I’ve always enjoyed being a social worker. During the past 40 years, I’ve worked in a variety of settings. I started off with a focus on addictions and families. I worked in treatment centers and hospitals in my early years. Over time, I started my own private practice. I became very drawn to play therapy, got some specialized training, and then “played” in therapy with kids.
At that time, a lot of kids were coming in with diagnoses of Asperger’s and autism. I didn’t know much about it, so I thought I should do some reading. I remember THE evening that changed everything. I was sitting in front of the wood stove with my purring cats, and perusing Aspergirls by autistic author Rudy Simone. She described the typical autistic woman: probably lives alone with pets, has minimal social life, likes quiet evenings reading in front of the fire …. It sure sounded like me, but couldn’t be since it didn’t run in either of my parents’ families. And then it hit: Uncle Larry. He was so quiet and withdrawn, and rarely spent time with family and friends. He HAD to have been autistic. Then others came to mind. It DOES run in my family!!
In an instant I knew: I am autistic. My whole life has been as an autistic girl and woman. I didn’t know what all this meant for me as a person, and I especially didn’t know what it meant for me as a social worker. But I HAD to keep it a secret, didn’t I? If parents knew I was autistic, would they want me seeing their kids? Would it impact my credentials? But what would it mean to other autistics if I were an “out autistic social worker?” I felt I owed it to the other autistic adults in the world to be visible. I asked a neuro-psychologist colleague to confirm the diagnosis for me first. Then I began calling myself an “autistic social worker.”
In many ways, that’s when my real life began. It’s when I recognized that I lived behind a mask. I started trying to get to know who was there. But it was lonely for a long time until I began finding other autistic therapists. A client told me about a website called “Square Peg” and said that the moderator, Amy Richards, had a podcast where she interviewed autistic women and nonbinary people. She had interviewed other autistic therapists, and my client gave my name to Amy. When Amy interviewed me, I talked about how lonely it was being an openly autistic therapist. She told me there were others – some she had interviewed. She recommended a Facebook group for Autistic Counselors and Psychotherapists. I was enthralled and applied for membership right away. There are about 400 members from around the world – most of them in Great Britain. We started having Zoom meetings where we could come together and talk about our mutual experiences from vastly different cultures. I was amazed at the diversity in how autism is understood and how autistic therapists are viewed. We’ve decided to write a book together about being autistic therapists.
I have come to feel that I belong in the world, that there is a place for me here, and I have something useful to do. And I’m not doing it alone; I’m part of a world-wide community of autistic therapists.
I spent over 60 years ashamed of my autistic characteristics and trying to hide them. Now, I am filled with joy that these same characteristics allow me to be helpful to other autistics.
I see colleagues from other professions – such as M.D.’s – claiming their autism. I am so proud of all of us. And I’m very excited about the upcoming AANE conference to meet and hear from other autistic professionals!