For 28 years, I have lived my life in what I like to call “manual mode.” Unlike an automatic transmission vehicle where gear changes happen with minimal input from the driver, a manual transmission requires constant input from the driver. In order to maintain control in my daily life, I must be aware of all the smaller details, my surroundings, and rely on careful timing to engage in the next sequence. To me, this is what it feels like to be autistic.
During graduate school, I thought long and hard about whether to disclose to my colleagues or my clients that I am on the spectrum, as I initially thought it would negatively impact my career. Unfortunately, societal views of autism are far behind what we actually know about autism. Consequently, this stigma has left many feeling defeated and hopeless when presented with an autism diagnosis. However, since “coming out” as autistic, I have seen so many new opportunities unfold, not only for myself, but for my clients and their families. In a sense, I have become an “accidental expert” in the field of autism, and this has allowed me to instill hope instead of fear in those who have been diagnosed as well as their families.
For the last two years, I have worked as a licensed clinician practicing with both neurotypical and neurodiverse populations. I have found that my neurodiverse clients, as well as their parents/families not only appreciate my role as their therapist, but value the insight I can provide as an autistic therapist.
One of the ways my autism helps me to excel in my career is that I am excellent at problem-solving, which is what many people come to therapy for. I am also able to recognize patterns very quickly, which is helpful in assessment and observation of behaviors. Psychology is one of my special interests, and I am always eager to grow and learn more information so that I can help others in the best way that I can.
The Autism spectrum is not linear. It doesn’t have a high-functioning end and a low-functioning end. Every single person on it has different strengths and weaknesses. To quote one of my favorite advocates of Autism Acceptance, Dr. Stephen Shore, “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all with autism.
Happy Autism Acceptance Month!
Michaela Henderson, LPCA, NCC Outpatient Therapist
Published on April 28, 2022