Gabrielle Hall

@gabrielleheart | contributor
I am autistic Woman, Carer and Holistic Self Care Mentor. I want to learn and share with those who get it!
Gabrielle Hall

How Mindfulness Helps With the Challenges of Having Autism

Using a mindfulness approach, I can now lean into the sharp feelings I used to turn from. As I have befriended them, I have also befriended me. The Past Since I can remember I thought something was wrong with me. I lived in a world full of “too’s.” Too quiet, too monotone, too meek, too emotional, too serious, too anxious or too exhausted. Eventually I just tried too hard or I didn’t try at all. Trying to be myself, or being what I thought others wanted didn’t work. I spent my life trying to like me and trying to get others to like me too. Determined to find more peace, I sought many methods to heal and prevent more pain. I was progressively getting more peaceful and contented in moments on my own. Then people would just keep happening. Again and again people kept on happening. I felt that people were good, but not for or to me. I was baffled. I often liked me on my own or with a trusted few, but generally not with most. I’m not sure if that’s because people didn’t like me or if my discomfort made them ill at ease. Maybe both? Either way I tried and tried and tried, and spent many years confused, hurt and often lonely. It was like I had no skin; everything got through. The years of incongruence, anxiety, rejection and exclusion left me feeling, tired, helpless and so shamed. I felt others must have known why I was “defective,” but I didn’t. It was like a secret they all knew. I felt ashamed of my ignorance and incapacity to remedy it. It left me constantly ill at ease and vulnerable. I had some solid friendships and real connections, but I was always ready and raw for more hurt. It became a predictable cycle at a new job or school. Folks were initially friendly, but my lack of social skills, fear and anxiety left me odd and they turned away or against me. I always had great hopes of a new start, but the difficulties started again. The First Diagnosis In 2014, I was 41. The elder of our two kids was diagnosed as autistic at age 3. I had another challenge to fight, now not just for me, but for him. How could I teach my son about overcoming social deficits, sensory overwhelm and being organized when I was bemused about my own capacities? The memories of my past hurts just never seemed to end. Can some of you relate? I assume I’m not the only one. I wonder how many other undiagnosed adults live as I did. My son’s diagnosis was the start of a new beginning for me. His diagnosis was a blessing, the first of so many unexpected blessings of autism. Before, I tried to fix me. Now I understand, accept, empower and heal me. Nothing is wrong, just different. Since his diagnosis we have had some rough times, but at least now I know why. I have many new tools to help us all to know when to get assistance, or when to accept and work with what is. Understanding my traits has changed how I look at my past and current circumstances. I give life a great go and always do my best. But now I have the right questions, so I can get my right answers and solutions. I have found my tribe, a loner finding a band of good and brave others. Now that both kids are on a great trajectory, I can start to look after me and really tip my toes into my own neurology. I’m starting to understand and be at peace with my and my family’s unique cluster of challenges and strengths. Initially I was raw, in pain and ached from the years of abrasive and rough interactions. I was deeply ashamed of my journey. I had tried to keep an open heart, but it was reserved for so few. In the past meditation, Buddhism, new age spirituality and a bookshelf of self-help books all helped ease in more inner peace. I was officially diagnosed in 2016. Then in 2017, my daughter was diagnosed at age 5. Her diagnosis was a relief, as it can be difficult to get girls diagnosed to get access to support and funding. By then my identity had transformed from broken to empowered. Mindfulness Transforms After his diagnosis and my own self-diagnosis, autism became a passionate interest for me, as well as self-acceptance for myself and my kids. I found mindfulness meditation. I discovered self-compassion was the core, and that allowing and accepting my past and current painful experiences would allow them to dissolve. As I began to lean into my feelings and was curious about them, they eased. I observed them and they withered. Then wow, they yielded. Trickled to nowhere, leaving a space for a little more acceptance, relaxation and positivity. I do not meditate daily, although I know I should. But I am again curious and welcome my uncomfortable emotional and body sensations as a path towards more comfortable emotional experiences. Initially my habit is to push them away, then I remember it feels better to befriend them, sit with them and even let them have a say. Together we can share ourselves, we can make peace and then part ways. I don’t have to fight the feelings to go, they just seem happy to have had their moment and they ease away. I didn’t expect this retreat of years of aching memories. When I greet the discomforts and they ease, I am finally peeling my eye-watering onion layers. As I accept them they go, and wonderfully now I’m not wondering how to prevent them all coming back again. As they go, they aren’t instantly replaced by more pain and confusion of not knowing my traits. They are not compounding but releasing. Falling away layer by layer until I finally feel light and a kind of freedom. Now after an awkward or out-of-sync interaction, I think, “OK. That again. Does that matter? Not sure. Uncomfortable, yes. Painful, yes. But does that reflect the core of me? No. Does it matter. A little, but not really.” “You did good,” I tell myself. “You tried, better luck next time. A sting, yes, but it’s OK.” I try to be kind, let the feelings in and they seem to know their way out. It’s human to hurt, but I want available space for the good stuff. I am growing skin, a new way to keep the good stuff in. I am awkward, clumsy, kind, inspired. Regardless I matter, my feelings matter. My awareness and insights matter. My loving heart and curious soul matters. I want space for these. Lilting into my shame and vulnerability has released me from recurrent wounding interactions. Befriending them has befriended me. I am now comfortably and gratefully setting myself free. The traits won’t go, but my negative appraisal of them is progressively leaving. I am taking love into the shadows and accepting more feelings of light. Even more importantly, I am teaching my kids that they are amazing, and they can embrace and accept themselves just as they are. We will have tricky and hurtful moments, but we can also lovingly sooth these and get on with great, expansive and free-to-be-me days. They can also appreciate that their vulnerability makes them loving and creative people. And they know if people are unkind, it is about the other person, not them. For me, this is gold. They will not live a life being shamed for being different, but be absolutely proud and protective of it.

Gabrielle Hall

True Inclusion for My Autistic Family

For me, inclusion is the opportunity to be welcomed and participate in all aspects of our community. All people should have the chance to choose what and where they engage, and be supported by their society and its systems to do so. Inclusion is a basic human right — to have full access to education, employment, health services, social connections, financial prospects, and fun and meaningful activities. Inclusion is an intention before it is an action, activity or policy. To intend to respect the basic humanity of the person in front of you, simply ask, “What do you need?” We all want to be seen, accepted, loved and given the resources we need to be connected, fulfilled and comfortable. Holistic inclusion embraces this. It is a commitment to partner and collaborate with the person or people who are seeking to engage, and ensure that you see their aspiration through their eyes. Instead of looking at how someone can merge with existing systems and processes, you need to get “Back to the Person.” Take a step back and see their motivation, goals, capacity and inclusion needs. Then align all the accommodations to empower them to fully participate and engage. Start with being present and committed to their goal. Consider: What do they wantHow do they want to do itWhat are the barriersAnd how can these be resolved? Then simply accept these answers, whether they align with your perceptions or agenda or not. Choice must be relative to capacity, but all plans should always reflect the autistic person’s aspirations. Autistic people perceive, process and express their worldly experiences uniquely from all other autistic people. No two autistic brains or bodies work alike, so accepting that we require unique accommodations is respecting our neurodiversity. When our capacity for choice is accepted, being curious about how to facilitate inclusion becomes natural. Be courageous and try something new. Autistic people do this every day to exist in the neurotypical world. We are always assessing how to better fit into your ways, so switching this around would make life so much softer and easier for us. After trying a new perspective, try kindness. Be generous to the autistic person and genuine in your intentions for inclusion. The process will probably be imperfect, but many would appreciate your attempts at partnership. It is so helpful when people genuinely seek to create a welcoming, comfortable and supportive environment. Gaze back. This mindset to keep focusing back on the autistic person can be life-changing. Neurotypical people are usually the gatekeepers to getting a diagnosis, funding, support, accommodations, compassion and policies that impact our daily lives. Real inclusion places the autistic person at the center of all of these processes. I am so grateful for all positive action, because life has not always been gentle for our family. From the ages of 2 to 4, my son would hit and lash out when he was confused, scared or simply seeking sensory input. For this reason we did not go to playgrounds for two years, and we were unable to find a playgroup where we felt comfortable and included. Our level of struggle was not socially desirable, and we had many lonely years. At a time when I hoped to find community for our young family, I found virtually none. We decided to move to an area with more autism supports and groups, and a more open-minded community. Slowly we are becoming more connected. And as we accept our autism, others seem to also. My daughter has trouble focusing and regulating her mind, body and emotions. This means she often follows her own plan, even during class. She is not engaged by her schooling, and would prefer to chat or play. Her lack of social awareness also contributes to this. This is autism. Because we have been unable to motivate her class teacher to support us, her learning and social experiences are not optimal. Due to this, she can be perceived as naughty and some peers don’t want to play with her. I wish more people were curious about her autistic traits and special interests. Then adjustments could be made to increase her motivation, engagement, concentration, social inclusion and learning — turning the focus back to her. It was not our autism that was disabling, it was others’ attitudes. In the past I would have possibly believed them. But I have spent many years learning not to judge or reject myself and others. I can’t change the world, but I can change how I respond to it. I have placed the power back on me to decide if we are worthy of being seen, accepted, loved and given support. And I think we are, as everyone is. So for me, inclusion is an intention before it is an action. Simply be accepting, curious and kind. Just ask, “What do you need?” Your intention is everything.