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Autistic Social Worker

What took you so long?!


It’s taken a while for me to get here. On this page. Writing things down. My own demand causing me to resist! I’ve reflected on why this has been such a huge struggle to put into words what is in effect my daily existence. Why does this feel both a painful and essential activity?


I guess if anything, it’s the fact that physically re framing my thoughts and feelings that I have within my internal “flow” and translating these into a different medium is exhausting. It requires a huge amount of energy, focus and attention. It is a communication activity. It is hard.


I use analogy a lot to try and explain my internal thought processes. I like the Scalextric one particularly (all toy manufacturers are available…). My brain is a track. It has connections to my thoughts (the cars) when they are riding round without the need to increase in speed or add more cars – or handlers. More thoughts mean a crowded race track. The need for more speed and distance between cars. Cars are jostling and vying for a place – not to finish as there is no finish line, but to remain. The noise increases, the colours are a blur. Every so often, when too much energy is suddenly applied a car flies off the track. The handler has no control – there it goes! The other thoughts speed up – more fly off. Its carnage. No one has been successful . No-one has won.



The feeling of watching your car lose control is a mixture of excitement or panic. It may even be funny – for a while. But you have to stop, pick up the care, replace, carefully and when there is space. What f you have several cars? How do you control all of these? How do you choose? How do you focus when there is so much noise, and so much demand? Help!

So, when do they stop? When the batteries run out or someone else steps in to help. Or I kick over the track.


My cars have been flying off my track for some time now and I have been caught in the perpetual loop of trying to maintain a steady speed to retain my battery power with remaining alert to the sudden barriers and bumps life has been throwing. I hate metaphors, I really don’t get them sometimes, but I really have been trying to “stay on track”!


 

Why do you have to be so difficult?!

A lot of my speedy thought cars were working out what to focus on here. What do I want my messages to be – to you , to the wider world, to myself? So, so many! Why not just write about how great autism is and how it enhances your role as a social worker? Yup, that’s a goal, definitely. But to do that, I feel the need to explain why that would need to be shared at all in the first place . Why does it? Why don’t you already know?


Now my Scalextric track is getting longer, more loops. New roads.


 

Why do you always have to ask questions?

In social work, our approaches and practice is informed by values such as social justice and respect amongst others. I teach my students to remain curious, to never make assumptions and to reflect on what is informing their assessments and planning. My autism loves this. I love it. I exude curiosity because e I have limited benchmarks of social rules and cues. I see everything in its individuality but also within the context I am in with that person – because I need to . I need to interpret the world and have learned to do so I must consider a holistic view. I see the person; I work hard to understand their body language, their mannerisms, their patterns. I see how they are in different situations. I seek out patterns. I listen hard. I stay super focused to their language, their terms as I need to translate them back into my world. All these skills I have learned through existing as an autistic person to survive in a neurotypical world.


I have often reflected on whether I would make a lesser social worker had my world been more open to the neurodivergent. Perhaps, perhaps not. Bit of a non-question really as this is the reality we exist in. However, the difficulties people face in the COVID-induced virtual world we currently co-habit is interesting and perhaps reflects the neurodivergent experience in a more equal way.


I ask questions when things don’t make sense. I take time to “read the room”. In crises I can respond through the ability to detach (another adaptive behaviour ) whilst remaining attentive. I can’t explain that one but I use it daily in my personal life and value the strategies and routines I have that enable me to survive when the world around me is so unpredictable.



My attention to detail has been highlighted. My insistence in championing need and challenging the status quo. People fascinate me, they are my focused interest. Social Justice empowers me. If I can t enable for myself, I seek to achieve this with others. Fairness overrides everything and has placed me in precarious positions with my authorities at times.


My headings in this piece however are the questions often aimed at me in my life to date. And this is the issue. I know I have good skills and strengths as an autistic person,. As an autistic social worker. My ability to demonstrate them is less apparent.


 

Why can’t you just be normal?

Ah, ‘that’ word. Think about when you use it, why you use it, who you use it for. The media talks about the post-COVID “new normal”, like it’s a uniform and universal transition into a different way of acting. I’ve been searching for a “new normal” for years, but I suspect it isn’t your normal. Mine is quite simple really. It’s a world where difference is present and accepted.


The medical model infuses through our daily experience. It determines status following a hierarchy of response to need, determined through diagnosis or assessment, based on specific criteria. It requires an expert to impose decisions on the person ‘in need’ so that a problem can be fixed. People are organised int categories and levels that excludes or includes dependent on the issue. Gatekeeping is a feature, and resources secured only if you “make the grade”.


Western society embraces the medical model without noticing. Social work exists within that society. Yet the values of social work evoke collaboration, empathy, respect and social justice. We seek to “do with” within a system that exudes the expectation to “do to”. I align with that sense of imbalance, of the pushing against, of asking “what if” and seeking solutions. Because that is my daily existence in the neurotypical “normal”.



Normal is socially constructed. Normal has a starting point of privilege and the security of majority confirmation bias. Whose normal do we accept. Who is the cognitive authority? Who makes the rules?


I am normal – ish. With my own neurokin. In the understanding and self-acceptance of my own identity. In my neurodivergent community and culture. I invite you to learn my normal. Its quite cool really. I've spent a lifetime learning yours , so I think that’s a fair exchange, don’t you?


 

Next time: Disability is not a dirty word

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