Out With Autism by Amanda Graham


Is there anything more annoying than having to take your own advice? One of the great things about getting older is that you get very good at wriggling out of it. But sometimes, you can’t.


This was one of those times.

My family’s packed with lots of things. Like a desperate need for triple cheese on pizza. And an appreciation, nay reverence, for the tv show Cheers. And neurodivergence up the wazoo.

It’s not like we’ve known about this for a long time. In fact, we didn’t. We were just kind of on spectrums of weirdness or eccentricity or overachievement or restlessness or needs-extra-help-at- school-but-we-don’t-know-exactly-for-what. Until my nephew was diagnosed with autism when he was young.

And then my son.

There’s so much insane prejudice and misinformation out there about ASD. You can’t turn on a tv series that features an autistic character (even the “enlightened” shows) without seeing the same stereotypes over and over. ASD people can’t socialize. They can’t walk down the street. They’re inept in relationships. They’re hard to manage. And for god’s sake, NEVER take them to a mall unless you want a meltdown.

That’s what my son should expect his life to be? Oh hell no.

Of course I’m not saying that many autistic people do not have these challenges. Of course they do. But to lump every single autistic person into the same five or six traits?

Come on.

Beyond frustrated, I went into uber-protective mama mode and assured him he didn’t need to hide it. That he could still do what he wanted in life. That he should ignore what he sees on tv. That if there were obstacles we’d work together around them and figure everything out.

He always agreed. Phew. We chugged along.

But then, something unexpected happened. The older he got, the more I noticed it was like watching myself as a kid. It was spooky. Same personality traits. He can’t resist dogs either. He’s also obsessed with velvet. He worships the cheese pull.

We’d even say the same things at the same time.

And then a lightbulb went off. “Oh, I must be autistic too.” So at 46 years old, I asked for a referral from my GP and - are you ready - I got my first “But you don’t look autistic.” For those of you who are neurotypical, that means I’m officially an autistic person! It’s one of the first things people say to most of us. I think they’re trying to be nice? But erm...yeah. It’s not great. I don’t know how we’re supposed to look.

Anyway, I had to wait nearly 2 years to be assessed. All the while, I continued to encourage my son. We talk about neurodiversity a lot. We talk about issues like masking, and habits, and tics, and all the autistic-y things that come and go as they please.

I’m still encouraging pride, still encouraging staying out of the ASD closet, still reminding him he can do whatever he sets his mind to.


My assessment involved not only lots of interviews with me, but also with my family and friends. And then they called me with the diagnosis. The first thing they said after telling me I was indeed autistic was “Yeah, we knew you had it right away.”

Huh.

Instantly there was so much relief because my son would know that someone really understood him. He wouldn’t feel isolated. But then questions flooded in. I picked apart my youth.

It’s like looking at photos of your childhood with a coloured filter placed on top. Everything’s recognizable...but different in feel and tone. What would things have been like if I had known earlier? Would I have been given more help? Would I have made different decisions? But then came a sense of understanding. So many “ohhhhhh” moments about weird and quirky things that happened. So that’s why I was hit by a car. So that’s why I’m always cold. Or why I despise stupid rules. And injustice. That’s why I always freaking feel I need to pee gahhhh.

And then - deep breath because honesty is everything - it hit me that I was “stuck” in ASD. It was there. It was a thing that would never go away. It was literally how my brain was wired.

And it wasn’t just how I saw myself as an autistic person that would be the issue. It was how others saw me as an autistic person that would be the issue. As an autistic person, I can be as out and proud as I want. But working in the TV production industry, where 2% of the workforce are disabled even though we make up 20% of the general population? In a world where only 22% of autistic adults are in full time employment?

That was a bind. To be out would without a doubt threaten my chances of being employed. But to hide who I was would without a doubt threaten my chances of being a good example to my own son.

How could I look him in the face, and explain that although he should be out and proud about it, I had to hide because you don’t understand this industry kiddo- I’m a freelancer and this is sudden death and it’s food on the table and they’ll think I’ll be having meltdowns every 5 seconds and maybe they won’t be able to have coffee if I hate the smell and and and and. It’s different for me, son. You do you on your own.

Yeah, in the end it wasn’t much of a decision. I had to take my own advice.

No doubt you’re expecting the story that I put my nose to the grindstone, and buckled down, and still overcame everything in production and look at me now!

Nope.

In fact, over these three years, I have not gotten a single production job. Not one. Despite my references, my well-established skills and experience, nothing.

As a single mom, this freaked me out. It’s not possible to live like this.

People advised me to get back into the closet. I don’t blame them- they thought they were helping by being honest and telling me this. But I couldn’t hide it. And my stubborn nature kicked in so hard I was determined to do whatever I could to get by.

So I pushed myself to do things that use the talents that I did have because what else could I do? I figured out the stuff that came naturally because of my neurodivergent thinking.

I created a course on networking for those who struggle with it, and began teaching it. I lectured at the local university. I continued scriptwriting and reached out to the people in the industry who trusted me and my work, which has led to some incredible development deals. I’m working on some cutting-edge virtual/digital projects that are bringing my own weird ideas to life. I even started copywriting again - something you do a lot in tv production.

Yes, it’s ridiculous that I should have to go to those lengths. And so many people in the industry are blocked by gatekeepers who are not interested in inviting them to the table. I’m not saying it’s good they are doing what they’re doing for any reason whatsoever. They’ve got to go, obviously.

But right now as things are, until things change, they are a reality that has to be pivoted around. Period.

And you know what? I discovered I’m really good at all those things I did to pivot. So good it feels natural. So good it’s not even a question for the people who hire me. It’s wonderful being valued and being 100% me and open and exactly who I am, no apologies. For once the struggle doesn’t smack me in the face every damn day.

It’s taken me a long time to get here. But I’m glad I did it this way. For me, and as an example for my son.


Amanda Graham's a woman with a lot of fingers in a lot of pies. But they all have one goal in common: smashing the boxes we're put into.

She currently has a comedy development deal with Olivia Colman and Ed Sinclair's indie South of the River, with Colman and legendary comedy director Tristram Shapeero attached. She also has several options with award-winning Channel X. She's also a multi-genre development script editor who has just finished a stint with Norwegian indie JMG Stories (part of the Zero Gravity Group). She wrote 13 scripts for BBC Children’s including flagship shows Justin’s House and Swashbuckle, then Assistant Produced and wrote on all 10 episodes of BBC2/CBBC’s groundbreaking sketch show “The Amelia Gething Complex” starring TikTok and YouTube sensation Amelia Gething. She loves leading-edge copy and content writing for big brands including Channel 4, Discovery, BBC, Confused.com, Reductress, Elephant Journal, Princes Trust, and The National Trust. She's led two separate Twitter campaigns securing 6-9 million impressions with trending. She developed and teaches a specialised future-focused course on how-to-network, specifically aimed at industry people who struggle with networking, access, and self-esteem issues. She's taught the course for Women in Film & TV, Black Creatives, multiple groups of disabled workers, and many UK-based universities. Amanda is also the current Outstanding Lecturer for the School of Arts, University of Bolton Students' Choice Awards, and was selected as a BFI / BAFTA Crew Member 2021-2021 and Edinburgh TV Festival's Ones to Watch 2018-2019.