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I’ve been an actor for more than 20 years, and analysed data for more than 30. I trained at the esteemed University of Western Sydney Nepean in physical theatre and at the University of Sydney where I studied neurophysiology. I’ve also studied a wide range of acting styles and techniques, and have skills raging through voice acting, physical and stand-up comedy and stage fighting making me a versatile actor with an eclectic career.

Sydney based I have lectured and performed around the world. For more info check out the about me page above. For examples of my work have a look through the video and photo pages. For a bio and to get in touch see my contacts page.

Autism Appreciation Month: Work and Autistic folks

Hi folks,

Your friendly neighbourhood autistic here. It’s autism awareness/acceptance/appreciation month so I thought I’d share a couple of great resources for helping yourself and other colleagues interface better, smoother happier, etc.  It’s more specifically Autism Awareness Day on the 2nd April but I was busy with my ADHD taking me in many other directions so … here we are. And I’m going to just assume that you are aware and accepting of us so let’s move onto appreciation.

Of course it’s always good to start with “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” We’re all different and mileage may vary but these below are a good starting point.

Hunter Hansen is a great advocate for autistic professionals and he sounds like Owen Wilson so what’s not to like!  All his content is great but especially relevant are the youtube vids 

Ashlea McKay. Now I’m going to riff of the last Hunter video as a segway into Ashlea’s great advice.  But first a bit about Ashlea.  You’ve heard me mention her in a previous post about using a codeword (banana) to indicate informations processing time in a meeting.  Well she regularly posts tips and thoughts about autism at work in her Quirk Monster Bites on LinkedIn. The one that jumps out at me everytime is about Open Plan offices.  Yeah we all hate them.  The ‘pop-in‘, the ‘have you got a second‘, the ‘I’ll just save you form overwork with my mew tiktok dance‘ – yeah it’s exhausting to us. You can read her take here

Dr Nancy Doyle is neurodivergent and her Genius Within (based in the UK) has a lot of great information about all neurodiversity and advocacy in the workplace.  Her articles on Forbes and posts on social are also worth a read.  Information neurodiversity is here

Neurodiversity Media by Rachel Worsley is the last trip on our tour and definitely not the least. There are an incredible number of free resources for  autistic and ND workers and managers including case studies and advice. They also have Toolkits to help addressing issues and getting every one on the same equitable footing.

Thanks for reading my little autism appreciation and awareness post.  Remember to read autistic/bipoc/trans/disabled voices and listen to what they have to say. Happy holiday if you are having one, and just general happiness even if you are not.

Heath

Neurodiversity vs Martyr Complex (aka gaslighting)

I work a lot I’m told. I’ve often been accused of having a Martyr Complex and frankly I’m a bit over it. This is something that a lot of neurodivergent and autistic folks I’ve talked to have experienced as well and I think I understand the reasons.

Hyperfocus and special interests are things things that are very central to the way neurodivergent people experience the world. Being focused on a single topic for a long period of time is very common to me. Hyperfocus is a state of being where I can keep attending to a single thing for hours and/or days on end. In the work environment it can mean working on a single problem for a week until I finish it.

Breaking out of that is aggravating to the point of painful. Having that done for me by people banging my desk or waving in front of my face for attention, is frankly aggressive and violent. Saying that “but they were only trying to be friendly” is no more a reasonable statement than it was in the 80s when it was used by grabassing men. It needs to stop. Ashlea McKay has been incredibly eloquent in here covering of that here and here when she says “Good intentions do not negate not-so-good impacts. They didn’t mean any harm, but they caused harm and that harm has an impact.

Good intentions do not negate not-so-good impacts. They didn’t mean any harm, but they caused harm and that harm has an impact.

Ashlea McKay – LINKED IN

So let’s talk about the Martyr Complex.

  1. I know my limits. I know how much I can take and when to back off, and I build those into what I can take. Most ND adults are the same. We’re good. Believe us. It’s part of negotiating our spoons budget. Hyperfocusing a task for me is a low cost way of working. I can do a lot of focused work and spend less energy. Let’s say it’s like getting on the freeway – I can zoom away without having to stop and start. But everytime someone interrupts to save me from working to hard I have to get off the freeway and stop – and it costs me more energy. And starting again to get back on the freeway is intense. What it effectively does is blow out our energy budget and can lead to burnout, frustration and meltdowns. All because someone wanted to save me from overwork with their funny tiktok dance.
  2. I don’t work for the same reason as neurotypicals. I don’t do it to earn credit or as a badge of station (sorry Vu). I do it because it is a task that has to get done and it holds my interest. Of course I deserve acknowledgement and I deserve to be respected, but that has nothing to do with a Martyr Complex. Mainly because as an outsider to the social hierarchy there is nothing to gain there. The work gets done because the work needs to get done.
  3. Burnout looks like Martyrdom. So ND folk tend to work different hours to NTs. We work when the flow demands it but hyperfocus doesn’t discriminate. When you are on you are ON. We don’t get halfway through a task and go off to work with the team and pick it up later. HOWEVER we also feel an incredible pressure to conform to what the status quo demands. This is called masking, and many an autistic has written articles about the dangers of masking. So you’ll often find us showing up 9-5 (or in my case 7:30-6 to avoid the public transport peak hour sensory overload) and then also working till midnight while I hyperfocus on a task. In fact working outside of the hours of NTs in open office environments is less energy due to the interruptions and sensory overload being absent. All this masking and extended hours lead to burnout.
  4. Autistic superpowers. Ugh this is hard. The toxic positivity and the need for us to prove ourselves leads to overwork. There is a burden for us to appear infallible as a reaction to the tragedy narrative, and it’s a pressure that leads to overwork and burnout. Dr Nancy Doyle puts it better than I here.
  5. Our Spikey Skill Profiles. A friend reminded me that we get resentment often (and sometimes irrelevant praise) for being great at stuff. Riffing off Nancy Doyle again “Whilst everyone has strengths and difficulties, for neurodiverse people the difference between them is significant.” Of course that depends on what you attribute to the normal that you are different from, what does occur is that we can really shine at some things. This is the superpowers at work. In this case though they can create a friction with colleagues when this is looked at as competition. Us being good at something, and sacrificing ourselves to be good at it, can leave them feeling inadequate. They don’t understand we’re not competing with them, we’re competing with ourselves.
  6. Work social functions are a nightmare! I get panic attacks at staff BBQs and social functions. There are too many conversations to focus on, incredible amounts of sensory overload and social games that I’ll never be able to understand. The amount of focus that requires is incredible and I hate it. But not attending these functions can have serious implications on promotion and advancement, as has been documented by the feminist and BIPOC movements in detail. Also not attending tends to attract Martyr labels.
  7. Personal time. What I do with it is my business. What neurodivergent people do with their time is their own business. If I have a special interest in (for example) organising mental health forums for in arts and culture and that gives me energy and satisfaction then that is great. I’ve been told that I’m hopeless and that I can’t help myself [being a work addict] because I follow my special interests rather than “go out with friends”. This is just gaslighting. One might not understand a person’s interests but there is no need to minimise them because one doesn’t get it.

So can we agree not to do this? Using the Martyr slur against neurodivergent and autistic folk is gaslighting. No one is wanting you to feel bad. By and large that wouldn’t even occur to us. The more you can help us shake off masking and stop gaslighting the easier it’ll be for us all.

Special thanks to Carrie Beesley and Mel Granchi for their input

Foxtel - Cold Blooded
Foxtel – Cold Blooded

“I never consider myself in competition with anyone, and I’m not saying that from an arrogant standpoint, it’s just that my journey started so, so long ago, and I’m still on it and I won’t stand still.”

idris elba

Neurodiversity and communications

The below is a draft that I wrote in late Jan after a talk I gave. It was a bit raw to post then and I wanted some perspective before I did it. It was a panel discussion I really wanted to do but felt a substantial loss after doing it. I realise that that a lot of the issues were

_____________________

At the moment I’m bouncing back from a talk I gave yesterday. It’s hard to want to/be responsible for representing everyone at a non inclusive environment at a non inclusive time. The invisible labour is intense,additional managing to juggle so many things at once (just talking about the presentation not nearly including the life/work things happening at that precise moment), and tactically making one’s way through the conversation was additionally a burden. I’m not crashing but I’m steering my plane through shakey weather.

Structure
So why was the presentation hard. Note that doing this is a CSI into what happened. Autistics (and indeed all ND folks) work differently than neurotypical folks. Personally it’s been a battle that I’ve had in every workplace that I’ve ever been in. Call a meeting with no agenda and talk about what you have on your plate. What I find in most meetings is that the person with the most status gets the voice. That wasn’t the case with this presentation but we did have very light structure. Walking in there (virtually) was fairly nightmarish. I was hoping that my passion and skills were getting me through the discussion, as I do with most departmental meetings in my life, feeling like a battle. But not knowing what was going to happen and not being able to rely on props/slides/what have you, was difficult.

Accessibility
I found that the virtual conference was difficult. The dates were in US format and the times were locked to USA eastern standard time. I don’t know why. It surely didn’t need to be. And as a presenter I had no idea where my room was which added to a sensory burden that I didn’t need.

The platform itself was very bandwidth heavy and as a consequence I needed to log out and lower my screen resolution, change to windowed mode and hope for the best in order to participate. It was geared for business level connection but I was at home at 5am and using my home broadband and had to switch to using my phone wifi as a hotspot.

Maybe the most difficult was something that I thought was going to be a problem. The webcam and reliance on cues. I can usually get by on in person panel discussions by throwing back to a moderator or raising my hand. This was a completely different story. Being so locked into trying to assess nonverbal cues and extraneous information was exhausting and made it very difficult to do. In fact getting back into the lecture after rebooting my connection lead to the issue of alerting the moderator to my presence which is a social game that I don’t know how to play.

And the time. 5:30am. I’ve done a few podcasts and presentations over the past 2 years at these early hours – from midnight to 7am. I’m very eager to lend a hand and soldier on. One of the main reasons though for saying yes to these times, and to be honest saying yes to most things is alexithymia. The way I know how I’m feeling is by observing my own reactions. Most of the time I won’t know that I’m upset, tired or angry unless I analyse my behaviour. So I’m really good for getting up at 3am and doing a lecture – but it will have a negative impact on my executive functioning that will take additional resources to get through. I won’t feel grumpy, and I won’t notice my boundaries being crossed.

Summary

I realise that things have to change. The world won’t change and I can’t expect it to instinctively be inclusive as much as I’d like it to. So I need to get better at telegraphing my needs. That’s difficult when I’m working them out still, but in doing that there’s a better chance that the world (or the people in it) will remember the things for the next person.

_____________________

It’s been tricky this year. I realised how much I gained and lost. This is especially true of the autistic community. Of our little community. Pre and Post the mid year it went from strength to failure. I’m glad that I met so many people that validated my feelings by just existing and feeling so similar to my experience. The change from alienation to representation was like an incredible dream. The loss of people and a community was devastating. And returning to the neurotypical world (in the return to work) has been like smiling my way through loss. I need some time to process that change

image: Cyril Cayssalie https://www.instagram.com/cycaphotography

Autistic Pride

I’m proudly autistic. I don’t feel any shame about it. I don’t believe in luck or blessing but those terms are also things I feel with respect to autism. “Lucky” and “blessing” are proud adjacent for me.

“Pride: feeling deep pleasure or satisfaction as a result of one’s own achievements, qualities, or possessions or those of someone with whom one is closely associated.”

I’m proud of my community; the struggles that they face daily and the achievements that they have made in a disabling environment; their self advocacy in the face of being spoken about and over by neurotypical professionals; their ability to create a community and community support through multiple forms of social isolation.

I’m proud of my own achievements despite adversity, victimisation and pressure to conform to a standard that I am not made for.

I’m proud to stand alongside other challenged minorities whether I am a part of them by constituency or as an ally. We are equal in our greatness and worth. We are powerful and strong in our mutual support and understanding.

We all stumble and make mistakes but we move forward. I’m proud of that.

 

Autism and sensory overload

Was having an insta-chat with a parent of an autistic child and special needs educator about learning how to modulate sensory sensitivities and thought I’d share with the group.  It was good to have a positive conversation with parent of … There is an understandable rift between parents of autistic kids and autistic adults and there is a lot of reason for this.  Hopefully we can bridge a gap though.  We are really all fighting for the same equality and a less disabling world leads to whole and empowered autistic adults.

THEM: My question is this: if we don’t teach some desensitization so they can learn self-regulation techniques and maybe be able to tolerate things like stores and doctor’s offices, how do we prepare them to be functioning members of the community and be able to be as independent as they can be based on level of functioning of course? Not trying to offend anyone, especially the autistic community. Just a curious question.😊

ME: As a 49 yo autistic adult trying to hold down a join in an “open office” it’s never easier. I’ve never desensitised. But teaching your little marvel to be brave and strong might be better as its less dismissive. I can take the pain and disorientation but the gas lighting was the thing that made my life hard. Not believing in myself hurt my communication between me and NTs and crushed my spirit (ie depression) 🌻

THEM: That makes sense. My daughter suffers the “she doesn’t look autistic” syndrome and the “well, she can talk so why can’t she just behave” idiocy. There are some things she simply cannot tolerate even after trying and that’s just fine. I like to give her and my students a chance so I can truly see where they are at. This is a great response. Thank you so much for your honesty and kindness. 💜

ME: thank you for being such a wonderful parent and mentor. 😊

Waiting for….

Ok I’m angry. Fair warning.

I had four meetings today. The first was at 9am. I skipped gym to prepare. The last was at 3:30. I had to skip meeting 3 because it relocated and i wouldn’t have time to prep meeting 4 so I bowed out in favour of my team expert instead.

Meeting one. Canceled 15 minutes before due to being too busy. I missed gym.

Now gym for me is nothing athletic. I’m no fitness expert or body beautiful. 20 minutes of jogging in place is 100% for my mental health. Without it comes anxiety and a serious drop in performance.Meetings

So I’d prepped for a meeting that didn’t happen because of bad time management; and i was feeling crappy.

Meeting four. Cancelled 4 minutes after the meeting was due to start because they had booked back to back meetings that had run over. This time I’d prepped through lunch for the meeting.

I did an envelope calculation and 50% of meetings don’t happen because of double booking or overruns.

Now I’m not a fan of meetings at the best of times. They are frequently superfluous and full of the wrong people. And often when they are called they have no agenda and no takeaways and no goals. I do however prep for all meetings. If I’m there i mean to be there 100%.

That’s why I’m looking at transforming my local work structure. My goal is my own team is to set up a Agile/Scrum system to improve my so so project management skills and eliminate unnecessary meetings.

The complete SQL of H.P. Lovecraft

Well this is a little nerdy (non-surprise) but sometimes when delving into the dark recesses of your SQL database you come across some scary stuff.  Places where the foreign keys are very foreign  …

That being said I think that it’s always worth saying that, as influential as the work of H.P. Lovecraft is, his extreme xenophobia and racism needs to be acknowledged and criticized.

ANZTRUC

Proof (for my boss) that I actually did do some work at ANZTRUC 😀

San Francisco post TLCC

So I made it here on my own. I am nervous and surprised that it seems to be working out OK. My trust levels are never high and travelling on my own always pushes my anxiety up. My ambition and my fear are at constant odds.

There was a good exchange at TLCC this year from participants. Someone reached out with her experience that the conference can be so socially challenging to the point of overwhelming. There were a lot of responses to the affirmative and I suspect a lot more in silent agreement. I think even stronger was the message that this is felt by many. We are not alone and we don’t have to suffer in silence.

Just writng this I want to propose a panel discussion on this. Just our experiences and how we cope.

Stay tuned!

2017 **PHEW**

So that was a year!  New job and career change for me and a BIG change of strategy for my new work.  It was a great upgrade in my work life but a massive responsibility.  We came through it fantastically but at 65 hours a week plus travel I’ve been exhausted.

The good thing is that my second job is related but in the coal face; something I’m really good and confident at.  I’m in a big organisation there which gives me a place to look at best work practice. And I’m great at that stuff which helps with the confidence and planning.

To be honest I was dreading coming back to work after the break.  It seemed like though I’d put a mountain behind me there was a mountain range stretched out in front.  A couple of things though helped me get back on track.  The first was sitting down on the first day back and working on a Trello board.  Trello is an online Project Management tool that I’d been introduced to during the planning for the business ticketing/website launch.  I set up columns for each department that had me in their sights and listed every think I could think of with a reasonable delivery day attached.  Inside each of these columns I put Job “cards” that hold the deadlines, Checklists of things to do, and comments.  Truth is I actually I set this this online during job 2, in the quiet moments before I got back. Once i had that done the panic dropped a bit.

Just something that I’ve said before.  I find that my panic levels drop when I chunk out the work.  Then it’s just putting one foot in front of the other.  My partner does this with backs of envelopes to great effect.

Anyway back to the mountaineering. Try Trello if you get the chance.  I’ve used it to even organise my Dungeons and Dragons game so it can’t be too nerdy right?!