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

Autism Spectrum Disorder

“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.

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.