For World Autism Acceptance Week, Good News Shared speaks to Perfectly Autistic, a platform dedicated to people, parents and partners on their autism journey. Founders Hester and Kelly Grainger, who are both neurodiverse, set up the consultancy with the aim of providing guidance and connecting those on their autism journeys. The couple are parents to two autistic children aged 10 and 12. Off the back of the children’s diagnoses, Kelly was diagnosed as autistic at 44, and Hester was diagnosed with ADHD at 43.
According to the National Autistic Society: “Autism affects how people communicate and interact with the world. There are approximately 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people.”
Having gone through the diagnosis process three times with very little follow-up and support, Hester and Kelly threw themselves into finding out more about the lifelong developmental disability in hopes of helping those who had gone through a similar experience. Born out of the first lockdown, the consultancy runs workplace training sessions and seminars enabling neurodivergent people to flourish. Perfectly Austitic has partnered with Mental Health at Work with Mind providing toolkits and blogs on making work-life comfortable for all.
Working with organisations including O2, United Nations Global Compact Network UK and The Guardian, Kelly is an expert neurodiversity speaker and trains employers with tools and strategies to create a healthier work environment for those who are autistic or neurodiverse. Kelly notes that strategies like “flexing communication styles, understanding how you bring people into the business and reasonable adjustments surrounding sensory processing – lighting, sound and smells” are beneficial for the whole workplace, not only for those who are neurodivergent.
Recognising that it can be lonely on the autism path, Kelly and Hester have also launched a Facebook group with a community of around 900 people in which the group share resources, offer advice and answer questions. From topics such as clothing being physically painful for autistic children to advice on the initial stages after diagnosis, the community is a lifeline for those who are parents of autistic children and for those who have been diagnosed later in life. There’s no doubt such a support group is essential for your parents’ own well-being, as Hester recently shared.
The couple hopes to raise awareness and understanding of autism by addressing misconceptions about the community. “Most people still haven’t heard of neurodiversity, or they have and they don’t really know what it means,” Kelly says. “I think the biggest thing is acceptance, because, you know, neurodiversity – they are hidden disabilities. I think when anything isn’t visible or not physical, people don’t tend to believe it.”
Highlighting that those on the autistic spectrum process things differently, Kelly notes that recognising these differences is key to autism acceptance in society, “And differences actually are a good thing, rather than a bad thing. I think we’ve been programmed over the years to hate differences. You know, we fear difference, rather than celebrate our differences, when actually, that’s what makes us unique. We kind of think these differences are slightly outside of that social norm. But I think we need to start looking at it through a different lens because it benefits society as a whole.” Hester adds that her 12-year-old daughter succinctly puts it that “it’s perfectly normal to be different.”
Around 15-20% of the population are neurodivergent with conditions including ADHD, autism, dyspraxia and dyslexia. Kelly notes how neurodiversity can actually be a strength if companies make room for it. “If you set your culture internally to support those who think differently: actually it’s going to benefit your business because people are going to be happier, it’s going to be a healthier workforce, and therefore, they’re going to thrive and your company’s going to thrive.” Often companies will fit people into very narrow tick box criteria, focusing on the ability to be a generalist. Whereas those who are neurodivergent find it difficult to squeeze into that box. “I think that stops people who are neurodivergent getting into work when they will really want to. It’s about opening people’s eyes up to the fact that it’s a benefit, not a deficit.”
In terms of future plans, Perfectly Autistic hopes to cover the topic of neurodiversity as a whole. Hester also shares that the platform is due to offer autism family support, especially for those who have not yet been formally diagnosed. “Once diagnosed, you’re literally handed your report and then sent on the way. For instance with CAMHS, a children’s mental health service, some areas can have a five-year waiting to get a diagnosis.”
With the introduction of family support, Hester aims to help families and couples with techniques and changes they can make before they’re diagnosed. Like Kelly, it’s common that adults to be diagnosed later in life. Hester says, “I’ll be working with couples where both of them are autistic as well as autistic individuals. What we’re finding when working with organisations is that once these people are out of work, in their home life, they’re trying to manage relationships or being a parent and all these different elements as well. So the support kind of goes hand in hand.”
“There are lots of people who are struggling at the moment, either because they’re trying to go through that process for their children or for themselves. It’s an uphill battle against the clinician, or maybe the school that they’re talking to try to get extra support for children.” Hester and Kelly share that “If you need support, come and talk to us, we’ll try and help you, or we’ll at least point you in the right direction.”
For support and guidance, like and join the Facebook community.