The Sunflower Conversations

Autism diagnosis with Bec Street

April 10, 2022 Hidden Disabilities Sunflower
The Sunflower Conversations
Autism diagnosis with Bec Street
Show Notes Transcript

Autism diagnosis with Bec Street
Bec works for charity Autism Spectrum Australia, as a Sunflower Advocate and is based in Sydney Australia. Since joining the charity 7 months ago Bec has discovered that she has many traits that sit on the autistic spectrum.

In the conversation Bec explains how she felt as a child growing up and her previous employment experiences where adjustments weren’t made for her neurodiversity.

Now that Bec is working in an inclusive environment it has made the world of difference to her working life. Being able to be her authentic self means that she doesn’t feel as though she must mask and can approach her role fully focused on the job in hand. It also means that she is using less of her energy reserves.

We talk about meeting in the middle and all things neurodiverse!

If you are experiencing problems discussed in this podcast contact your GP or healthcare practitioner.

For support

Autism Spectrum Australia 

National Autistic Society, UK
 

Hosted by Chantal Boyle and Sandee Facy, Hidden Disabilities Sunflower.

Want to share your story? email [email protected]

Hidden Disabilities Sunflower

 

 

Chantal Boyle:                  

Welcome to The Sunflower Conversations. I'm Chantal and joining me today is my colleague Sandee, who is based in Australia. How you doing, Sandee?

Sandee Facy:      

Good. It's almost evening here. Nice to see you, Chantal.

Chantal Boyle:   

And joining us is Bec Street. Bec works for Autism Spectrum Australia as a Sunflower advocate and is based in Sydney. Since joining the charity seven months ago, Bec has discovered that she has many traits that sit on the autistic spectrum. Hi Bec, thanks for joining us today. How are you?

Bec Street:          

I'm great. Thanks, Chantal. Thanks for having me, Sandee and Chantal. I'm delighted to be here, chatting with you today. I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into it.

Chantal Boyle:

When did you start to associate some of your behaviors as neurodiverse?

Bec Street:          

Ever since I was a kid. It's been a while running, really. I remember having these moments where I literally thought I was an alien and I'd stand in the playground and I'd observe the other kids as though I wasn't a kid myself. And I remember watching them as well in the playground, so I could copy some of the things that they were doing or saying, kind of like I would imagine myself as a secret spy.

Chantal Boyle:   

Did that scare you in any way or were you just like, "Well, okay, I'm going to see how I can adjust this"?

Bec Street:          

Well, I mean, you only really have yourself as a point of reference, especially at that age. You're not asking such sophisticated questions to other people around you. I suppose I assumed that everybody did a similar thing. And honestly, I think it's fairly common to the human experience in general. We all tend to have this experience of feeling like maybe we don't necessarily fit in at times. I imagine it was just a little bit exaggerated for me.

Chantal Boyle:   

How old do you think you were then in the playground?

Bec Street:          

I remember feelings like this from as young as five.

Chantal Boyle:   

Yeah. That's very young. I felt it as an adult in work situations with people that I don't know. I don't know if you've heard the expression, "imposter syndrome". I think lots of people experience that, but yeah, it's a really great way of describing how you felt as a child. So you are seeking an official diagnosis of autism. Why have you decided to do that now?

Bec Street:          

I'm professionally and personally curious about it after starting working at Aspect. So basically, what happened is that for my interview, I did a bunch of research about autism and I did a few tests and I, of course, got A-plus marks. And I thought, "Okay, that's interesting." And I suppose at the time, I wasn't quite yet ready to accept that that might be the case.

And I suppose I felt a little bit like a fraud as well, like perhaps I'm applying this to myself because it makes sense in the context of this job. That feeling didn't go away very quickly either. But essentially, what happened is I gave everyone a shy heads up like... Sandee was there. "I might be on the spectrum. Let's see what happens." And then I kind of left it for a while. But meanwhile, whilst I was learning all the amazing things from the autism-friendly team and just interacting with the staff around me, I was very much relating to everything that was being said.

And I was kind of going through this process quite quietly and privately. What happened was that we had our first in-person staff day after COVID and one of my coworkers drove me home and they said to me, "Bec, I just love watching you become more and more autistic as the day went on." And I was like, "Okay."

Chantal Boyle:

You asked them to explain themselves?

Bec Street:          

No, because I was like a little bit... It was a lot to take in. So I just went quiet for a bit. I went, "Okay." But essentially, what they were referring to is that basically, I unmasked during the day, because there was that culture of inclusion present, where, for example, some of the other people on the team that are also autistic were sitting on the floor during a staff meeting, which is just absolutely unheard of in the typical corporate environment. And I thought, "That looks really nice. It's been a long day at the office. I've used a lot of my social battery. Maybe I'll just try and sit on the floor with them." And it felt very... Almost a little bit fronting, but they were just like, "Yeah, come down here to the floor. Welcome!" And I sat down, I was like, "Guys, this feels good."

And then they explained to me it was because of the hard pressure of the floor that was sort of balancing out my sensory needs. And I was like, "Okay." So what this person had meant is that I gradually let that mask off as the day went on. And essentially, they gave me a quiz to do at home, which was very comprehensive. It had about a hundred questions and I scored very highly on that as well. It was at that point that they suggested I see a professional that they know. And so, I'm in the process of that now, getting the diagnosis.

Chantal Boyle:   

You said you had done a few tests before you went along for your interview. Did you find those tests on the internet? How did you come across those?

Bec Street:          

Yeah, I just Googled it. Autism test.

Chantal Boyle:   

The test that your colleagues gave you though, the hundred questions, was that a lot more detail than what you'd found on the internet?

Bec Street:          

It was. It was really specific and I liked it because it felt... Because I had that imposter syndrome that you mentioned earlier, I really liked this quiz because it felt hard to fake. There were lots of really specific questions and I was just like, "Oh, a hundred percent, that's me. Yeah." And so, it was quite a fascinating experience.

Sandee Facy:      

Well, that's amazing. Chantal had mentioned that you've been working in your new role for about seven months. So now that you've discovered this about yourself even more authentically, do you feel different about yourself and do others feel different as well? Do you sense a difference now?

Bec Street:          

Well, I wouldn't say that I feel differently about myself. I've always known that something was a bit different about me. If anything, now I feel more proud and excited to be my authentic self, so I suppose it's positive change.

Sandee Facy:      

Definitely.

Bec Street:          

I think the whole process, working in such an inclusive environment where most of the team is neurodivergent, it feels like a kind of coming home to myself rather than a crisis of some heart kind. I think sometimes, people associate getting a diagnosis with negative feelings and maybe a bit of a crisis mode, but for me, it's actually definitely been this process of greater self-awareness and self-compassion, almost like a coming home to myself.

Chantal Boyle:   

Which is that feeling of, "This is where I belong. This is me. This is my comfort zone." Yeah, it must be a really powerful feeling, actually. Do you feel like it's improved your confidence?

Bec Street:          

Yeah, absolutely. It's really helped me grow as a person. I feel very lucky to have landed in this role.

Chantal Boyle:   

Can you explain masking to me please, Bec?

Bec Street:          

Yes. I would describe masking, myself... It's different for everybody, but I would describe it myself as award-winning acting. So essentially, what I'm doing when I'm masking is I'm playing the roles that society is expecting of me, especially around things such as social niceties.

Over the years, I've become pretty adept at knowing what a person wants out of me and I tend to mirror that. It's a safety mechanism. But what that person doesn't see is that there's a whole process behind me getting to this conversation, which is something that I thought everybody did until recently. My boyfriend was like, "Do you always think like that?" I was like, "Pretty much," which is scripting conversations in my head a lot of the time in the shower, like a movie, beforehand. I'll imagine exactly, word for word sometimes, how the conversation might go and visualize that. And I have a particular outcome in mind. It's all part of blending in, I guess. And what they also don't see is the burnout afterwards and the time spent in bed underneath the weighted blanket. Essentially, the less masking I have to do, the better it is for me.

Chantal Boyle:   

Yeah. And that's a physical exhaustion and a mental exhaustion, is it?

Bec Street:          

Yeah, absolutely. They're very much interconnected for me.

Sandee Facy:      

Because I know that you spend a lot of time with Emma as well and when I was doing an assessment with Emma here in Melbourne, she'd mentioned the Spoon theory.

Bec Street:          

Yeah. That's a really popular analogy. Essentially, the idea is people with a disability or a hidden disability have a limited amount of spoons that they use every day. And the idea came from a lady and her friend in a cafe. They were sitting down and the friend was disappointed at her because she'd flaked a few social events recently. The friend said, "Okay, I'll find a way to explain this to you." And she went around the cafe and picked up all the spoons and handed them to her friend. There were 20 spoons. And she said, "Imagine each activity you did today costs a certain amount of spoons. Pick up the kids from school, it's three spoons, et cetera." And what the friend did was divvy up all the spoons and then got to the afternoon of the theoretical day and went, "What do I do now? I've run out of spoons." That's a really practical way to help explain to other people that don't experience that energy loss what it might be like for you. So it's something we use at work all the time.

Chantal Boyle:   

That's all linked to masking. So the less masking you have to do, then the more energy... As you mentioned, you feel more energized and less depleted.

Bec Street:          

Yes.

Chantal Boyle:   

And does masking occur everywhere? So when you go to the supermarket, are you masking there?

Bec Street:          

Yeah, absolutely. For example, I recently went out with my boyfriend. I felt a lot better afterwards because I didn't mask so much. What that actually looked like in a practical sense is that pretty much the whole time, I wore my noise canceling headphones. I actually wore my Sunflower lanyard. And when I ordered from the lovely lady at Starbucks, I kept my headphones on. It took me a little while to get my order out. I didn't try and make myself appear more socially adept than I was feeling at the time, so I didn't put the charm on. Essentially, what it meant is that instead of having to rest for several hours when we got home, I rested for one hour and then I was okay.

Chantal Boyle:   

Gosh. So a huge difference, isn't it?

Bec Street:          

Yeah. It makes a massive difference.

Chantal Boyle:   

That's interesting. The phrase you used there, "the social charm." Would you mind giving me an example? I work in Starbucks and I say in the Australian accent, "Hey, what's your order?" Although that sounded American. Do you feel comfortable to respond to me how you would prefer to respond in your most comfortable state?

Bec Street:          

Yeah. This time, because I was having a very low spoons day, it just took me a little bit longer, basically.

Chantal Boyle:

Yeah.

Bec Street:          

And what was really lovely is because this Starbucks, they hadn't received any training for Sunflowers or from us, but she just saw the lanyard and I think that's enough for some people to go, "Okay, this person's a little bit different." So that was awesome. And she was very kind, patient, and understanding, so it was a really pleasant experience. So I said, "I want this." And she didn't hear me because my headphones were on, so I took them off a little bit and then I repeated myself. She was very patient with that. And then I actually pointed at the cup size that I wanted, because just the words weren't quite there at that time. If I'm feeling really low spoons, I might lose a little bit of my verbal capacity. I was like, "This size please." And she was just like, "Yeah, cool. You want the medium grande?" Or whatever. Because they have weird sizes there too, so I was just a little bit overwhelmed with the-

Sandee Facy:      

Choice.

Bec Street:          

... metric system.

Chantal Boyle:   

So she offered you the patience and kindness and understanding of what the sunflower is about?

Bec Street:          

Yeah, absolutely.

Chantal Boyle:   

You are listening to The Sunflower Conversations with Chantal. To learn more about the sunflower, visit our website. Details are in the show notes.

Just wanted to go back to... You mentioned your weighted blanket. Can you explain what a weighted blanket is and why that offers you comfort?

Bec Street:          

Yeah. It's just a blanket with little glass beads sewn into it and it gives a deep pressure. And it's like getting a hug and a lot of people with autism, such as myself, like that deep pressure. We might not necessarily like a light hug, but we do sometimes, not everybody, but myself, like a big, tight hug. It's a very grounding thing.

Chantal Boyle:   

Very nice. Are there any other differences that you can recall and how you interact with the world is different to maybe your peers who are neurotypical?

Bec Street:

Mum always used to say I was away with the fairies. Essentially, from a young age, I've always been content by myself, drawing daydreaming, things like that. And to this day, I still love taking myself out on cute dates and I'll go to a nice cafe and I'll sit down and I'll draw and I'll listen to my music. I just look a little bit different, not a lot different, but a little bit different to what people might expect in that I might choose to wear my lanyard in that environment. I might have a stim toy with me or I like very cute and fluffy things to help center myself. Also, I'm holding up a little monkey, if you're listening on the podcast. A little toy monkey. I might choose to keep my headphones on in environments where people might not expect one to wear headphones, such as the arcade. The other day I went to the arcade, I kept them on. It's very loud in there.

It's just slight differences. And if people were understanding, they'd just let me get on with it. Most of the time they do. Another difference is, I absolutely adore people. I'm very empathetic and I'm very social, but it takes a lot out of me. So generally, I'll only plan one or two big social activities or adventures out into the world a week because I need time to recharge my social battery or my spoons. A combination of these two things means I'm pretty selective with who I form close bonds with, but the friends that I do have are quality because they understand me and the fact that I have sort of limited social energy.

Chantal Boyle:   

You have spoken about your stim toys. What is stimming and how does the stim toy help you?

Bec Street:          

Stimming will look different for absolutely everybody. Again, everybody on the autism spectrum is totally different and that's what's wonderful about us. Stimming can be a variety of things. For me, I like to sing little songs to myself. I like to have something to fidget with, sometimes I like to dance. Basically, just a moving and expressing of the body, which I actually think is a very helpful and healthy thing for people to do, generally speaking. It's just that people on the autism spectrum such as myself might be doing that in a time where it might be unexpected.

Chantal Boyle:

It's everyone around you's job to socially accept that, isn't it? Because there's not anything wrong. You're not committing a crime or hurting anyone. And it's about society just adjusting what they think is the norm, which is not the norm, it's their norm. And somebody else's norm is their norm. And that's where we all need to get to, isn't it?

Bec Street:          

There's actually a theory called the double empathy theory, which I haven't quite committed to memory, but maybe one of you two know it. I can see that you don't. Essentially, what it is that when a neurodivergent person, such as a person with autism, and a neurotypical person are having a conversation, the onus is usually put on the neurodivergent person to meet the expectations of the conversation from a place of societal norms. For example, I might find it really easy to talk to another person with autism about our joint special interest because we're coming from the same place. But I might find it really difficult, at times, to speak to someone neurotypical about smalltalk and the weather. And what the double empathy problem looks at is that it's about both parties meeting in the middle and having a mutual respect and connection that way and understanding how everyone's communicating.

Chantal Boyle:   

So it's the meeting together of mutual... What was it? Respect?

Sandee Facy:      

Empathy.

Chantal Boyle:

And that's fair. I think that sounds fair. Don't you, Sandee?

Sandee Facy:      

I do, definitely. Meeting in the middle.

Chantal Boyle:   

What difference has understanding yourself more made to your working environment and stress levels?

Bec Street:          

I guess a greater self-awareness and also, being around other neurodivergent people in the team who are really great at advocating for themselves has set a really great example for being more at ease with asking for certain accommodations. I still get nervous and I feel a bit guilt and shame about asking for these things, but we're all a work in progress, right? For example, one thing I'm getting more comfortable with asking for is that I need people to sometimes repeat things or to write things down for me to process them in the best possible way and for me to do my best work.

Chantal Boyle:   

I think at the beginning before we started the recording, you asked a question about something you weren't clear about, and you said that's actually quite an accomplishment for you to do that because asking somebody to repeat or explain is something that you find difficult. You sat on the floor at a team meeting. Are there other things like that, physically, that your employer does which helps to support you and your colleagues who are autistic?

Bec Street:          

Yeah. We have an inclusion statement that we read at the start of all of our important meetings, and basically what it boils down to is we all say, "You do you, Boo." We encourage everyone to do what they need to do to feel comfortable in the meeting. For me, that might look like right now, I've been playing with this slinky the whole time and I don't have to be afraid to hide that. I usually have a drink with me. Basically, feeling more comfortable to unmask because I know that I'm working in an environment that has a culture of inclusion.

Chantal Boyle:

All employers need this, don't they? They need to be like this. Because then you get the best out of your employees.

Sandee Facy:      

That's right. And people can be their authentic selves, which I think is fantastic, and supported in the ways that they need to be supported. Can you please share with me about your role at Aspect?

Bec Street:          

My role at Aspect is, actually I have two at the moment, but my main role concerning today is Sunflowers in Sydney ambassador. What I get to do, and I feel so lucky for it, is that I get to spread the word about the hidden disability Sunflower lanyard here in Australia, especially in Sydney. And what we do is we work with key cultural and sporting organizations to introduce the lanyard and also provide staff training and resources to those places. And it's just absolutely wonderful to see all of these major places jumping on board.

I'm a visual artist myself, actually, in my spare time. And some of the clients that we work with are the MCA, which is Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Gallery of New South Wales and also a bunch of museums. We've got the Maritime Museum on board, the Australian Museum, Powerhouse Museum.

If you're listening from the UK, these are all key players in the Sydney arts and cultural scenes. So it's really just delightful to see some major institutions coming on and supporting this program because why I love it is that I think the Sunflower lanyard is a great springboard for conversations about inclusion in general and a really great conversation starter. I'm so pleased to get to chat to all these different people about how they can make their environments more inclusive for people with hidden disabilities. It's a real honor.

Sandee Facy:      

Well, you're a wonderful Sunflower advocate and the job that you and the team are doing in Sydney has spilled over across Australia, which is great. Do you have any advice for someone who's finding their work setup difficult because it doesn't support their needs?

Bec Street:          

The advocate is myself would be negotiate first. Then if that doesn't work, go where your valued. It's a bit cutthroat maybe, but the world is wisening up to how valuable neurodivergence is and how much people like myself and other autistic people have to contribute to the workplace. So if you're just hitting obstacle after obstacle and you've tried to negotiate, then have a look around.

Chantal Boyle:   

Sounds like very good advice to me, Bec. Employers, under the Disability Rights Act, have to make, they call, reasonable adjustments for their employees. Is it the same in Australia?

Bec Street:          

Yeah, I believe so. Unfortunately, I don't think that always stops the stigma that can be present. I've been in a workplace where I guess those supports were brought in or preliminary discussions of that. I just felt that it was too much hard work for both parties involved to really keep pressing on with this. And essentially, it put me in the position where I was advocating for myself, but also all other people with hidden disabilities in the sense that I was educating them about what ADHD was and they had never really heard about it before. And I was going through real fundamental, basic things, which is just not a great position to be at, as somebody that's coming from a somewhat marginalized position. I said, "Well, it helps if you write things down for me." And they were just like, "No. Just be better."

Chantal Boyle:   

Oh, dear.

Bec Street:

They didn't say it like that. But that was the vibe.

Chantal Boyle:

Yeah.

Bec Street:          

Silver lining is when I left that place, I gave the CEO some words of wisdom. I just sort of said, "Neurodivergence is a real asset. I'm an excellent problem solver. I come up with great new ideas. I have a lot of energy to offer. Please consider the wellbeing of your staff. Make sure that they take their breaks. You have a really talented team here." I sort of had this speech yeah prepared. And I think it kind of fell on deaf ears, but what I think is wonderful is, if I look at this story of my life so far, is the fact that I was so passionate and brave enough to speak to an older man by myself, nobody else in the room, and advocate. It now has just perfectly fallen in line that now, this is what I actually get paid to do for a job, is to advocate. Everything kind of worked out in the end and I'm so grateful for that.

Remarkable Tech released a fact that autistic people can be 140% more productive than the average worker if they've given the right role. So it's not just about acceptance, it's actually smart business decision.

Chantal Boyle:   

That kind of brings to a close, Bec, but I think that your closing sentiments there are exactly right. And now, you are in a position to support so many more people in Australia that have autism, are autistic, to have a good employment. We're working because we have to, in many cases, but it can be enjoyable.

Bec Street:          

Absolutely.

Chantal Boyle:   

It can be a good place to be. And I think what you're doing is fantastic. I can't thank you enough for sharing your story with us, really enjoyed it. And I feel that you've articulated the different traits that you have really, really well. And it's been super informative. I thank you. And all the best with your advocating.

 

Chantal Boyle:   
 
 

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