Hypnotherapy and Life Coaching can help women with all of these issues:

General

“Too much and not enough”: Women and Autism

So many women with autism struggle to accept themselves. Often, they see themselves as “too much”—yet at the same time, not enough.

Like many other women with autism spectrum disorder, I learned from an early age to “mask” or “camouflage”—hiding or suppressing certain behaviors in order to pass as “normal.” Autistic women aren’t the only people who camouflage aspects of themselves—it’s a behaviour that is seen in autistic men, too, as well as neurotypical people of both genders.1 But women with autism tend to mask to a far greater degree than other groups,2,3 in order to fit into a world that feels alien in many ways. Misunderstanding social rules, facing criticism for being oneself, becoming overwhelmed and exhausted in social situations, and dealing with sensory overload can all lead to consistent masking behaviours in women with autism.

When you have autism, you may feel as if you are constantly adapting to a situation that doesn’t inherently work for you—often, because it doesn’t make any room for your needs and wants. You may learn that you’re not just “shy”; you’re too shy. You’re not just “direct”; you’re too direct. You’re not just enthusiastic; you’re too enthusiastic. Too tantrummy, too obsessive, too blunt, too sensitive—the list goes on.

Inherent in these statements is a strong judgment that your real, authentic self is not acceptable. And so, at the same time as you’re learning to smile, ask questions, put up with people touching you, and stifling your boredom when you’re subjected to small talk, you learn to hide, suppress, and deny those parts of your personality which other people consider less acceptable—until you might end up considering them to be unacceptable, too. After years of internalising the messages around you, you come to the conclusion that not only are you too much, you’re also not enough. Many women mask so efficiently and consistently, they grow up with a lack of self-acceptance and self-worth.

Judging yourself as unacceptable because you’re different from many other people means that you stop listening to and recognising what you need to feel fulfilled in life. It means making choices that don’t fit with your values or meet your needs. And it means that you become fearful of revealing your wonderful personality to the rest of the world because you are scared of rejection and judgment.

Until you can accept who you are and value yourself deeply enough to bring your true, authentic self to others, you will experience an incongruence between your values and your actions. When you keep acting in a certain way because you think you should, even when it feels wrong to you, you will feel anxious and disillusioned. When you fail to get in touch with what excites and nurtures you—because those things are considered “weird” or unnecessary—you will feel unfulfilled. When you cannot reveal who you are and what matters to you, you will feel frustrated and unseen.

Taking the first tentative steps towards authenticity involves getting in touch with who you are and what you need and want out of life. When you’ve spent a lifetime being all things to all people, this can be particularly challenging. It’s a tough call for anybody and especially challenging for someone who is starting from a different point to most people: the point of being neurodiverse in a neurotypical world.

One of the first things you can do to challenge any beliefs you have that you are not good enough, or that your true self is not acceptable, is to work on accepting your autism and the fact that although you may be different from many people, you’re in no way lesser. It’s OK to be quieter or louder than most other people and it’s OK to have different interests.

Far from making you unacceptable, being “too much” for some people is precisely what will help you to succeed in some aspects of life. Your ability to become obsessed with a subject, speak your mind in a direct way, and see the world differently from most people can be what makes you unique and special.

My client Angela summed it up when she told me, “I always felt like I was too much for other people. When I decided to embrace the ‘too much’ part of me, and stopped being scared or embarrassed about it, I finally felt like I was being me for the first time. And I’m learning to like me.”

In my new book, I talk about women and masking and how to move towards authenticity.

New book – Women with Autism

I’m really happy to announce that I’ve just written my first book – about women and autism. I wanted to write the type of book I’d have loved to read in my early days of exploring whether I had autism and what my life would look like as a woman with autism. This book is based on my own experience and the wonderful clients I’ve worked with over the years. I take you through the steps involved in seeking out a diagnosis, coming to terms with having autism and how to move beyond masking, low self-esteem and confusion towards the life you really deserve. It’s available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk as well as in other countries throughout the world.

The Day You Discover You’re the Victim of Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissistic abuse is generally defined as emotionally abusive behaviour on the part of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), although it may also include physical or sexual abuse. I want to focus on narcissistic abuse of an emotional nature because it’s this type of abuse which can be so hard for the person on the receiving end to identify. Of course, abuse of any kind can be confusing for the victim as they may have been persuaded by the perpetrator into thinking they “caused” or “deserved” the abuse, or that the abusive behaviour never took place.

When someone has been emotionally abused, though, it can take a long time to figure out that there was anything wrong with the way they were treated, especially when the perpetrator was charming, manipulative and the picture of a wonderful parent, partner, boss, or friend to the outside world.

You may be suffering from severe depression and anxiety, you may have low self-esteem and engage in self-destructive behaviours and abusive romantic relationships, but it’s hard to point the finger at narcissistic abuse because of its subtle nature. Narcissistic, emotional abuse is intangible—as opposed to more obvious forms of abuse—and it may be shrouded behind a curtain of wealth, respectability, and generosity.

People who have been on the receiving end of narcissistic abuse may display symptoms including:

  • attachment issues
  • problems with decision making
  • weak boundaries between self and others
  • addiction issues
  • anxiety
  • people-pleasing behaviours
  • low self-esteem
  • self-destructive behaviours
  • perfectionist traits

When I’m working with clients who fall into the above category, their first explanation as to why they experience some of these types of symptoms is because there is “something wrong with them.” They are unlikely to accept that someone else’s behaviour—usually a parent—was a causative factor in the problems they currently face. People on the receiving end of narcissist emotional abuse tend to have very low self-esteem and interpret those issues which cause them difficulty as being the result of their inherent inadequacies.

Mandy, a client in her forties, described the ways in which her mother slowly exerted more and more control over her and her siblings, denying Mandy friends of her own age.

“I was taught at home, ostensibly because my brother and I were unhappy at school. I had no friends and when I did occasionally make a friend, Mum would say they only liked me because I was rich. I became so attached to Mum—she told me everything. I was so involved in sticking up for her and became my dad’s enemy. It was very stressful.”

Mandy had suffered from anxiety, depression, and alcohol issues from childhood on. Her difficulties stemmed from the fact that she really didn’t like herself. Her self-talk was full of criticism and she had considered suicide to “end the constant pain.” Despite telling me in detail about her mother’s controlling, critical, self-absorbed behaviour, she found it so hard to accept the links between her upbringing and current issues.

And then, one day, she did.

“I feel pretty furious now, to be honest. And I also don’t know how I didn’t see it. It seems so obvious now. It’s a relief, really.”

Like other victims of narcissistic abuse, Mandy had a long road to recovery, involving various stages from anger, to acceptance, to relief and eventually to self-acceptance. It takes time—sometimes years—to really overcome this type of emotional abuse and move forwards in a positive way and the first step in this process is to take ownership of things which have happened to you in your past when you were in a vulnerable position in the hands of a narcissist.

5 Subtle Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Women

Women with autism often display very different symptoms than men with autism, which may lead to an incorrect diagnosis or failure to be referred for diagnosis.

Not only do many women with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) act in a more socially neurotypical way—usually as a result of having put a considerable amount of effort into learning how to act socially—but the focus of their attention is different to that of men with ASD.

Here are five signs of autism in women:

1. Intense focus on a person/band/celebrity

One of the criteria used for determining ASD—for instance, in Simon Baron-Cohen’s Asperger’s Test1—is an intense focus on “things,” which may be related to collecting and hobbies such as train spotting.

Women with ASD also display very intense interests but, whilst they may be focused on objects, their focus is just as likely to be on people. Girls growing up with ASD may become obsessed with a celebrity or band to the extent that they need to know every single fact about them. Many of my clients who are in relationships become so focused on their partner that they can lose sight of their own needs.

Because a focus on celebrities and people is seen as more “normal” than a focus on collecting model cars or napkin rings, it contributes to the fact that girls and women may fail to be diagnosed with ASD.

2. Anxiety and depression

Like many women, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Having ASD and trying to fit into a neurotypical world is hard, and women can become depressed and anxious as a result of constantly struggling to cope with things that many people find easier. Without a diagnosis of ASD, it’s easy to judge oneself harshly and it’s easy for other people to misunderstand you, both of which can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.

3. Disliking uncomfortable clothes

Many children with autism have sensory issues relating to clothing including sensitivity to fabrics, textures, tags, and comfort. Adult women with ASD may continue to be sensitive when it comes to wearing uncomfortable clothes and may choose comfort and function over style.

Whilst I’m not as sensitive as I was when I was a child—when I couldn’t touch wool or wet nylon and would have a tantrum if there was a tag on my clothes—I still have to cut the top of my socks and always choose comfort over style.

4. Lack of eye contact

Since receiving my own diagnosis and working with other women with ASD, I’ve become more aware of the difficulty women with autism may have in making eye contact. As with other aspects of social interaction, many women have learned to make eye contact and force themselves to do so, but it’s not something that comes naturally and can be quite tiring.

5. Less severe symptoms than men with ASD

Girls with ASD may display less severe symptoms than boys.2 This could be the result of several factors, including a stronger desire to learn socially acceptable ways of acting and repression of certain ASD behaviours. Girls with ASD may also simply be seen as more “quiet”—a quality that is regarded in itself as more socially acceptable.

Confusion

For me, having ASD means being regularly confused. I’m confused about other people’s motives, partly because I don’t pick up on what’s about to come and I don’t understand what’s behind their actions. I tend to be very naïve and take other people at face value. I’m confused when others think I’ve been rude, selfish, or inappropriate when I’ve been trying to act my best.

I have very poor facial recognition which results in regular confusion as people who are completely unknown to me strike up conversations. These days, I try and surround myself with supportive, honest people—but as a younger woman, the social confusion, particularly, meant I was quite open to manipulation and could become very hurt by others’ actions, as I failed to understand what was behind them.

Because of the difference in women’s ASD symptoms and because women may learn to mask their symptoms beneath a veneer of copied neurotypical behaviours, women with ASD are sometimes referred to as being “camouflaged”3 which contributes to the fact that so many women go through life without a diagnosis. Hopefully, as the understanding of women’s presentation of ASD increases, diagnostic criteria will become more encompassing and more women and girls will receive the correct diagnosis.

Sex, Love & Dating for Women with Autism Spectrum Disorder

My partner and I met in quite an unusual way. He had temporarily been living at home with his parents, who were my next-door neighbours. At the time, I was 35 and a single mum to an 8-year-old and he was 31. 

One very hot summer night, he turned up at 3 a.m. and told me that some drunk guys had been hanging about around my car. I thanked him and went to put my car round the back. Half an hour later he turned up again, knocked on the door and told me he fancied me. I invited him in for what ended up being the first in an illicit string of meetings in the middle of the night. No phone calls or meals out. No dates or meeting parents. It was the perfect start to a relationship for me (13 years on and we have a fairly standard relationship). 

At the time, though, my friends wondered what on earth I was getting out of it. Some were shocked that I’d let a (slightly drunk) man into my house in the middle of the night, on the basis that “he fancied me.” 

What they didn’t realise was that this was the ideal way for me to start a relationship, doing away with the need for small talk, dates, or the subtlety of courtship. When you have ASD, it’s incredibly hard to read other people’s signals, including the signals of people who might find you attractive. I’ve had male friends who I’ve been desperately in love with who I discovered, years later, really liked me but felt as if they received no positive response from me. After a conference once, where I hooked up with someone who made his intentions very obvious, a few weeks later the man who I really liked told me he’d spent all evening trying to get my attention by chatting to me and buying me drinks. “I didn’t know what else to do except drop my trousers,” he told me. This lack of ability to read signals of attraction, which makes it hard for a relationship to even get off the ground, is characteristic of many women with ASD (1).

As well as the extreme bluntness of my next-door neighbour (the story he made up about the drunk guys hanging around my car was a complete fabrication providing an excuse to come to my door—I don’t pick up on lies and manipulation), I loved the fact that we didn’t have to go out together. The anxiety of getting ready for a date, the excruciating agony of making small talk, and the discomfort of wearing anything other than a dressing gown after 6 p.m. were horrors I’d experienced often enough. Being able to have deep conversation, a glass of wine, and sex with someone I liked without the hassle of leaving the house was, in my mind, fantastic. 

As well as making it harder to recognise potentially attracted partners, women with ASD tend to experience other relationship problems including becoming obsessed with their romantic interest to the exclusivity of everything else. Unlike men with ASD, who often become intensely focused on objects, women’s attention is often focused on people. My crushes well into adulthood would become all-consuming for me. I never understood how my friends could be in a room and find a few men attractive as I would hone in on one and become obsessed instantaneously. The first time I was dumped by a boyfriend (who I’d only been with for a few months) it took me three years to recover, during which time I regularly sobbed over the “Dear John” letter he’d written me. 

Another common relationship problem faced by women with ASD is in the expectation of being able to fulfill socially-expected gendered roles of being nurturing, caring, and available, given the need for women with ASD to have time for interests, hobbies, work, and time alone. My own clients, and those interviewed by Sarah Hendrickx, often report settling for anyone who was willing to be with them, partly due to the negativity they had experienced in previous relationships as a result of communication issues, sensory issues, intense behaviour, and low self-esteem stemming from problems due to ASD. 

My previous relationships have felt “wrong” and have been plagued with problems from the start. One of the things which is different about my current relationship is recognising that I can’t do things in a particular way just because that’s the “normal” way of doing things. As well as our middle-of-the-night escapades, my partner and I spent the first seven years of our relationship living mainly apart (despite having a baby). If we’d forced ourselves to continue living together, we wouldn’t be together now. Our current living arrangement consists of separate bedrooms. We have as close a relationship as you can imagine, but I need complete silence and space at night, as do many of my clients. I sometimes need to eat alone to recharge and can’t always manage family parties and my partner is accepting and understanding of my needs. 

It’s easy to put yourself down when you have ASD and are in a relationship because your needs don’t conform to the norms, but it’s vital to recognise your needs as completely valid and ensure that these are met within your personal relationships. Finding a supportive partner and constantly working on healthy communication is vital for women with ASD within personal relationships.

If you would like to connect with other women with autism for support and information please visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/womenwithautismauthentically

The Horrors of Small Talk When you have Autism Spectrum Disorder

I started a new Pilates class the other day. One of the women in the class introduced herself and started ‘small talk’ and I was immediately thrown into that familiar, confused state. From my anthropological standpoint, I can absolutely see the value of ‘small talk’ but from a personal point of view I just don’t understand or enjoy it and my responses range from inappropriate jokes to complete silence. I have to pull out my mental notebook with my list of neurotypical responses – gleaned from over 40 years worth of copying what other women do in social situations – which just about enables me to pass myself off as ‘normal.’

Some situations are easier than others. I’m fine on a one-to-one basis with someone with whom I have a deep connection. I’m quite happy teaching a group of students and enjoy attending anything which is organised, from a therapy workshop to a cookery class. Anything which has a structure and clearly defined roles is good with me. What really gets me are the informal, unstructured interactions, particularly in groups. Family parties? I can handle them for about an hour and then I’m so bored, drained and anxious that my go-to since being a teenager is copious amounts of alcohol

Another issue, which affects many people on the autism spectrum, is sensory overload. As a child, I would become stressed, confused and drained very quickly if there was loud music, strong lights and simply too many people. Although I’m less sensitive to this type of sensory stimulation now, too many people, conversations and activities can all bring up those familiar feelings of feeling sick quite rapidly. 

Before my autism diagnosis, I assumed I had Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). I certainly do suffer some social anxiety – and for many people with autism the two conditions can exist hand in hand – but the reason for my social anxiety is a difficulty in knowing what to do and say, problems reading facial expressions, a lack of understanding of the ‘point’ of many interactions and a lack of structure. 

Many people with autism can become isolated due to the difficulties involved in making friends, distinguishing friends from enemies, and acting in socially expected ways. People on the spectrum – in contrast to common perception – often have a need for social connections but it can be very difficult going about initiating and maintaining those connections. 

As an adult who still struggles – and having dealt with clients in similar situations – here are some strategies which can help:
Recognise that your social issues are not due (primarily) to social anxiety. 
Although, like me, you may have developed social anxiety it is important to recognise the impact that being on the autism spectrum has had on your social interactions and to treat this appropriately. Whilst the treatments for social anxiety may focus more on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and exploring the roots as to what’s happened in your past to make you socially anxious, other treatment options may be more suitable when you have a diagnosis of autism. 

Don’t rely on alcohol or drugs. Given the difficulties people with autism may face socially, alcohol or drugs can seem like an obvious choice to diminish the effects of sensory overload, temporarily dampen down anxiety and help conversation, of one type or another, flow. Previously it has been thought that people with autism were less likely to become addicted to these types of substances, but some recent studies have challenged this (1). 

Don’t overdo it. It’s important to be honest with yourself and others and recognise that some social situations are so difficult for you that you should be allowed to say ‘no’. This is vastly different from becoming socially isolated and, in fact, when you start to identify the activities which make you feel socially good from those which completely drain you, you’ll have the energy to do more of the things which energise and support you. I now know the types of events which are going to make me feel ill for up to a day or two afterwards and limit my interaction accordingly. I used to think I was being temperamental. Now I know I’m looking after myself.

Have strategies in place. When you know that you’re going to be in a situation that is likely to be difficult for you socially, have a strategy in place to minimize its impact. For instance, can you pre-agree with your partner exactly what time you will leave? Or could you arrange to pop out for a quick walk or even get some shopping to have a break? Will arriving earlier and having time to settle in or arranging a hotel room for the night help alleviate your stress levels?  

Recharge. It’s very important when you’ve been drained socially and/ or have experienced sensory overload that you give yourself time to recharge. If you need some time alone to do hobbies, read a book or whatever helps you to reconnect, make sure you do it. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is self-indulgent behaviour – it’s essential to your mental and physical wellbeing.

Learn the meaning of social interactions. If understanding the point of social interactions and being able to respond to subtle communication dues doesn’t come naturally to you, social events may always be a bit tough. Copying what other people do and say can help to ‘pass’ but it’s more useful to make an attempt to understand what the point is of things like small talk and lengthy family get-togethers. Why don’t other people want to leave at 6.00 pm on the dot even though that was the suggested finish time? Making an effort to understand what is going on can help you to respond in a deeper way than simply repeating things in a rote manner. 

Acceptance. Most importantly, it’s important to accept who you are and what you need. When you accept that some things are more difficult for you socially because you are on the autism spectrum, you can begin to put into place all the strategies outlined above to support your needs. You can build a social life, which allows the time and space for you to take care of yourself and ensure a balance between alone and social time which is right for you. 

Dealing with the Aftermath of Autistic Meltdowns

“Meltdowns” are something which many people with autism experience and which they may have experienced since childhood. Meltdowns can be distinguished from “tantrums” on the basis of having no end-goal in sight. You don’t have a meltdown because you want to achieve something from it (and the same goes for kids and adults). You have a meltdown because you have absolutely no other way of responding to a situation. In terms of emotional regulation, you’ve completely lost your ability to maintain control. 

Meltdowns may result in you screaming, crying, throwing things, shaking and yelling hurtful comments. They can be scary and damaging to people around you and, when you’ve had a meltdown, chances are you feel pretty bad about the fallout.

So how can you deal with the fallout?

Accept that you did not want to act in this way

If you have autism, your brain is wired in a way which makes it more likely to have meltdowns. Meltdowns can be a response to sensory overload, responsibility overwhelm and even being asked too many questions by someone who is trying to be helpful. Your reaction may have seemed extreme, to you and others, but it didn’t come from a point of purposefully trying to react in an extreme way. You may not like the way you acted and might resolve to work on strategies to help yourself in future situations, but hanging onto guilt and shame about something which you had little control over in the moment can affect your self-esteem and coping strategies.

Have a safe place for the immediate aftermath

Research has shown that people with autism tend to take longer to calm down and gain control after a stressful episode1. It’s important to have a strategy in place which is going to help you during the “calming down” phase and certainly to have a strategy in place which is going to help avoid escalating things again. Do you need to have a room to go to which is free from kids and partners? Do you need to listen to music or a guided meditation? Do you need to be held by someone close to you? Identify what works for you and ensure you go to this point as soon as you can following the meltdown.

Working with those people close to you

Meltdowns have an impact on people close to you and witnessing someone who is having a meltdown can be a disturbing experience. When you are ready to, it is important to discuss your meltdown with those people close, who may have been affected by it. It could also be useful to show them some autistic resources which explain the experiences of other people with autism who experience meltdowns as it can be a very difficult concept for other people to understand. It’s also important to discuss how people can support you in the aftermath of a meltdown. What do you need from your partner/ parent/ friend/ child? They may think that talking things through after your meltdown is helpful whilst you need complete silence for a while. Or perhaps they completely avoid you, whilst it would help you if they came to check on you. Some people might need to talk through the meltdown in order to process it. Whatever works for you, discuss this in advance with those close to you so that they know how they can support you. 

Recognise when a meltdown is coming

Sometimes, we find ourselves plunged straight into a meltdown situation with little or no warning but often we can experience the pre-meltdown signs. Are you starting to feel drained and worn out? Are you in an environment which is causing sensory overload? Are you starting to feel confused, frustrated and unable to express yourself? There is often a build up to a meltdown and, with hindsight, you might be able to recognise those early signs. Take a note of what those signs were for you. What triggered the meltdown? What was the point where things were beginning to feel out of control? How would you have handled the situation differently with the benefit of hindsight? Realising the types of situations which can trigger meltdowns, securing support in the build up period and taking action, such as removing yourself from a situation, can all help to prevent the meltdown from happening. Although hindsight is of no use when it comes to the situation which has passed, it can be useful to take learnings from this situation into future situations which might arise. 

Taking ownership of meltdowns

Nobody likes losing control and many people express feelings of shame about their meltdowns. It can be tempting, following the meltdown, to put it on the backburner and hope it won’t happen again, to ignore it and move on. However, if you have a history of meltdowns, they’re not just going to disappear simply because you’re not happy with the way you acted or because you want to move on from it. It’s important for you to take ownership of the fact that this is something which happens for you and to explore what you can do to help yourself, using all of the strategies listed above. Allowing yourself to engage in “stimming” behaviours, such as rocking, rubbing feet and hand-flapping can also have a calming effect on people in the pre-meltdown phase. Thinking about the meltdown as a peak in terms of a timeline which starts from having self-care strategies, such as ensuring you’ve had enough sleep and are finding ways to manage stress, to the immediate build-up, to the calming down phase can help you regain control. This is in stark contrast to simply hoping that it won’t happen again. 

Although meltdowns and autism tend to go hand in hand for many people, it is possible, with the right strategies in place, to reduce their intensity and frequency. 

Do You Think You Might Have Autism?

As my legs buckled under me, I lunged for a seat, leaving my elderly mum to deal with the doctor’s receptionist. By the time I made it back to the sanctuary of my own home, my partner found me sobbing and rocking in my bed.

I explained about the change in plans that had taken course during the day: the unnecessary trip to yet another supermarket because mum needed a particular brand of tea; the unexpected blood tests which added half an hour on to the doctor’s appointment; the incessant chatter with half a dozen people which meant there was no way I was going to fit a gym workout in. This was day five of my mum’s relocation 100 miles south to be nearer to me and I couldn’t cope with the chaos. 

Cocooned in the peace of my therapist’s chair a couple of days later, I described the mess, the disorder, the lack of structure, and the extreme pandemonium that had accompanied my mum’s move and that had pushed my anxiety levels—which were fairly bad even on a good day—through the roof. I described how her house, which I’d decorated in carefully chosen colour coordinated hues, was trashed already—strewn with plastic bags, dog food, old red cushions. I explained that my carefully constructed routine of school-run, gym, work—which helped to keep my anxiety levels at bay—was out the window.

After listening patiently, the counsellor said, “Have you ever considered that you might be on the autistic spectrum?”

“No…” I replied. Frankly, it wasn’t a thought that had ever occurred to me.

And yet, I began to wonder whether the problems which I’d experienced my entire life could, in fact, be due to autism. Going right back to my earliest childhood, I’d been described as “highly sensitive,” “withdrawn,” and plain old-fashioned “weird.” My numerous phobias, need for order, social anxiety, complete absorption in subjects and extreme sensitivity to noise all fitted with “autism.” But as a woman with a partner and two children, who displayed high empathy not only for my family but for my therapy clients, I didn’t fit what I thought was the autism profile. I was determined to find out more, though—as so much of what the therapist had said resonated deeply with me—so I began to research women and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)1

Here’s what I discovered:

  1. Many girls and women fail to be diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum because they do not meet the diagnostic criteria. When Asperger’s syndrome was first identified, it was thought that it was a condition that only affected boys. In reality, girls present differently and—for instance—instead of displaying an extreme interest in objects, they may display an extreme interest in people. Rather than collecting toy cars, they may “collect” facts about their favourite pop star and become obsessional about a celeb in the same way that a boy may become obsessional about trains.
  2. Girls tend to have more of a drive to be sociable which means that they learn about social behaviours and social cues and mimic the behaviour of other girls and women in order to “fit in.” Like boys on the autism spectrum, they lack the natural ability to pick up and respond to these social cues but they find it easier to “pass” because they put the effort into doing so.
  3. Autistic girls are often called “shy” and the quiet behaviour which characterises many (although not all) girls’ experiences can be considered socially acceptable. 
  4. Girls may become obsessed with characters in books which deviates from diagnostic criteria which identify a lack of interest in fiction as a diagnostic tool.

Like my female clients with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it was easy to see why I hadn’t been diagnosed earlier in life. I had learned to act “normally” in company. I overcame my huge discomfort of being part of a group by organising events, creating rules and structure. I found a career which could be creatively stimulating and allow me to create my own routine.

So why bother to seek out a diagnosis later in life, when you’ve managed to get by so far? Like many women with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I continued to have meltdowns when things didn’t go according to plan. I found it hard to fit with what was culturally expected of me as a “woman.” I suffered extreme anxiety, depression, and exhaustion from just trying to “fit in” and pass as normal. A lifetime of being called “weird” and “sensitive” took its toll on my self-esteem

For a woman with ASD, understanding that there is an explanation for her behaviour can be very empowering as a way of acknowledging the past and moving forwards in a positive way. A diagnosis of autism can also help women of any age to ensure that they are living a life which is right for them—no matter what they feel they “should” be doing.

Many autistic women experience anxiety because they try and accommodate others’ needs, meeting social obligations and putting the needs of kids and partners first. Knowing that she is on the autistic spectrum can empower a woman to say “no” when that is the right thing for her to do. Having a diagnosis of ASD can help a woman recognise that making time for interests, creating a supportive routine, and avoiding an overload of social obligations is crucial to her mental health. 

For support and information please visit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/womenwithautismauthentically

Dealing With The Aftermath of Autistic Meltdowns

“Meltdowns” are something which many people with autism experience and which they may have experienced since childhood. Meltdowns can be distinguished from “tantrums” on the basis of having no end-goal in sight. You don’t have a meltdown because you want to achieve something from it (and the same goes for kids and adults). You have a meltdown because you have absolutely no other way of responding to a situation. In terms of emotional regulation, you’ve completely lost your ability to maintain control. 

Meltdowns may result in you screaming, crying, throwing things, shaking and yelling hurtful comments. They can be scary and damaging to people around you and, when you’ve had a meltdown, chances are you feel pretty bad about the fallout.

So how can you deal with the fallout?

Accept that you did not want to act in this way

If you have autism, your brain is wired in a way which makes it more likely to have meltdowns. Meltdowns can be a response to sensory overload, responsibility overwhelm and even being asked too many questions by someone who is trying to be helpful. Your reaction may have seemed extreme, to you and others, but it didn’t come from a point of purposefully trying to react in an extreme way. You may not like the way you acted and might resolve to work on strategies to help yourself in future situations, but hanging onto guilt and shame about something which you had little control over in the moment can affect your self-esteem and coping strategies.

Have a safe place for the immediate aftermath

Research has shown that people with autism tend to take longer to calm down and gain control after a stressful episode1. It’s important to have a strategy in place which is going to help you during the “calming down” phase and certainly to have a strategy in place which is going to help avoid escalating things again. Do you need to have a room to go to which is free from kids and partners? Do you need to listen to music or a guided meditation? Do you need to be held by someone close to you? Identify what works for you and ensure you go to this point as soon as you can following the meltdown.

Working with those people close to you

Meltdowns have an impact on people close to you and witnessing someone who is having a meltdown can be a disturbing experience. When you are ready to, it is important to discuss your meltdown with those people close, who may have been affected by it. It could also be useful to show them some autistic resources which explain the experiences of other people with autism who experience meltdowns as it can be a very difficult concept for other people to understand. It’s also important to discuss how people can support you in the aftermath of a meltdown. What do you need from your partner/ parent/ friend/ child? They may think that talking things through after your meltdown is helpful whilst you need complete silence for a while. Or perhaps they completely avoid you, whilst it would help you if they came to check on you. Some people might need to talk through the meltdown in order to process it. Whatever works for you, discuss this in advance with those close to you so that they know how they can support you. 

Recognise when a meltdown is coming

Sometimes, we find ourselves plunged straight into a meltdown situation with little or no warning but often we can experience the pre-meltdown signs. Are you starting to feel drained and worn out? Are you in an environment which is causing sensory overload? Are you starting to feel confused, frustrated and unable to express yourself? There is often a build up to a meltdown and, with hindsight, you might be able to recognise those early signs. Take a note of what those signs were for you. What triggered the meltdown? What was the point where things were beginning to feel out of control? How would you have handled the situation differently with the benefit of hindsight? Realising the types of situations which can trigger meltdowns, securing support in the build up period and taking action, such as removing yourself from a situation, can all help to prevent the meltdown from happening. Although hindsight is of no use when it comes to the situation which has passed, it can be useful to take learnings from this situation into future situations which might arise. 

Taking ownership of meltdowns

Nobody likes losing control and many people express feelings of shame about their meltdowns. It can be tempting, following the meltdown, to put it on the backburner and hope it won’t happen again, to ignore it and move on. However, if you have a history of meltdowns, they’re not just going to disappear simply because you’re not happy with the way you acted or because you want to move on from it. It’s important for you to take ownership of the fact that this is something which happens for you and to explore what you can do to help yourself, using all of the strategies listed above. Allowing yourself to engage in “stimming” behaviours, such as rocking, rubbing feet and hand-flapping can also have a calming effect on people in the pre-meltdown phase. Thinking about the meltdown as a peak in terms of a timeline which starts from having self-care strategies, such as ensuring you’ve had enough sleep and are finding ways to manage stress, to the immediate build-up, to the calming down phase can help you regain control. This is in stark contrast to simply hoping that it won’t happen again. 

Although meltdowns and autism tend to go hand in hand for many people, it is possible, with the right strategies in place, to reduce their intensity and frequency. 

  1. Mazefsky, CA, Herrington, J, Siegel, M, Scafa, A, Maddox, BB, Scahill, L, White, SW (2013) The role of emotion regulation in Autism Spectrum Disorder, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 52, 7, 679-688

Clinical hypnosis – what is it?

What is clinical hypnotherapy?

There is some degree of confusion between what is clinical hypnosis as opposed to other forms of hypnosis or hypnotherapy. Hypnosis is simply a state of mind – similar to daydreaming or deep absorption. Hypnotherapy uses methods to create that state of mind in a person with a view to using it therapeutically – for instance, by making positive suggestions based on what a client has defined as their desired therapeutic outcome. Clinical hypnosis, or clinical hypnotherapy, is therapeutically oriented – as opposed to hypnosis which may be used for stage shows, etc.

Clinical hypnosis can be used to help people with a range of issues including weight loss, anxiety and phobias. Clinical hypnosis can also help with a range of conditions which are more usually the preserve of medical doctors – including IBS, chronic illness and pain management. Hypnotherapy can help with these types of conditions by helping with self-esteem and positive perspectives, creating change at a cellular level and providing people with highly effective management tolls. As hypnotherapists, we don’t look at the condition – we look at the person as a whole.

There is a strong connection between our thoughts and emotions and our physical health. We know that stress can lead to and exacerbate hypertension and heart disease, and it is also strongly linked with IBS. There are many other conditions, such as fibromyalgia, which have a strong link with previous life trauma. Clinical hypnosis not only focuses on the present but may also involve looking at and resolving past trauma in order to help people move forward.

If you feel that you would benefit from clinical hypnosis, please don’t hesitate to get in touch for a chat.

Our Diploma in Clinical Hypnotherapy covers all aspects of clinical hypnosis and we have a range of CPD hypnotherapy courses which cover the application of hypnotherapy to a range of medical conditions.

 

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