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In this weeks blog we hear from our Specialist Autism Awareness Trainer Debbie Austin, who during Mental Health Awareness Week, wanted to share some of her own experiences to try and raise further awareness of autism and mental health across the region. Debbie runs Autism East Midlands Autism and Mental Health Workshop, which you can learn more about here. Over 70% of autistic people have reported mental health issues according to Autistica UK.

Ask many adults on the autism spectrum and they will tell you they want people to understand them and accept them for who they are. Our problems lie in the fact that society is not very tolerant of difference.

I decided to write this blog to raise awareness of autism and in particular the high prevalence of mental health issues for autistic people. Many of us are battling anxiety, depression or both and if we can get an understanding therapist or GP that would help us immensely. Some however are not so lucky.

I decided I would find out more about autism and what it is in the hope that I could understand my difficulties better and in a way help myself. I remember my kindly GP telling me “you know yourself better than anyone”. He was right.

I wanted to know what anxiety was like for autistic people, why many of us seem so resistant to medication or therapy. Why is it that Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is touted as the best thing for anxiety and depression, yet I felt myself becoming more anxious after attending the sessions? People underestimate the importance of the relationship in counselling and therapy. I myself am a massive advocate of Person Centred Therapy and the work of Carl Rogers. I want someone to understand my world, to listen with empathy and not try to change who I am. Like many on the spectrum, I am resistant to change and being told the problem lies with me and my faulty thinking.
As a therapist myself and also someone on the spectrum I know how important it is to value the client, to be non judgmental and genuine.

I’ve read many articles on autism and mental health; I’ve considered many opinions from experts and knowledgeable others regarding what works and I keep coming back to Rogers and his theory. He emphasises the importance of the therapeutic relationship and that the client is the one who knows how to heal him or herself. What we need is a facilitator, a mentor maybe. An equal. Someone who really understands
us.

The simple fact is that everyone on the spectrum is different; we need to treat everyone on the basis of their needs. The therapist that is inflexible and lacks a basic understanding of autism and how it presents in many high functioning children and adults will face many challenges, especially if there is no rapport.

Understand that for many of us, we already have a baseline of anxiety anyway. The small things can build up and before we know it, we reach crisis. What helps is to enable us to put things into perspective so we may better understand them. Rumination and catastrophizing are my worst enemies!

Having a sense of self; knowing who you are and accepting your fascination for Brian Cox and True crime or whatever it may be and having an awareness of autism, is in my opinion the key to wellbeing.

For me, simply accepting that fact has changed my life for the better.