Autism Interview #203: Molly Smith on Navigating Environments

Molly Smith is an autistic, chronically ill, transplant recipient from Cambridgeshire, UK.

She loves spending time with her dog, rainbows, Disney, finding bargains, doing jigsaws and Nintendo gaming. She blogs about her life at http://mollysmusingsonlife.wordpress.com/.

This week she shared her experiences managing her social, public and medical environments.

How/when did you become aware of your autism diagnosis?

I wasn’t diagnosed til my late teens/early 20s.

A psychologist I saw regularly as a child told my parents they suspected I was autistic when I was about 7 or 8 years old, but because I had so much going on with my physical health and my parents thought a ‘label’ may do more harm than good, that wasn’t progressed any further.

I was always aware I was different and never felt I fit in, but didn’t know why. I wish my parents had had me diagnosed as a child because I feel that would have helped me to better understand myself and my situation at a younger age.

As a teenager I once again had a lot going on with my physical health, but once that all settled in my late teens, I began to suspect I may be autistic. So I did my own research which made me more and more confident I was correct. I then took my suspicions to my GP who referred me to a local autism service where I got my diagnosis.

What public spaces have you frequented that you’ve believed to be truly inclusive? Describe why you felt that way.

I can’t think of any.

What environments/situations do you find overwhelming?

Ones where there are multiple sources of audio I can hear, such as lots of people talking at once or multiple people talking and background music. I struggle to isolate and focus on the audio I need to or sometimes even my own thoughts.

Specific loud sounds which are out of my control, like the vacuum cleaner or someone else’s choice of music.

Fluorescent lighting makes me feel very spaced out.

When I need to make multiple decisions under pressure.

Social gatherings where there are lots of people.

Wearing clothes which I find uncomfortable.

What’s the best way someone can support you when you are feeling overwhelmed?

They can help me to get away from environmental factors which are making me or contributing to me being overwhelmed. Or if this isn’t possible, then they can remind/encourage me to use tools such as earplugs or eardefenders, sunglasses, fidget toys etc. And not belittling my struggles is very important.

If you feel comfortable discussing, share your experiences as an Autistic hospital patient. Did the hospital staff have a solid understanding of autism and were your needs met at that time?

No and no. I think because I don’t have learning disabilities, hospital staff don’t see and understand how my autism affects me. I find staying in a bay with other patients and the lack of privacy it brings very difficult, but I’ve never received any help with that. In fact I feel that when I’m in the hospital, I’m treated just as any neurotypical person would be, and that doesn’t work for me.

The only times my autism has been taken into account are on a couple of occasions when I’ve needed outpatient procedures, and when I’ve told staff I’m autistic, they’ve allowed a parent or carer to stay with me rather than me having to go through it alone.

What are you most passionate about?

I don’t know. I’ve found special interests/passions very helpful in the past, but I don’t have one at the moment and feel my mental health is suffering as a result. There are things I’m interested in, but none that I’d say I’m passionate about.

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