A little bit about me

Hi! I’m Amy Richards.

I’m a queer, autistic business owner and entrepreneur, a former high school teacher, a writer, a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grey’s Anatomy and Sense8. One of my favourite sensory activities is to swing on the swings.

I live in Cardiff, Wales in the UK with my wife (we’ve been married since 2013). She’s also autistic, diagnosed a few years after me.

I was diagnosed autistic just before my 37th birthday. I got my diagnosis of so-called ‘high functioning’ ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) via the NHS in June 2016. (Don’t get me started on functioning labels, or calling autism a disorder…)

I’m so glad you’ve found Squarepeg.

If you’d like to know a bit more about me and what led me to create the blog, podcast and other resources for late-diagnosed autistic women…

Autistic burnout

By 2014, twelve years into my teaching career, I found myself suffering with yet another debilitating episode of what I believed (and was told by doctors) was depression, which lasted over a year and culminated in a career-ending breakdown.

I now understand that what I was experiencing was autistic burnout, but I’d never heard of it at the time.

After struggling on for far longer than I should have, I finally lost the ability to function at work, and I ended up needing to be off on sick leave for five months. 

I rested, got some counselling, and tried to get myself ready to go back to work. But ultimately I ended up quitting my 12-year teaching career. 

(This photo is the selfie I took in my car the day I finally decided to quit teaching, driving right past the school where I worked to freedom!)

Project 39

While I was still teaching I’d decided to reduce my working week, to help me cope better with life’s demands. This gave me 39 free Tuesdays in which to figure out what I could do to re-imagine my working life and improve my mental health.

One of many positive things to come out of this time was finally feeling able to acknowledge that I was autistic, and to start talking about it.

Another was that it started me off on my journey towards diagnosis – which happened in the summer of 2016, when I was 37.

And during my diagnosis process I started a blog called Project 39, about getting diagnosed autistic as an adult: the process and the ‘what now’.

Soon after I published the Project 39 blog, two people I know pursued their own autism diagnoses as a result of reading it. This made me very happy indeed, and also showed me the huge and far-reaching power of sharing our stories.

It’s what gave me the seed of the idea for the Squarepeg podcast, which I launched in October 2020.

Squarepeg

In 2019 Project39 became Squarepeg, a podcast and other resources designed to help late-diagnosed autistic adults navigate diagnosis, find their true selves again afterwards, and imagine and create lives in which they can be themselves, and not have to fit themselves into boxes shaped by society’s expectations.

The Squarepeg Podcast launched in October 2020. On the podcast I interview autistic women and nonbinary people about their experiences of being autistic and how it impacts their lives.

Support for late-diagnosed autistic women + nonbinary people 

I hope you get something out of listening to the podcast and reading my posts, whether you’re on the same journey, or just want to learn more about what it’s like being  autistic.

It is my experience that there is very limited post-diagnosis help for late-diagnosed autistic adults. This is something I am passionate about helping to change.

The podcast was born out of my desire for connection, to share the voices and experiences of autistic adults, and to give late-diagnosed people a sense of community and validation.

I think it’s important that we have somewhere where we can share our experiences as autistic people, ask each other questions in a safe space, and talk about things that we might not feel comfortable saying to our NT (neurotypical) friends and family. 

So in March 2024 I set up a community chat group for the Squarepeg Patrons. You can join the Patreon here from £3 per month, and in return for your support for the podcast you’ll get an invitation to join the group. It’s off social media, so you don’t need a Facebook account or anything to be able to take part. I hope to see you there!

Signposts to groups, support + further reading

I’ve curated a list of useful links and resources to provide signposts to information and support for late diagnosed autistic adults.

We are often overlooked, as we appear not to need any help managing our lives. This is not the case, as shown by the comparatively high number of autistic adults who suffer with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, compared with the general population.

Autistic adults also often seem to be overlooked by the media, medical professionals and other organisations, where the focus is all too often on parents of autistic children. But children grow into adults, and we don’t stop being autistic when we reach adulthood! Work needs to be done to improve the services available to us.

Some notes on language

Autism/Asperger’s/ASD

I always use the word ‘autistic’ these days, but when I first wrote my original blog I tended to refer to my diagnosis as ‘Asperger’s’, so you will find ‘Asperger’s’ in some of my earlier posts.

I now choose to describe myself as autistic. I understand that ‘Asperger’s’ is an outdated term for autism (and is no longer a separate diagnostic term in the US). I also understand that for various reasons, including disliking functioning labels, many autistic people don’t like to use the term ‘Asperger’s’ (I’m one of them!).

I sometimes used to use the term ‘ASD’ (Autism Spectrum Disorder), which is my official diagnosis, but this is not a term I choose to use these days, as I don’t see autism as a disorder, and ASD feels like ableist terminology, as along with ‘Asperger’s’ it implies a separation between different ‘types’ of autistic people and is itself a functioning label.

Identity-first language

I have no problem with people choosing to use whatever language they prefer to describe themselves. Personally, I prefer to use the phrase ‘autistic people’, but when I first wrote my original blog I hadn’t thought too much about the language I was using, so you may find the phrase ‘people with autism’ in some of my earlier posts.

Autism is not a disease or illness, but a neurological difference, present from birth. Being autistic can sometimes be problematic, and it can be disabling, but it’s not an illness. It’s how my brain is wired, and if it was taken away I would be a completely different person.

Therefore, the way I see it, I don’t ‘have’ autism. I am autistic. 

‘High-functioning’ and ‘low-functioning’

I do not believe functioning labels are useful, so I try to avoid using the term ‘high-functioning’ (if I do, you will always see it written in inverted commas). I feel that this term both belittles the struggles and difficulties of people diagnosed at the so-called ‘higher end’ of the spectrum, and also ignores the gifts and strengths of those perceived to be at the ‘lower end’.

And in any case, the spectrum isn’t a line, it’s more like a circle, showing an individual autistic person’s traits (often showing the ‘spiky profile’ that so many of us have, where we might ‘function’ very highly in some areas, but have huge deficits in others).

So to talk about ‘high’ and ‘low’ ends of the spectrum just makes no logical sense to me. There’s no such thing as ‘a little bit autistic’ or ‘very autistic’. As I understand it, there are for example autistic people who are non verbal (but who might also be highly intelligent, with a lot to contribute, and be able to communicate very effectively in other ways), and there are autistic people who also have co-occurring learning disabilities (but that doesn’t make them ‘more autistic’, it just means they also have a learning disability).

Just because my autism might not be obvious or problematic to you, that doesn’t mean it isn’t making my life extra challenging on a daily basis. I may be able to work, make and keep friendships, pass exams and be happily married, but that doesn’t mean being autistic doesn’t have a profound impact on my day to day life.

I have recently discovered the alternative term ‘high masking’, which seems to describe what I experience much better; but even then, it’s a double-edged sword: on the one hand, I’m lucky to be able to mask and ‘pass’ as neurotypical, but on the other, this often creates expectations on me that can be challenging (or impossible) to fulfil.

Functioning labels also ignore the fact that the same person may be capable of functioning far better on one day or situation than the next. So all in all I don’t believe they’re very helpful in describing either autistic people’s needs,  or our abilities.

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