We spoke to SF Walker about her experiences as a woman on the autism spectrum who was diagnosed as an adult.
SF is a musician, home cook and lover of cats. SF has worked for the Pacific Autism Family Network since March 2016. She works as the manager for the Voices of Autism, an advisory group to the PAFN. Her role is to create positive change by reaching out and helping people across BC make their communities more inclusive. Currently, SF is recording her 6th studio album and is living the good life.
Before we get started, do you prefer person-first or identity-first language?
Personally, I like person-first language.
How old were you when you received your autism diagnosis?
I was 30 years old at the time of dx.
What prompted you to pursue a diagnosis?
I had been having difficulty with anxiety, depression, and agoraphobia. I was referred to the Mood Disorder Clinic at UBC where I saw two therapists and eventually received a laundry list of diagnoses, Asperger’s Syndrome being at the very top of the list. From there I was able to focus on what I needed to in order to help myself get better.
How did you feel when you received your diagnosis? Did it change your understanding of yourself?
I wasn’t shocked. Throughout University my professors made comments and suggested looking into a dx but I went to school in the states where an adult diagnosis would have been way too expensive so I just put it out of my mind. I did find relief in that now I could clap when I became excited. People still stare at me to this day but I don’t care anymore.
How would you describe yourself as a child? What were your favourite things to do? Did you have “typical” interests?
I was a quiet kid. I hated playing outside. I never understood what that meant, play outside? Play what? All I wanted to do was play my guitar. I got one when I was two and haven’t put it down in 35 years. I had a few friends from music class but I didn’t spend a ton of time outside of school with them. Socially, I wasn’t very adept; when my friends or classmates would call I would pick up the phone, ask them if I could call them back but I never did. I hated making phone calls. As an adult, I also dislike answering the phone. It’s a challenge but my jobs have all been ones in which I have to be on the phone quite a bit.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman on the autism spectrum?
Hearing the phrase, “wow, you don’t seem autistic at all”. I want to say, “you don’t seem like an idiot at all” but it’s more of a teachable moment for that person. People still don’t seem to understand you can’t SEE autism. You see behaviour.
It’s not quite gender-based. I do get comments on the clothing I wear because I have a certain style and I have stuck with it through fad after fad. I do this to avoid being forced to wear clothes that will be “out of season” soon. Forget that noise. I get told that I dress like a boy though I don’t even know what that means. I wear women’s clothing, wear makeup. Ugh.
The biggest challenge is really being a gay woman on the spectrum. Talk about a double rainbow. I have to come out twice for people to get to know me. That sucks.
What are the most positive aspects of being on the spectrum?
I’m probably smarter than you. Just kidding. I get to help people see things differently. As a former teacher, I love discussion and learning and I think I don’t fear making mistakes. I can also avoid hugs when people know about my preferences and aversions.
What advice would you give to adult women who think they are autistic?
You ROCK. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Dance into a room if you want, tell people you identify as a fighter pilot, like me. It’s your identity to choose. Be you. You are amazing.
What advice would you give to parents of autistic girls or related disabilities?
She wants to be successful. Set the stage for success, little ones, big ones. She wants to be loved and feel included. Let her choose her path; she will grab the stars if you help her reach for them.
Are there any books, websites, or other resources you’d recommend for women and girls on the spectrum?
Anything that interests you. I don’t like reading about what someone else thinks of me and my tribe. Read things that support your interests. I am a sucker for information and I know I’m not alone so read anything that makes you want to read. Share what you read with your parents and friends. In terms of resources, I always tell families to find natural resources in their community: libraries, parks, malls, first responders, community centres. And a plug: Join the Voices of Autism! We want to hear from the girls! Thank you for allowing me to interview and give you my perspective.
The Mental Health Literacy Guide for Autism is meant for Autistic adults, family members, professionals, policy-makers & leaders. The goal of the guide is to provide knowledge about the factors that can impact Autistic mental health. It highlights how context & individual experiences play roles one’s mental health, and how societal acceptance and appreciation of autism is critical for the better support and well-being of Autistic adults.