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Autism Awareness Month 2020

Our Expert in Residence Alison Wombwell dedicates this article to Autism Awareness Month, talking about her late diagnosis at 34 and how autism affects her - and her two daughters - in different ways.

By Alison Wombwell

As the founder of ‘I Am Her Voice – Our Autism Journey’, which can be found on Instagram (@i_am_her_voice) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/shehasmyheartiamhervoice/), I am passionate about providing information about autism and other co-morbidities. It is therefore only fitting that I would dedicate this article to Autism Awareness Month.

I founded my blog (https://iamhervoice.co.uk) in January 2019 as a hobby, because I love to write. At the time I was a lead ASD officer for a charity, and the blog was something that I could be in control of, which I loved. Little did I know that the blog would end up being my career.

In our house, both me and my two children – both girls – have autism, and our autism affects us all in very different ways. My girls were both diagnosed in their early years and were very fortunate to receive early intervention from a young age. I, on the other hand, received my autism diagnosis when I was 34, just last year.

Spreading awareness around autism is a huge passion of mine. I deliver workshops for charities, educational establishments, companies and organizations. I am also fortunate to work as an early years SEND (Special Education Needs and Disability) consultant, where I help support staff and identify if a child may be struggling, or have traits of any underlying conditions. I am also on hand to help support parents and families throughout their diagnostic journey. Support before, during and after a diagnosis is crucial for families, as I know all too well having been that family.

Pictured: Alison’s two daughters.

Children with autism are all so different. Some may be similar in terms of how they present, but each child – and adult – with autism is unique, and their indicators can be completely different to another autistic individual. When my eldest daughter, now eight, was around a year old she hated loud noises and playgroups because she couldn’t sit still and didn’t want to play with the other children. Her eye contact was always fleeting, so to others, she didn’t display typically autistic symptoms. Eye contact, or the lack of, is often a red flag for parents to seek an autism diagnosis. It can, however, be the complete opposite as a lot of autistic children can have excellent eye contact.

Language delay can be another red flag for many; both of my daughters had this trait. However, through my professional work, I’ve met plenty of autistic children who acquired language very quickly in their early years. Precocious speech is the opposite of speech delay and can be a red flag that is rarely discussed and often overlooked. Not all children with early speech development will go on to have autism, however, it can be an indicator if a child in their early years has a vast vocabulary and has the capability of speaking in fluent sentences before 18-months. If they do develop precocious speech as a result of their autism, try to remember they may not necessarily understand what they, or someone else, is saying.

Sensory issues have a huge impact in our house. Both of my girls have sensory issues and have done since they were babies. People often don’t realise that we have eight senses, and those with autism can be hyposensitive (under reactive) and hypersensitive (over-reactive) to all of them. For example; my eldest daughter has always struggled with loud noises, such as hoovers, hairdryers, hand dryers and noisy environments. She is hypersensitive to sounds. My youngest daughter, on the other hand, is constantly jumping, climbing, running around, spinning. She is hyposensitive and seeks movement; this particular sense is known as the vestibular sense.

Autism awareness doesn’t just happen once a year for our household. It’s every day. Autism affects us in so many different ways and often comes alongside so many other conditions such as ADHD, epilepsy, anxiety, OCD and Tourette’s. Up to 20% of females with autism are diagnosed with anorexia nervosa before receiving their autism diagnosis.

As an adult diagnosed with autism at 34, I had masked the condition for so long, which had a detrimental effect on both my physical and mental health; at 14 I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

For me, anorexia gave me the control I craved, and it provided me with a routine and rules to follow which I liked. I like numbers, so the numbers on the scales became an obsession. It wasn’t until I had my own children and saw their traits that I could identify so many in myself. For me, receiving a diagnosis of both autism and ADHD has answered so many questions about why I’ve struggled for so much of my life.

For Autism Awareness 2020 I want to spread as much awareness as possible with our story.  Our Blog, I am her Voice – Our Autism Journey, can be found on Facebook and Instagram.

About the author:

Alison Wombwell is founder of Chasing Rainbows- I am her voice CIC. She is a recently diagnosed adult with Autism and ADHD (2019), with two daughters who also have a diagnosis of Autism and ongoing diagnosis of ADHD. She has battled with mental health problems throughout my life, including anorexia and anxiety disorder and will be writing for HLN discussing women’s mental health as well as bringing us regular information about what it’s like to be a mum with children who have additional needs.

https://www.facebook.com/shehasmyheartiamhervoice/

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