Thriving on the Spectrum: Embracing Differences
Thriving on the Spectrum: Embracing Differences
Are you or someone you know on the autism spectrum? In this episode of the Women's Mental Health Podcast, join us as we explore the importance of understanding autism spectrum and how it impacts women aged 25-55 seeking mental health resources. Randi Owsley, LMSW, and Jessica Bullwinkle, LMFT, share their expertise on recognizing early signs of being on the spectrum, managing anxiety, and navigating social challenges. We also provide insights on parenting a child on the spectrum and how to maintain healthy relationships with someone on the spectrum. Get ready to empower yourself with practical coping skills and self-care practices to thrive and reclaim your identity on the spectrum.
Are you seeking information and support on navigating life on the spectrum? Look no further! In this episode of the Women's Mental Health Podcast, we provide valuable insights and practical tools to help you thrive. Join us as we delve into the diagnosis process for autism spectrum, offer guidance for parenting a child on the spectrum, and explore strategies for navigating relationships with someone on the spectrum.
We'll also discuss effective techniques for managing anxiety and overcoming social challenges. Plus, we'll provide resources to help you build strong mental health habits, including therapy options, employment opportunities, and support groups tailored specifically for women on the spectrum. Whether you're seeking coping skills for yourself or looking to support a loved one, this episode is here to empower you on your unique journey. Together, let's break the stigma surrounding autism spectrum and embrace the strength and resilience within.
Coming up on the Women's Mental Health Podcast, we have a lineup of important topics that will shine a light on the experience of being on the spectrum. Join us as we delve deeper into the intricacies and challenges faced by women on the spectrum, sharing stories of resilience and providing valuable resources. In our upcoming episodes, we'll explore the impact of being on the spectrum on self-identity and relationships, discuss effective coping skills and tools to navigate daily life, and provide insights on managing anxiety and sensory sensitivity.
We'll also address the vital topics of diagnosis processes, parenting children on the spectrum, and building strong mental health habits. Stay tuned as we create a safe and supportive space for honest conversations about life on the spectrum, celebrating the unique strengths and empowering women to prioritize their mental wellness.
- What does it mean to be on the spectrum?
Being on the spectrum refers to individuals who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It is a developmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. It's a spectrum because it encompasses a wide range of abilities and challenges, and each person's experiences are unique.
- How is autism spectrum disorder diagnosed?
ASD is diagnosed through a comprehensive evaluation by professionals, such as psychologists or psychiatrists, who assess a person's behavior, social interactions, and communication skills. These evaluations often consider observations from family members or caregivers, in addition to standardized tests and questionnaires.
- What are some common signs of being on the spectrum?
Signs of being on the spectrum can vary, but they often include difficulties with social interactions, repetitive behaviors, sensory sensitivities, and challenges in verbal and nonverbal communication.
- Can women be diagnosed with autism later in life?
Yes, women can be diagnosed with autism later in life, which is sometimes referred to as “late diagnosis” or “diagnosis in adulthood.” Due to various factors, such as societal expectations and gender bias in assessment tools, many women may not receive a diagnosis until adulthood, even though they may have exhibited autistic traits throughout their lives.
- How does being on the spectrum affect mental health?
Being on the spectrum can impact mental health in various ways. Some individuals may experience anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions, often due to challenges in navigating social situations or sensory sensitivities. It's crucial to prioritize mental wellness and seek support when needed.
- What resources and support are available for women on the spectrum?
There are numerous resources available to support women on the spectrum, including autism-specific therapists, support groups, online communities, and advocacy organizations. Seeking out these resources can provide connection, understanding, and empowerment.
- Can being on the spectrum coexist with other mental health conditions?
Absolutely. Many individuals on the spectrum may also experience co-existing conditions, such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, or other neurodevelopmental or psychiatric disorders. It's essential to have a thorough evaluation to address all aspects of mental health and ensure appropriate support.
- How can we break the stigma surrounding autism and being on the spectrum?
Breaking the stigma starts with education and open dialogue. By sharing stories, personal experiences, and promoting understanding, we can foster acceptance and inclusion. Embracing neurodiversity and celebrating the unique strengths and perspectives of individuals on the spectrum is a crucial step in breaking down stigma.
- How can I support a loved one who is on the spectrum?
Supporting a loved one on the spectrum begins with listening, empathy, and acceptance. Educate yourself about ASD, ask open-ended questions about their experiences, and offer your support without judgment. Respect their boundaries and help create an environment that encourages their growth and individuality.
- How can we promote a more inclusive society for women on the spectrum?
Promoting inclusivity for women on the spectrum involves challenging stereotypes, advocating for equal opportunities, and creating accessible environments. Empower and amplify the voices of women on the spectrum, advocate for neurodiversity acceptance in workplaces and educational settings, and strive to build a society that embraces and values all individuals.
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Thriving on the Spectrum: Embracing Differences
[00:00:00] Randi: Welcome to the Women's Mental Health Podcast with Randi and Jess. We're two licensed psychotherapists where we talk about mental health, well being and strategies for coping with life's challenges and how it's all normal.
[00:00:12] Jess: It is so normal. In this episode, we're going to be exploring the topic that is not only relevant to women's mental health, but to a broader understanding about neurodiversity. So we're going to be talking about what does it mean to be on
[00:00:25] Randi: spectrum. Understanding neurodiversity and the experiences of individuals on the autism spectrum is essential, especially in today's world.
And today we're going to shed some light on it. Our goal is to provide insights and knowledge that empower you and your mental health and self care.
[00:00:44] Jess: So this podcast is going to touch on what it means to be on the autism spectrum
[00:00:49] Randi: So this podcast, we're just going to barely touch the tip, just the tip of the autism spectrum. There is so much under this umbrella, and we will delve more into it in upcoming podcasts.
[00:01:05] Jess: Find us and more resources on womensmentalhealthpodcast.
[00:01:09] Randi: com. Have you ever had these
[00:01:11] Jess: thoughts? What does it mean to be on spectrum?
What are some common signs of autism in women over 25?
[00:01:18] Randi: Can women be diagnosed with autism later in life? How can I support a
[00:01:22] Jess: woman or a friend or a child who is on the autism spectrum?
[00:01:27] Randi: What is masking in understanding that along with autism?
[00:01:32] Jess: Are there any mental health challenges associated with being on
[00:01:35] Randi: spectrum? What is sensory sensitivity and how does it affect women on the autism spectrum?
[00:01:41] Jess: Can being on the spectrum affect relationships, including romantic ones?
[00:01:46] Randi: What resources are available for women on the autism spectrum seeking support or diagnosis?
[00:01:52] Jess: Is it possible to be on spectrum and have a successful career and lead a fulfilling life? We
[00:01:58] Randi: will answer these questions fully at the end of the podcast, so stay tuned.
[00:02:03] Jess: Let's start by breaking down what does it mean to be on spectrum. When we talk about being on spectrum, we're usually referring to the autism spectrum.
Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, , is a complex neuro developmental condition.
[00:02:18] Randi: And so it's important to understand, while this affects your mental health, it is really a neurological disorder. One of the most important things to understand is that autism spectrum is incredibly diverse.
No two individuals with ASD are exactly alike. It's called a spectrum because it includes such a wide range of strengths and challenges.
[00:02:41] Jess: And the way I always look at a spectrum, Randi, is I always think of like a rainbow. Oh, I love that.
There's just a spectrum of colors yes, there's the basic red, orange, I know my daughter's better at that, but they're always different shades, ? Depends on the weather and what's going on. And so it's always or
[00:02:57] Randi: how close or how far away you are. And it looks different to everybody
[00:03:00] Jess: too.
Exactly. So I've always thought of it as like a rainbow. I don't know if that's really
[00:03:06] Randi: is, but yeah I was thinking of like, cause we were saying under the umbrella, I was thinking of a bright colored rainbow color umbrella though, with all the different colors that it falls under.
So it's funny that we were thinking.
[00:03:20] Jess: I know some women on the spectrum, they can excel at certain areas like math and art and science but they will also face unique challenges in different social interactions or with sensory sensitivities.
[00:03:34] Randi: It's crucial to understand that autism can present differently in women.
Men. It's just so different for women and girls and women on the spectrum often display what's known as camouflaging or masking. So that's why we call it at times invisible autism because they might. imitate social behaviors to fit in, even though it doesn't come naturally to them. They've learned how to, as we said, like mask or fake it almost fake it.
So you, you've watched how other people interact or how their facial things are, or what is expected of you and you teach yourself how to be that way in different situations.
[00:04:16] Jess: Well, and that masking behavior is incredibly exhausting for anybody who has social anxiety or they have ADHD trying to fit in with what we call a neurotypical world.
Is so hard at times because you're trying to, again, mask and act like everybody else when your brain is just different. And so a lot of this will lead to different mental challenges including anxiety and depression. burnout which is why it's so important that we talk about this in women's mental health.
A lot of women don't realize they're masking, right?
[00:04:56] Randi: And I didn't realize that I was masking until much later in life. When I started to research more about this and find out more information. And for me, I realized that I thought I had really bad social anxiety my whole life, but it turns out it was my anxiety over masks.
I was internalizing everything and , and boys, we often see this like on the outside. We see the effects with girls a lot of times. , this is why it's so hard to diagnose is that we internalize everything and we take it inside. And it. It makes us feel like we're having anxiety or depression when really it could be this neurological disorder, either ASD or ADHD and things like that.
[00:05:37] Jess: lot of people just go, Oh, well, I'm an introvert living in an extrovert world or I'm an extroverted introvert, right? And it really could be that you have a, you know, an actual diagnosis. So speaking of diagnosis, let's talk about the different ones that are under what we call the umbrella. of being on spectrum.
[00:05:55] Randi: So some of the specific diagnosis that fall within the autism spectrum, one of the most recognized is of course, autism spectrum disorder itself. It's often, as we said, uses an umbrella term, but there are also many diagnoses. that fall under that, like Asperger's syndrome, which is very commonly known, but actually it was retired as a diagnosis in 2013.
. And it's characterized by difficulties in social interactions and communications, but without significant language delays that is often seen in other autism diagnosis. People with Asperger's may have intense interest. they hyper focus on certain interest and they excel in Specific areas maybe like you said like math are
[00:06:44] Jess: get a lot of engineers when we're back in the Bay Area a lot of engineers Who would have fallen under this Asperger's syndrome?
Back when it was an actual diagnosis and real quick for those. I want to go through and talk about real quick when we talk about the umbrella. I know most people understand that, but I just want to explain it just in case because sometimes we just start rambling the idea of the umbrella, like Randy was talking about, she imagined us opening up this umbrella with all this rainbow.
It is everything that would be underneath that, ? So imagine spectrum as. like an arch, and then it's everything that kind of falls underneath it. So that's what we mean when we say opening up the umbrella piece. .
[00:07:22] Randi: So another diagnosis that you can find under the umbrella of autism spectrum is pervasive developmental disorder.
And this is used when an individual doesn't meet all the criteria for ASD, but still display some symptoms and challenges related to social interaction delayed communication or behavior developments.
[00:07:44] Jess: I'm sidetracking now. You often joke about how you think you might be autistic.
[00:07:49] Randi: yeah. I don't, don't really joke about it, but yeah. Not joke. I've not been formally I mean, I do kind of joke about it, but Jess thinks that I am under the autism spectrum. I have not been formally diagnosed, but I do feel even as a realization of things.
Because there's, like we said, there's so many nuances within these things. And stigmas. And stigmas. And ADHD and autism can also mimic each other and other things. So it's very hard sometimes to pinpoint, am I this? Am I that? And putting ourselves into a box a labeled box. And I don't love labels, but unfortunately you know, that's,
[00:08:30] Jess: that's the way our society is.
And that's the way the medical field is, is that we have to have a label, which I think the labels are hard as well.
And then there's childhood disintegrative disorder, CDD, which is a rare diagnosis within the spectrum. It involves a significant loss of. previously acquired skills in the areas like language and social and motor functions after a period of what we would call a typical development.
So girls girls and boys, correct? Or is this just girls? Okay. This one is girls and boys. And so with this one, they would be developing. normal, neurotypical, and then all of a sudden they would start to decline, and that's where we get the disintegrative, and it, and go backwards.
[00:09:12] Randi: It's very scary if you've seen it happen as from like a parent perspective, is that because it's almost like, uh, your child's okay and then they start backtracking, like they start losing developments that they, yeah, they start losing it and it's almost like the clock is being turned backwards but it's very, very rare. I personally have never, Have you ever. had any interaction with it in my practice.
And it's also known as Heller's syndrome for other people, but it's not to be confused with Rett syndrome, which is…
It's also a very rare neurological disorder, but that one exclusively affects girls. And so it's also considered within the spectrum and it also leads to severe impairment and language and motor skills, loss of muscle. But this one is based off of a genetic mutation, but it still falls under the ASD umbrella.
[00:10:08] Jess: Okay, so now that we've just lost half our audience and we've confused the heck out of the other quarter and then the other quarter's making fun of the fact that we can't say half this stuff even as therapists. Okay. So I want to talk about neurodiverse versus spectrum because I think those can interplay and get confused a lot.
Most of us are really familiar with the concept of autism being on spectrum. Although when we talk about it, there are other things that when we talk about being like ADHD dyspraxia um, dyslexia, those are all processing delays or processing disorders that are also considered a part of falling under the spectrum of neurodiversity.
In general, when people say they're on spectrum, they are referring to autism spectrum. However, a lot of people will also say that being ADHD is also on spectrum. I think it's part of that big rainbow again, ? And it's, it's a matter of where you are on it. I say spectrumy and I don't want to offend anybody, ? They're all kind of spectrumy. They're all jumbled together. They're all kind of neurodiverse. It just means that being neurotypical means your brain is, I don't like the word normal, but it is with the mass population, it is typical.
When your brain is neurodiverse. It is different. It's like imagine just a different path. There's nothing wrong with being neurodiverse. It just means your brain is different. Yes.
[00:11:41] Randi: Your brain has different pathways that is not typical and it's okay to not be typical.
[00:11:48] Jess: I personally love my neurodiverse brain. But I've never said I'm on spectrum,
but I do think there's a lot of ADHD. Yeah, that it kind of is.
[00:11:57] Randi: And we wanted to talk to that. it's important for us when we are talking about a spectrum, we are not saying like low to high or like one to 10.
For us, we feel that being on the spectrum is a collection of strengths. Struggles and different variables that are different for everybody. And to look at it in a positive light can help you really process these things If you are going through this or you have a child that's going through
[00:12:22] Jess: this, we used to say high functioning or low functioning. And that's great if your child is the one that's high functioning. Cause you wouldn't, you're like, Hey, my child's high functioning. She's closer to normal, whatever that means. But if your child is what we would consider low functioning.
That's not really what you want to say either. And so we have gotten rid of the high and low functioning it's very
[00:12:49] Randi: similar. you now say kind of like ASD one you know, there's different levels, which means the same things, but it's not as.
to say like, nobody, like you said before, nobody wants to say my child is low functioning. You don't want to say that about anything. Like, My child can't do this. It's hard. You don't want to hurt , it hurts your heart saying those types of things and putting your kids into a category and that it makes it sound like they can't achieve things when really, It's a struggle when these things are happening, but there is so much you can achieve if you have the understanding and you can empower yourself with
[00:13:29] Jess: that.
Exactly. Randy. So we need to get rid of the high and low functioning for those out there who are still using that terminology. We just don't use that anymore. So Randy, let's talk about how do we find support as women with ourselves or our children.
[00:13:43] Randi: Well, first and foremost, education is key, like listening to , podcasts like this, like doing some research, learning about the diverse experiences of individuals on the spectrum, which can really help you foster empathy and understanding and educating other people around you to talking openly about it and not hiding it away like it's a dirty secret.
[00:14:06] Jess: Exactly. For women who suspect they might be on spectrum or have been recently diagnosed as being on spectrum, seek professional help. It's really important because the diagnosis can open doors to understanding yourself better. It can also open a door to some grief. A lot of people that I work with Randy and I included, who are diagnosed with ADHD late in life.
There's a lot of grief that happens. You have this immediate like, Oh, that makes sense. Your
[00:14:37] Randi: life. suddenly makes sense. But then you see there was all these things, other pathways you could have taken had you been diagnosed early. And it's you do you walk through this grief process of like, well, my life could have been this or this or that.
[00:14:52] Jess: and how come nobody knew or how come that nobody stepped in to help? So there is this aha and grief that happens at the same time.
[00:15:01] Randi: But you, it can also open up a world of support and understanding, being able to understand yourself in a different light and why you do some of the things you do or why you've struggled the way you've struggled can be so empowering in itself.
It was for me to be like, Oh my gosh, like this all clicks together. And. Included in that is communication is just so important. Encouraging communication about this with your family, with your community, with your friends, just helping reduce that stigma can create just so many more supportive environments.
I know I've had to do that for my own child who is on The spectrum and just educating his teachers and his support systems at school or camps has just opened up their eyes to and helps them support him and us as a family as well. And a
[00:15:51] Jess: lot of people and teachers think they understand, Oh, I understand ADHD or Oh, I understand autism.
But because there's so many variables like we were just talking about that you have to understand the person. You have to understand each child or each individual and be open to that. That's the other part is really having. Empathy and understanding and learning and wanting to learn
[00:16:16] Randi: about that, right?
And understanding that every diagnosis is different. Every child, every woman, every person situation, it's not going to be a one size fits. All
[00:16:28] Jess: It's like saying it's a car. Okay, great. We all know what a car, an SUV, a truck is, but when we start looking at what different kinds of cars, oh my gosh, now we have sports cars.
We have all wheel
[00:16:39] Randi: drive cars, right? Does it have a sunroof? Does it have fancy rims? Does it have a surround sound system? Does it have heated seats? Okay. She's
[00:16:46] Jess: talking about her car. Okay. So it just means getting better understanding. And so in addition to that.
I really want to encourage you to get self care. We talk about this all the time. Women on spectrum often have very unique sensory needs and may benefit from self care routines that cater to those sensitivities. Taking time for self compassion and self acceptance is so important.
[00:17:11] Randi: Yeah. Sound is a big trigger for me, too.
I'm very reactive to sounds, especially if it's the end of the day and I'm tired or hormonal or things like that. So, For me, I needed to invest into earbuds like my air pods that could noise cancel. What are those canceling those loops?
[00:17:30] Jess: Have you seen those loops that they have I have people that swear by loops they're just these little at look like earbuds or ear pods but they have these little circles on them and they have different types based upon what you need and they're called loops and they've got, they have them on Amazon.
[00:17:44] Randi: an actual website. But yeah, because like I needed to be able to take some time. If sound was getting overwhelming to cancel out the noise around me, just to calm down and center myself. So it's. little things like that that can make a whole difference where then I wasn't being so reactive to my family after that, if like noise was setting me off.
[00:18:06] Jess: I'm kind of over here giggling. I don't know if you can hear me, but one of the things I'm laughing about is that I . Can't stand the feeling of microfiber towels. The feeling of it
[00:18:16] Randi: just creeps me out like that with ceramics, like the chalky.
feel of a ceramic, like an unpainted, like ceramic or she like, she's like, even to me like, don't even touch that. If we're like at Michael's or the craft store or something, and sometimes she'll pick stuff up and be like, Oh my God like, like put it down. But so I understand that.
[00:18:36] Jess: And it's so funny because even being ADHD, I'll walk through the store and I have to touch all the materials.
Mm hmm. Always gotta touch stuff until I find the silk one that really grosses me out. There's like this silk feeling that I can't handle and then I'm like and I'm making weird faces. So again, is ADHD on spectrum? You know, It's kind of a spectrumy thing if we're going to use that kind of terminology.
So maybe it could be. I also want to encourage people to reach out for their community. and connect with others to find out if there's others that have a similar experience. Honestly, once you get on Reddit, be careful, but once you get on Reddit, I know the rabbit hole and sometimes they're mean, but you can start reading other people who will be open and talk about stuff.
And you're like, Hey, Oh, I thought that was just me.
[00:19:21] Randi: Yeah, connecting with others who share those experiences can really provide that sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation. And I find that too, when I open up to friends or family about this and they're like, Oh my gosh, I've been experiencing this too.
And you immediately, it feels like a weight is being lifted off your shoulders that you have that connection and you can talk about what you're going through. And so, forging that community and connection is huge and feeling supported.
[00:19:47] Jess: Mm hmm. So when we talk about the autism spectrum, it's important to remember that it's not a one size fits all concept.
Randy was saying, each individual with ASD has a different unique profile of strengths and challenges. And they may receive different diagnoses within the spectrum based upon their specific Thank you. Characteristics and needs
[00:20:11] Randi: and the point in understanding this is also having respect about these differences and promoting inclusivity and promoting that support and getting those accommodations for individuals on the spectrum.
All of this is so helpful when you are diagnosed.
[00:20:28] Jess: so that wraps up today's episode of Women's Mental Health Podcast. We hope this discussion has shed some light on what it means to be on the spectrum, especially for women who are navigating their mental health.
[00:20:40] Randi: Remember, embracing neurodiversity and fostering understanding can contribute to improve mental well being and self care.