About: Pavan is an 18-year-old Young Ambassador for the National Autistic Society and was diagnosed as autistic in 2018. They explain how their work helps defeat myths around autism and mental health.
It’s an understatement to say that the things I’ve gone through have been rough. At the same time, I feel a sense of hope for the future in the work that I’ve been doing through my own advocacy and working with other charities to help other young people firstly not have to go through what I went through in life and secondly, make young people realise they’re not alone in what they’re going through and how they’re feeling.
It’s important to realise that whilst a lot of young people may not be “professionally” qualified, we can still be a listening ear. Lived experience of mental health issues has been valuable to me and has driven me to help other young people.
In order to increase the conversation and understanding around neurodiversity, I shared my own experiences at two conferences, busting myths around autism and mental health.
It’s important to realise that whilst a lot of young people may not be “professionally” qualified, we can still be a listening ear.
Myth 1: Refusing to engage
One of the biggest myths which goes around a lot and I’ve personally experienced is when autistic young people are being accused of “refusing to engage” and being discharged prematurely as a result. Some autistic people struggle with communicating their experiences and needs. At a time when things are their most difficult, communication becomes even more difficult.
Autistic people are not refusing to engage, instead thinking about communication. A big piece of advice when trying to open up a conversation about mental health to an autistic person is to be open-minded about how that person can communicate. This includes things like giving time when they need more time or allowing them to communicate using other forms like through writing, cue cards, drawing or modelling.
When opening up conversations about mental health to autistic people, do not use language that causes uncertainty like, “we need to talk”. Be clear on what you want to talk about, give the autistic person time to prepare, don’t try to cause uncertainty and increase their anxiety levels whilst they’re already not in a good place mentally; it’s not going to help.
Autistic people are not refusing to engage, instead thinking about communication.
Myth 2: Autistic people don’t have feelings
It's commonly misunderstood that autistic people don't have feelings because of the way they sometimes struggle to express feelings through facial expressions and body language. However, this is absolutely not true. Whilst some autistic people struggle with expressing themselves through facial expressions and body language, in reality, all autistic people have feelings.
Just because you can't see autistic people expressing feelings in the same way you're used to seeing others expressing feelings, that definitely doesn't mean autistic people don't have feelings. In fact, some autistic people mask their feelings so much that even though they're feeling them so strongly, you can't see it.
Some autistic people mask their feelings so much that even though they're feeling them so strongly, you can't see it.
Myth 3: Whatever coping strategy works for one autistic person, works for every autistic person
Instead be patient and offer a choice, because something that works for one person doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Don’t suggest autistic people do things that might increase their anxiety as “coping strategies”.
For example, some autistic people struggle with phone calls because it causes them anxiety, so it’s unreasonable to ask them to call a crisis line while they’re already not in a good place mentally. At the same time, don’t say things like “just reach out” and not bother any further. The best thing in any situation where an autistic person is struggling mentally is to be patient and give them a choice on how they want to communicate.
The best thing in any situation where an autistic person is struggling mentally is to be patient.
Having gone through lived experience and rough times, I’ve built hope through educating others and advocacy work to make this world a better place for autistic people. Through darkest times, it’s thanks to advocacy work that I keep going day-to-day – it’s what I cherish most in life.
Thanks for sharing your story Pavan, 18
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