As part of I AM’s mission to celebrate autism with the wider world, we’re happy to present the latest in a series of our ’10 questions with…’ series, this time featuring insights from autistic mother and PhD candidate on the autistic birth experience Hayley Morgan:
1. If you could change any aspect of having autism, what would it be?
I wouldn’t change my neurotype as this would mean fundamental shifts in my personality, relationships and hobbies. What I would change would be the perceptions of others in the wider world. I don’t want or need sympathy but rather equity in terms of basic needs, adjustments and wider determinants of health such as equal access to quality healthcare. Sometimes I wish my hearing and sense of smell weren’t so acute, but it would mean altering the joy I get from sniffing my toddler’s hair or smelling my favourite spices in homecooked dishes. Other times I wish I wasn’t as empathetic as I am because it can be emotionally draining. I liken it to radiation, I sense other people’s emotions at my very core without even looking directly into their eyes. However, I think this makes me a good friend and mother. So, to not be autistic, or to alter autism would change so much of what I love I couldn’t possibly wish for different.
2. What challenges have you had to overcome following a diagnosis of Autism?
The first thing that comes to mind is undoing 30 years of internalised ableism and letting go of the idea of ‘normal’. It’s been a lot of emotional work – taking time to untangle what my core values are from the ones I’ve mimicked for so long. Since my formal diagnosis, it’s been a long journey of self-forgiveness and I don’t see the journey ending soon, or, at all. I’ve had to re-learn many behaviours and learn brand new ones- especially learning how to deal with other people’s reactions once I’ve disclosed my diagnosis. The stereotypes some people have of autistic individuals can be tiring once you’ve encountered them hundreds of times but I do believe most people are genuinely keen to learn and adapt. I’ve realised that even stereotypes can come from a good place I.e. that person took the time to learn a little bit about autism and wants to apply that to me as an individual. It may not always help, sometimes it can work against us, but I try to work with it and help people take on that little bit of extra knowledge.
3. What annoys you about people’s perception of autism?
The underlying issue is a blanket perception, a stereotype or attaching a morality to the whole autistic population. You cannot judge my motivations, likes, dislikes or ethical code just because I’ve disclosed my autism diagnosis. We are just as varied a population as neurotypical people, this isn’t negated by the fact we share similar brain processes in some areas.
4. Are there any benefits to having autism?
I was diagnosed soon after I gave birth to my second child. As such, understanding my autistic identity is intertwined deeply with becoming a mother. Being autistic shapes my parenting style, for sure. I’m not claiming it makes me a better parent but there are aspects of my neurotype that I think lend themselves well to parenting. I believe post-diagnosis unmasking while becoming a mother has meant that I take time to understand my childrens’ wants, needs and idiosyncrasies without imposing my own social requirements on them. For example, this past week I helped my son decode the language used in some schoolyard conversation that had initially upset him. Having an outsider view of social interaction, and a linguistic-leaning brain, I plotted out the facts and then discussed his feelings. Being logical can help balance what I lack in social instinct.
5. You are an academic and have an MSc in Autism and Related Conditions. Have you always been academic and what do you want to do after your studies have finished?
I wouldn’t consider myself an academic. I’m unsure if this is Imposter Syndrome, some hangover of internalised ableism or a mixture of things. I believe I’ve played to my strengths- research, thinking critically and writing are things I enjoy doing. I feel like I’m doing a small part in what is a very complex, but fabulous, community. I hope my studies never finish, I hope year on year I learn and reassess. I’d like to think my autistic voice can become one of influence one day so I can signpost other researchers to our community values.
6. When you are not studying, what do you like to do?
Outside of pandemic restrictions, I love to train in martial arts, taekwondo and kickboxing. It’s similar to science in that you’re always trying to improve and advance. I also love birds- corvids in particular for their serious faces and intelligence. I’m happiest when my children play in the garden, while I watch jackdaws and corvids dart about with a cup of tea in my hands.
7. Who inspires you and why?
I think that changes throughout the lifespan for the most part. But for a good few years, I’ve looked up to Damian Milton for his game-changing Double Empathy Problem which I think I bring up in conversation or work every day. I am in awe of trailblazers in maternal health matters and the well-being of mothers. Those with strong voices and beautiful writing/speaking styles really have my heart. At the moment Candice Brathwaite, Mars Lord and Cathy Kamara are inspiring me to write and advocate.
8. If you could lead your life by one motto, what would it be?
I’m not sure about a motto, but I do strongly believe in the power of self-forgiveness. This helps people understand their own behaviour, that of others, and potentially discover their own beliefs and shed the ones taught to them. That said, I do like the saying that addresses the ‘We’re all a little bit autistic, aren’t we?’ saying. The response should be “No, not all human behaviours are ‘a little bit autistic’ but all autistic behaviours are human.”
9. Where do you see yourself in one year’s time?
Still working on my PhD, still learning and writing. Nerd heaven.
10. What three things make you smile and why?
- My children correcting me or calling me out. I live for it! I’ve got two very critical little thinkers at home and I love that they often unapologetically disagree with me.
- Small acts of kindness. Taking the time to appreciate what makes someone happy, and understanding why it makes them happy, is a beautiful thing.
- Hot Ceylon tea. The fact that I can drink it hot will mean that the children are accounted for and happy, that I’m not rushing anywhere or stressed.
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