Autism and Birth - part one: understanding autism- the basics
I began writing a blog post on the topic of autism and birth, and I realized VERY quickly that it was going to be far too long, and there was far too much I wanted to say. So this is going to become a new series, diving into the different topics.
First I want to explain why this is important to me.
I won't get into a crazy amount of detail here in this intro, because I want these posts to cater to autistic people- most of whom will already understand this first part. That being said, I am touching on this because I also would love if these posts reached birth workers of all types, so that they may increase their acceptance and skills in serving nerodiverse clients.
Here is what you need to know.
There are a ton of harmful stereotypes around autism. The autistic diagnosis criteria is outdated, and invalid for many reasons, the main one being that when it was created, it was created to cater to a typical presenting case of masculine autism in young male children. There was very little understood about how autism can present differently. There was very little known about masking. There was very little known about autism in female children, or in adults of either gender, AND in the presentation of autism across different cultures and races. Unfortunately, most medical professionals do not understand autism unless they are speaking to a male, white, young person with a typical presentation.
Autism in our society, is most often represented in the media by an autistic character (being played by a nerotypical person pretending to be autistic) who is in distress. Autism in media is seen as violent, it is seen as something to control, something to mourn, something to pity. It is very misrepresented, much like birth can be. Birth as most of us know, is not all screaming and sweating and being told to pussshhhh like it is on tv. Like- Autism is not all rocking back and forth, lashing out, screaming, or being unable to function in society like it is on tv.
The thing is- there are a ton of autistic people, and you can not SEE autism. Unless you are seeing an autistic person in distress, or you know a person personally and understand autism deeply- you can not "spot" every autistic person. It's ridiculous that I have to say this at all actually. But autism can be pretty. It can be tall, short, fat, thin, athletic, artistic, empathetic, awkward, well spoken, extroverted, introverted, black, asian, white, etc. etc. etc.
Autistic people are people. With differences. With unique lives, experiences, and presentations of who they are, and how they function.
Autism is a difference of the wiring in the brain. It is a different way of processing and experiencing life. Our country, is not designed in a way that is easy for autistic people to exist within. It is loud, it is chaotic, sarcastic, and harsh much of the time. Our brains process stimuli differently.
Autistic people are people. We, They, deserve to exist, to find joy, to grieve, to birth, and to parent just as anyone else does. To have rights. To be accommodated. Because of the way our systems are built, Autism is a disability. Not because it is less, not because it is wrong or something to grieve, but because our ideal environment is different than yours.
If you are not accommodating an autistic person, they are accommodating you. They are constantly sacrificing their comfort, their way of thinking, speaking, and acting, their boundaries and their limits- in order to help others accept them, understand them, and be comfortable around them.
The problem with this is- It costs you nothing to turn down the music if an autistic person is having a problem processing sound. However, It does cost the autistic person something to allow you to keep it up. Even with some of the given accommodations, it causes us pain to exist in the ways you are most comfortable with. Most of the time, your lack of accommodations causes us pain and stress- when the accommodation we need- wouldn't cause you any.
Autism is not a superpower, or a weakness. Our brains just work differently.
Lastly, (for this piece of writing anyway) Autism can not be less or more. Autistic traits are human traits, so they can be relatable. That does not mean everyone is a little autistic. It does not mean one person has more autism, and one person has less. Autism is a spectrum, more like a color wheel, not a less and more, not a line. This means ALL autistic people need support. ALL autistic people struggle. ALL humans need support. ALL humans struggle. Just in different ways. One autistic person may be non verbal. One may be hyper verbal and obsessed with language (hello that's me!) Some autistic people can speak on one day, and can not form words on another. Our needs are constantly fluctuating. Our support needs, our challenges, and our strengths are constantly fluctuating, changing. A LOT of autistic experiences, especially in adult women- are internalized. Masked.
If you are reading this, and this is all new to you, do some research. Listen to what autistic adults have to say about their lives, their diagnosis. There is so much depth in these topics I have touched on, way more then I can fit into a blog post. Please, listen and research and open your mind to our experiences without judgment or "knowing".
This is a safe space. You can not cater to what you do not understand. There is a lot of ableism, racism, and bias sewn into the very fabrics of our culture. Talking, learning, sharing experiences, and having an open mind is how we change that. So come, unlearn, learn, and lay down what you think you know. There is so much more. So many layers. Wisdom comes from experience, from listening, and from living life with an open mind, an open heart. Wisdom, especially in birth- is power.
If you are an autistic person reading this, stay tuned. I am going to dive into the topics of birth, the challenges you might face as an autistic birthing person (or an autistic birth support person!). Solutions, ideas, stories, etc.
This topic is important to me as a thriving, confident, autistic female adult who is capable of running this incredible fulfilling business. This topic is important to me as a hurting, grieving, trying autistic adult who needs a lot of support and accommodations. I am both. All. Much. As an autistic adult who needs support, gives support, and wants more support for all birthing people. As a birth worker, as a survivor of birth trauma, as a survivor of autistic trauma. As a mother of an autistic child. As a friend to so many amazing nerodiverse people.
Please be gentle with me on this new journey, as I am still learning myself, and I am ever evolving my language to be more accurate inclusive and understandable.
- CordeliaGrey Oriana Allen
Your Wildwood Birthkeeper