This weeks blog is by Rachel Couch, from Atypical CIC who promote and advocate for people with hidden disabilities in the workplace. They run events and hire neuro-divergent project leaders to help promote their businesses and to give them a chance to expand their options. Atypical CIC aim to provide a safe and understanding support network. Their website has lots of information and support. Atypical CIC have been involved with our Disability at Work project, which you can find out more about on our Employment page.
I am moderately deaf since birth and recently was diagnosed with autism. I identify as bisexual as well.
My hearing loss wasn’t identified by professionals until I was 5-6 years old, and was the result of being 10 weeks premature, due to illness which nearly killed me and my mum. The illness damaged the hairs in my ears and this has caused a 70% hearing loss.
I was given hearing aids once it was diagnosed at this young age and from what I’ve been told I was amazed by the bird song and noises outside that I simply had never realised existed until then. I also used to turn them off or pull them out when it got too much and it wasn’t smooth sailing for my parents trying to get me to use them, which I now realise was likely due to my autism and sensory overload. Even now at 27, I will still turn them off if I’m too overloaded.
I am self employed and am a director at Atypical Support CIC, a trustee of the Chopwell Regeneration Group and a sole trader artist.
Recently I got my artwork featured in an exhibition at the Customs House in South Shields, which I am super thrilled at. I have included some photos of my work.
I joined Atypical Support CIC as I am disabled myself and want to help those who are going through similar struggles. We advocate for disabilities in the workplace and provide support for employers and individuals to accommodate their struggles and keep them employed/find employment. You can find out more on our Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
I have always been aware something was different about myself growing up. Especially once the challenges at school started becoming more independent-led and the social hierarchy shifted.
I had major struggles socially at school and was bullied quite extensively. This unfortunately has had lasting damage to my ability to trust people. Looking back I realise I used to internally meltdown/shut down. Or I just simply couldn’t tell I was being made the butt of the joke, which for them was all the more hilarious. I’ve blocked out a lot of my time at high school and it has taken me a while to start talking about it through therapy and with trusted friends.
What ultimately led to me realising it might be autism that was the missing link, was meeting my partner who is also autistic. I started looking into it more and I realised I was identifying way too much with the information and memes! What I thought was interesting was the female friends that I’d had at school had all got diagnosed after school as well!
How Did I Figure Out I Was Autistic?
My partner pointed out my obsession with Coca-Cola and my penchant for collecting as well. When he met me I was sticking quite firmly to the same foods such as pizza, pasta and chicken dippers with sweet chilli sauce. He has got me eating a lot of new foods now simply by letting me try a bit of the dish he’d ordered while letting me order my ‘safe’ dish. He is also a ex-chef so has found ways to introduce new food items where I can trick my brain into eating them.
My ‘obsessions’ also consist of anything animal related, art and natural history. They are all linked and I actually have a large private collection of natural history which inspires my artwork. (Understanding anatomy is crucial for drawing animals and there is nothing better than having the real thing in front of you.)
At my assessment I was told that a commonality for autism was an interest in how things worked, such as electronics and cars/trains but biology/anatomy is also included, which is where my interest lies.
I asked my GP for a referral to be tested for autism in 2020 and it took until 2022 to get my assessments and official diagnosis. I am very happy I have my diagnosis as the constant “what if I’m not and I’m just useless at life” mantra that went around my brain while I was waiting those two years is exhausting and not great for your mental health!
When I did get my official confirmation, a lot of my close friends said “Well duh, its obvious!” and my friend circle is almost exclusively neuro-diverse, LBQT+ open minded folk now!