Shadia Hancock/ April 6, 2019

CW: Meltdowns discussed. As you know, I always try and be optimistic and a positive voice on this page. I pride myself on being a role model for my mentees and helping people be better connected.

But always being positive is not realistic. And I thought “What message would I like to send my mentees? That they should hide their feelings and feel the need to be happy all the time, or be open about their emotions?” Hence my candid photo.

Today was one such day. I hear all the time not just to me, “Oh you don’t get my child/client, you are too high functioning! You are too intelligent!” Well today was one of my low-functioning days. Today I burnt out. Today I had a meltdown. And I want to shed a light onto how negativity can affect us.

I want to say this: words carry power. Words carry history. Words carry emotion. Which is why I implore you to be mindful of how you use your words.

Especially during April Autism Month. So many of my Autistic tribe members have to disconnect entirely. Invariably because of the negativity. Because of feeling shut down. Because they feel invalidated.

Words carry power.

The fact of the matter is, we live in a world that isn’t accessible or Autism friendly. So many of us feel the need to mask just to function in daily life and society. And for a lot of us, it is only now that we are learning to remove it. And for some they aren’t quite at that point yet.

Today my mask failed. Today, in a train, my Autistic characteristics were obvious. And I realise based on the reactions around me that there is still work to be done.

People stared. People were unsure. People moved away from me. And all it did was make me feel vulnerable and exposed. But then, destiny brought me an angel. I felt a tap on the hand asking me the beautiful question “Are you alright? What can I do to help?” I looked up into this woman’s eyes and I immediately unmasked. I told her I was Autistic. I told her I was in meltdown. I told her how hard it was. And she empathised. Because she is Autistic too. This moment of connection gave me hope. It gave me guidance. I am forever grateful to her. We spoke about masking, how it takes a toll, how we strive so hard just to keep up with our busy lives. And finally I didn’t feel invisible any longer.

And I started thinking about the expectations of myself I had placed based on what I thought other people wanted from me. To be strong. And then I realised – my sensitivity was strength. My ability to feel so deeply and be connected so deeply was a strength. And that my meltdowns are a part of me that I should NEVER feel ashamed of.

Why am I sharing this? Because I want you to see that meltdowns are not a bad thing. It is a way of us responding to the world. It is us showing our sensitivities. We are not tragedies. We are not broken. We do not want to be cured, and we do not want to be fixed.

Words carry power.

Please use them wisely, and mindfully, and respectfully.

We are sensitive and empathic.

A lot of us carry trauma.

Treat us carefully. Please.

And to my mentees and fellow Autistics – we are strong, we are beautiful, and we should never feel ashamed. Use your sensitivities and channel it into the things that you love. Be you. People will love you for it.

Thank you for being here on my journey. Thank you for listening to my story. This Autism Acceptance Month (and every other month for that matter) listen to as many as possible. We are here, and we are here to stay.

~ Shadia

#TakeTheMaskOff #AutismAcceptanceMonth #ActuallyAutistic #acceptance #understanding

About Shadia Hancock

Shadia is the proud owner, and founder of Autism Actually, and enjoys presenting and mentoring. Shadia is committed to empowering fellow Autistic and neurodivergent individuals and helping them reach their true potential. Shadia is currently studying Bachelor of Speech Pathology with the hope of providing animal assisted therapy for neurodivergent individuals. Shadia was diagnosed with Autism at the age of three, and Generalised Anxiety Disorder at the age of 14. Shadia came out as non-binary in early 2018 and loves talking about Autism and gender issues. Shadia benefitted from numerous early supports such as speech therapy and occupational therapy. Shadia is very passionate about sharing information about what it is like to be on the spectrum.