else in the room.

It had to be me, didn’t it? And then just burst into song. And I was just there like, Uh, I don’t know what to do in this situation, like this is too overwhelming, you know, everybody’s having a great time and I’m sat there like in just this internal, distress, and from that it just meant that the rest of the day was really overwhelming, um, so I then, yeah, I had a period of mutism, um, and usually I would have taken myself off.

For what, half an hour and just like tried to get speech back and I was like, no, I, I’m gonna, I’m gonna enjoy myself. I’m gonna stay here. Um, and when people talked to me, I showed them my little communication card that said, I’m not speaking right now. Um, and I, and then I started joining in conversations with my text to speech app and the response was amazing.

So it was, all my partner’s friends and. They were incredible. I mean, there was a few comments here and there like, can you not just use your voice? You’re going to get that when people know you as a speaking person. Um, but yeah, it was a huge step.

Adina: That sounds incredibly brave and like a really positive outcome for what else might’ve happened.

Hat: Yeah, it would have been a write off if I hadn’t done that.

Adina: That experience and that generally positive response to your alternative ways of communicating? Has that changed? How you’ve used AAC since then or your perceptions about it?

Hat: Yeah, yeah, um, definitely. I feel like when you use it with certain people and you get a positive response, you’re like, I can do that again.

I can use that with them. I’m usually better if I don’t know people very well because they don’t know me As this person that’s constantly speaking, so it feels easier. Um, it’s more my friends and my family, actually, that I find it more difficult to use AAC with.

I think that’s the biggest barrier is going from being able to do it with people I don’t know very well to people that just see me as a speaking person. Um, so yeah, definitely it’s helped, but there’s still a long way to go.

Adina: It’s a big insight, and I think it comes down to so much of what we do as speech therapists.

Supporting children’s communication, supporting anyone’s communication is about communication partner training, and it sounds like your path ahead is… Training your communication partners, all the people in your world, and that takes a lot of spoons and energy and bravery to tackle that.

Hat: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

It’s, um, it’s a long journey. Um, but yeah, it’s definitely worth it. And, you know, I want to be one of those speech therapists that practices what they preach. Not just face value, like you use your AAC and you feel good about it. Like, No, that’s not always how it works. So, yeah, long road.

Adina: Absolutely. I don’t know about you, but I, for one, want to change our job title, to something like Communication, Interaction and Feeding Relationship Type Warm Friendly Helper Person. It’s a terrible title. I’ve got to workshop that. What do you think?

Hat: Yeah, I mean, I, I listened to your podcast episode that you did on the Neurodivergent Woman podcast.

Um, and I think that’s when you said, when you said about changing the name and obviously here in the UK, we’re called speech therapists, whereas you’re speech pathologists. Um, now I’ve… I don’t feel like a speech therapist. I don’t work on speech sounds, for a start, because I’ve got auditory processing disorder, like, I really struggle with speech sounds.

Um, but, I really like being called, like, a communication specialist, because I feel like that encompasses a lot more. And it’s not like speech.

Adina: And I think it leads to so many people totally misunderstanding what we do in our jobs and our training and what we know about. So, yeah, we’ll work on it. There’s another long road ahead.

Hat: Yeah.

Adina: Should we have a chat about mental health, which is… Huge, hugely important. It’s something that you share about quite a lot on social media about mental health challenges and trauma and the impact of traumatic experiences of neurodivergent people. What do you see as some of the biggest reasons behind our complex mental health situation.

Hat: Oh, it’s just huge. Um, I think it’s so multi layered that it’s really hard to pinpoint. But I think really the biggest issue that comes along is ableism. Um, because it’s just, it’s systemic and it is… Everywhere. It’s in everything, every aspect of society.

And I know that before my diagnosis, I had such ableist views without even knowing I did. I feel a lot of guilt, and shame for kind of what I put my neurodivergent clients through because of ableism, Um, and I think in speech and language, along with other professions, there’s still a lot of ableism going on, whether that’s conscious or not.

Working with children that have developmental trauma, um, I could never understand why I related to them so much. I’d be like, why am I having the same kind of fight or flight responses as these children that have experienced such horrific things? , you know, from my perspective, it was very much, I’ve had a really secure, stable, upbringing, my parents are amazing, my whole family is amazing, why do I feel like this?

I had, very significant mental health issues from being very little and no one understood it. My therapist was just like, I don’t get it either. I don’t understand why you have these difficulties that you have. Um, and I think basically being neurodivergent and living in a neurotypical world is traumatic.

Um, you know, as soon as we walk out of our front door. were faced with trauma. Um, the moment, the second that I was born, I experienced trauma because I was born into a hospital ward and the lights were horrendous, the sounds, the smells, everything. So it, it will have gone from this womb space of sensory security straight into this Like, overload of senses, and I, as a, newborn, cried and cried and cried, and I did not stop, um, and I cried when other people held me, I cried when they put me down, it was awful. And, you know, I got taken off my mum because it was that bad. The nurses were like, you need to sleep. yeah, I think it’s just the environment, the bullying that we experience. The social isolation, not understanding our own brains and constantly being invalidated about our emotions, the way our brains work, not having our needs met constantly.

Like, it’s just huge. But I think the worst part of that is not being able to be yourself. Um, so I read Chloe Hayden’s book recently. Um, don’t know, have you read it?

Adina: It’s brilliant. Yeah. Different, not less.

Hat: Yes. Yeah, it is the best. I absolutely would recommend it to everyone. Um, but she mentioned within the first few chapters about growing up, your sort of autistic traits are okay and they’re acceptable for your childhood and there hits a certain point where it’s like no you can’t do these things anymore and neurotypicals progress through that and they mature and they develop and the people who are autistic their traits are then forced to be suppressed because they’re no longer acceptable.

Um, so I think it’s that suppression of who we are, losing our identity, um, etc. that amounts to the biggest part of trauma.

Adina: And I’ve heard it referred to as microtraumas. So sort of experiencing rather than, you know, one big traumatic event. It’s more this constant experience like you described of just the world being more difficult and our bodies processing things and our minds processing things in ways that are very different from neurotypical people.

That these little moments are just, they’re not little, they’re really big moments.

Hat: Yeah, but then we’re constantly told that they are little moments, and that makes it so much worse.

Adina: And then we turn around and say it to ourselves, oh, I shouldn’t make a big deal of that.

Hat: Yeah, that internalised ableism coming in again.

Adina: Hey listeners, it’s okay to be put off by a confusing sign that makes no sense to you, or somebody saying something to you that’s very confusing and sarcastic, or any of that, it’s very valid.

Hat: Absolutely ,

Adina: let’s say it to ourselves. I’m a bit of a painful optimist, I have to say Hat, and I love looking forward.

I don’t know about you, but I love to go. What could the future do? And you know, I think you and I, we do a lot of advocacy and I think that You probably have to have some sort of hopefulness to be involved in advocacy to say things can

change and I can help here. So I guess if we can turn to like, what the future could look like, what are some sparks that you see about Even the way things are changing now, or the way things might be down the line, so that perhaps neurodivergent people can experience a non traumatic life.

Hat: One of the biggest things is how amazing our online community is. it just overwhelms me every day with, you know, what creators are putting out there and, yeah, it’s, it’s really exciting for the future. And I think, I always say, like, finding your tribe, neurokin. I love the word neurokin.

So I’m like, find your neurokin. Um, I think it’s so important, one of my best friends has ADHD and we just send each other voice notes very intermittently about like, I’m having this experience, I need to talk to someone who understands. Um, and I think just, finding new people that understand you after probably.

You know, if you are late diagnosed, it’s sort of, after a period of no one really getting you or knowing you, it’s such a huge thing. Um, and I think we’re starting to see, really amazing role models in, the autistic community, the ADHD community, um, like Chloe Hayden, who’s been on a TV show and has portrayed the most amazing autistic character, that’s so realistic to, you know, my own experience of autism and just, wow, people are shifting mindsets every day, um, with these little things, well, they’re not little things, but, you know, seemingly little things that they’re doing, that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing, because I want to change people’s perceptions of what it is to be autistic, and that it’s okay to self advocate, and And things like that. and I think once you start speaking from a positive lens, then diagnosis doesn’t become this dreadful thing that people fear. And, and I think that’s why I really wanted to go into autism assessment was to be that, you know, speaks to a family and says, congratulations, you’re autistic. This is what you might experience and I’m autistic too. And like, it’s, it’s all good. And I think just having that first, response rather than a, I’m really sorry, but your child’s autistic. Like those two narratives just can change so much.

Adina: I had a parent of a previous client of mine contact me just a little while ago with like party popper emojis and, some gifs and it was like party times.

And I was like, something exciting is happening. And she’s gone. I’ve got my diagnosis. I’m autistic too.

We’re just celebrating together. Just that vibe.

And I think for her, a big part of it, as you were talking about, is that community, you know, she had someone that she recognised in me and hopefully other people too, as someone she could come to and say, we share this together.

Hat: It’s so powerful. Yeah, it’s so powerful. I mean, whenever I post something and people comment saying like, oh, this is just so my experience. I’m like, oh, the person gets me.

Adina: And even, I’m finding these chats that I’m having with you and with the other beautiful neurodivergent people who I’ve been having chats with, I don’t know about you and it’s okay if you have a different perspective, but they don’t actually drain me like, which is really telling because social stuff very much can, but they’re just, we’re just, this is fun.

You know, we just have a lot of stuff to share

and info dump at each other.

Hat: It’s easy. I said this to someone a while back about jobs and I was like, Before I understood my autistic identity, I masked so heavily in every session that I did and I would come away from being with clients and I would be shattered.

And then now, I go in completely unmasked, we have a great time, and I’m like, I was so energised, it’s so different.

Adina: Isn’t that amazing? So just that simple, simple act of being more yourself. Allows you to draw and probably give more energy in that interaction as well. That’s so important. Is there something that you want to share about how you support the little ones, our young neurodivergent kids, around self advocacy?

What messages do you like to share? Do you want to share? How do you support them to build up that capacity?

Hat: I think one of the things is just listening. Um, people, especially neurodivergent people, we just want to be listened to and we want our views to be respected and , a lot of the time when I’ve worked with, with kiddos, it’s very much, I just sit and listen to their special interests, and actually how much they get from that versus me trying to get them to do an assessment is incredible. There was a while back where I did some sessions with, um, a teenager amazing young man, and he was teaching me his experience of masking through a special interest of a video game.

That he had, um, and we just had, I think I’ve lost complete track of time. Like, obviously I don’t keep time. I don’t know what time is. But we were there for like hours just talking about masking and he came away from it and was like Someone understands me, and someone listens to me, and like, that is just the best thing ever.

And I came away from that and I cried my eyes out, um, but it’s just, that is so powerful for neurodivergent children to be listened to, and to be empowered, and to be given autonomy, I shudder now thinking about all the goals that I set without consent, um, from children, and I just think now, oh, how could I ever do that?

Like, I was setting goals on behalf of someone else. Um, so yeah, I think. It’s just so important that they’re considered and are asked for consent through every step of the way. And I think that has a huge impact on vulnerability going forward. because I was never empowered or given autonomy because I struggled.

And I think people seem to see that when you struggle, um, you can’t make decisions for yourself. And actually taking away those decisions from people can leave them so vulnerable to, you know, violation of body autonomy, to, you know, exploitation, everything. It’s just so important.

Adina: I mean, the theme through all of that really is listen to kids, all kids.

And especially neurodivergent kids who might have even less experience of being listened to and believed and having their perspective honoured. And obviously in whatever capacity is suitable for that child and their stage at a cognitive level, their communication level. But just the big ideas, like just involve kids in their own lives.

Hat: Yeah.

Adina: Thank you so much for sharing that.

So thinking about a lot of the support that you give to kids today through your professional capacity and maybe in other ways as well. What would you do if you were able to speak to younger you? Perhaps if you had yourself as a client or just, you know, caught up with younger you, out in the street walking your dog?

Hat: I’ve thought about this a lot and been like, how different would my life look had I’ve known and had, I’ve been able to speak to myself, um, you know, at a younger age. And I think if I’d have just had a therapist like me, or like yourself, or, you know, like the amazing, mental health practitioner that I’ve worked with recently.

Ugh, so much would be different. Um, but yeah, there’s so many times where I think I really wanna go back there and, and say certain things, but I’m like, would I have got to where I am now? I don’t know. but I guess kind of early support is so key and I think a lot of things for me changed at the age of seven.

I’ve got so many memories from seven and I think I would just go back there and just say, stop trying so hard to fit in, because I was always trying to fit in with the girls that didn’t have any interest in common with, and they clearly didn’t want me there, and I could have just gone and played with the boys.

And continued having a nice time because they were nice. And, you know, I’m still friends with some of them today from primary school, and it was just so much easier with, like, playing sports together rather than having to rely on all this verbal communication. And so I would just say, just go and play with the boys.

Who cares what everyone else thinks?

And I would definitely tell high school me to stop trying to be cool. Because I was not cool . I was such a weirdo and I have totally reclaimed the word weirdo. I love being weird. Um, yeah. I just tried so hard to be neurotypical and I’m like, you are just cool the way that, well, you’re not cool.

You’re a weirdo.

Adina: That is our version of cool. I don’t know if you’ve seen, I’ve got a t shirt that I’ve designed that says weird is wonderful. And I will send you one. So remind me to do that. My ADHD brain will forget I said that. So keep reminding me till I do it.

Hat: You’re relying on my ADHD brain.

Adina: I’ll listen back to this when I edit and go, Oh, hang on. Yeah, I want to shout that one from the rooftops. All of us, past versions of ourselves, all the child versions of ourselves and the neurodivergent kids of today, stop trying to fit in. That is so important.

That could change a lot.

Hat: but it’s hard because when, you know, still as an adult, I want to fit in. Do you know what? Like, can fit in. I can be a chameleon and I can do whatever I need to for people to like me. But there is always that undercurrent that people know.

People know that I’m different and, you know, I might as well just embrace it.

Adina: And there’s a cost to you that we talked about earlier, which is just that act of masking to fit in costs energetically, like nothing else.

So yeah, one thing is shouting that, stop trying to fit in from the rooftops.

And the next one is how to live a life where that becomes okay.

Is there anything else that you wanted to share with parents and professionals who support neurodivergent children that we haven’t touched on today?

Hat: I really want parents, especially parents, to know that your neurodivergent child is never too much.

I have such a trauma response to those words. And I think too much for what, what, what are we too much for? Because too much is also a really good way to describe someone in terms of they give so much. Um, and if your child is energetic and they are up all around the room and they are doing what they need to do, like, It’s a great thing.

It comes with so much creativity, and just, yeah, awesomeness, and trying to squash it is very counterproductive and I just wish someone hadn’t have tried to squish my energeticness and everything, so yeah, just complete acceptance for who we are is so important.

Adina: I love that. And then we’ll work on self acceptance.

We’ll keep practicing that one.

Hat: Yeah, let’s keep going.

Adina: Thank you so much for spending the time to share your thoughts, your perspectives, your life story. I mean, there’s so much value in hearing your experience. You’re like, as a human, as a, as well as a professional. So really, really thank you for coming here and chatting today, Hat.

Hat: No, thank you so much. It’s been amazing and thanks for giving me the space to just info dump.

Adina: Anytime. When we can make our time zones line up, which we did

Hat: Thank you so much. Bye.

Adina: Thank you so much for sharing this audio space and time with me, and thank you for being open to learning and unlearning and truly listening to the neurodivergent experience and perspective. If you found this episode helpful, please share it with a friend and join me on Instagram and Facebook. I’m @play.learn.chat, Β you’ll find all the links that we discussed in the show notes.

Have a spectacular day.

 

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