Today I attended a conference at a local University to participate in a panel discussion and deliver a workshop on ‘Autism & Neurodiversity’ with my colleague Alex. The theme of the conference was mental health and well-being, a subject close to my heart. So despite my irrational fear and suspicion of academic types and a bad case of nerves, I was looking forward to the event.
As it turned out, it was a real treat to hear the other speakers and meet so many interesting people keen to learn more about life on the Autistic Spectrum. We had some lively discussion on the 5 D’s (difference, diagnosis, disorder, disease, disability) and how the Autistic community is divided in it’s definition of Autism. We also talked about the importance of changing the environment to fit your child rather than changing your child to fit the environment.
I am a strong advocate for the Neurodiversity movement and the social model of disability. I believe I am different, not less. I’m not broken, I don’t need fixing. My genetic make up is as natural and important to human evolution as the next persons. Yet I am still Autistic. My brain in wired in such a way that I struggle in social situations. I find the dialogue exhausting, new environments and new people overwhelm me. Today, my adrenaline was through the roof, I’d frankly sweated buckets, my eyes felt hot and fuzzy from the bright lights, my face hurt from smiling. All I wanted to do was get home, have a cuddle with my boys and be silent for several hours.
However, me being me I got hopelessly lost driving in the wrong direction (thanks for that google maps) before realizing I was close to the cemetery where our first son Pablo is buried. Since we moved away from Brighton I only visit his grave a few times a year on birthdays and Christmas; this weighs heavy on my heart. The first year after he died I visited him every day without fail, even when I was heavily pregnant. When L was born exactly 1 year and 4 days after Pablo grew his wings, our visits took place on weekends when my husband was around too so we could juggle tending Pablo’s garden with L’s nappy changes and feeds. Eventually just before H was born we moved further along the coast to afford a family home with a garden. Only 15 miles but it sometimes felt like 150 because at the time I didn’t drive.
So back to today and there I was stuck on a roundabout trying to work out which way to go when I realised I had a sudden and rare opportunity to visit our Angel at the cemetery. And there I spent a happy hour getting muddy and wet in the rain, talking to our first boy and pulling up handfuls of weeds with my bare hands to restore his overgrown garden. It was wonderful.
Right now? I’m cross legged on the armchair, comfortably full from dinner, the house is blissfully quiet as the boys are asleep and I don’t feel stressed! I’m not craving vodka. Or chocolate (well maybe just a tiny bit of a craving). But usually after a large and demanding event like today I’m a bit of a wreck. Usually I’m tired but I’m also irritable, unsettled, weighed down by the replay of conversations and whether I said anything stupid or embarrassing (over sharing is my speciality much to my husband’s horror).
But my visit to Pablo and a bit of rainy, muddy manual work has done me the world of good. It’s cleared my head, reminded me what’s important. Because as much as I want to change the world, and help others appreciate and accept Autism and mental health, nothing is more important than what I’m doing right here with my lovely, loyal and patient hubby. Raising our precious sons. Because if anyone is going to change the world they will…..and if you think I’m blunt, gobby and overshare wait until you meet them!