Directors Perspective (part 2) – Autism Acceptance Week

A post written by Dates-n-Mates Aberdeen Director - Sarah Paterson


I have unfortunately been in situations where I’ve literally had people tell me that I “don’t look disabled enough”, which is one of the most ridiculous yet laughable comments I have ever received. This is one of the many examples of ableism where I was being treated less favourably because of my disability. I’ve also had people assuming that it would be impossible or unlikely for me to achieve any personal and specific goals because of my disability. I have even had people who were happy to have a conversation with me but at the same time would proceed to speak to me in a patronising tone like I was a child. This had made me feel isolated and undeserving of having the same opportunities as everyone else to live a happy life with positive benefits. 

But I began to learn healthy ways to never let those negative experiences affect me. My personal coping mechanism is to laugh at those moments and never take those words and actions so seriously by focussing on myself and what I know is best for me. 

Overcoming Communication Struggles

Socialising with people is much easier for me now than it was when I was younger. It has taken me a long time to finally learn and realise not only how to make meaningful friendships with people I can trust and open up to, who I am very lucky to have in my life right now but to recognise any red flags that may pop up and avoid getting myself hurt from people who I shouldn’t associate with. 

The thing I learned about social situations that has changed my life is learning how to have balance and recognising specific things that trigger my sensory overload. For example, I still have my moments where if I am at a house party with my friends and there is too many things happening at once such as multiple people talking, tv on in the background at a high volume, etc, I will feel uncomfortable and overloaded and then I will excuse myself to go to another room or go outside for fresh air to recharge so I don’t go straight into burnout mode. I also know if there are days that I don’t feel like seeing or speaking to people, it means that I am recharging and this step has actually improved on my mental health massively. 

Struggles with Sensory Overload and Masking

I don’t cope well with loud sounds and tend to cover my ears or listen to music to block out any unwanted sounds which helps me regulate my thoughts. Every time I experience any form of sensory overload, I become uncomfortable and irritable but I immediately excuse myself and come back to the room when I am ready. Whenever I would express any form of discomfort, I would often get told to stop being dramatic which led me to supress how I felt. I personally never knew what masking was until I heard about it and realised that that was what I was doing all my life. I have realised that this way of supressing my emotions in an attempt for me to fit in and I hid my traits in order to seek approval and validation. I realised in my adult life that this was not a healthy way of living and I began to embrace myself and my autism.

What I Have Learned About Myself Throughout My Journey

I have learned to never feel pressured into socialising if I am not in the mindset for it during burnout. Burnout was never something I became aware of until I did my own research about ways to cope with stressful and overwhelming situations. I have learned that it is okay to speak up when I am having a bad day and need someone to talk to. 

Please note, this post is by one of our colleagues on their personal experiences. As a reminder, autism is not a learning disability on its own so autistic people are not eligible to become members unless they also have a learning disability.

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