I’m Nicky Collins, The Autism Coach, and I’m a champion for autistic women and girls. It is my belief that every woman and girl deserves to be proud of who they are and not frightened or fearful. I spent 34 years not knowing that I’m autistic, and this revelation empowered me to use my personal development skills and passion for helping others. I started a business that encourages and emboldens autistic women and girls to step into an authentic version of their autistic self. Through my passion of helping others—which started by helping myself—I am a globally recognised motivational speaker, coach and transformation leader, whose work has touched the lives of many families across the world. Born on the outskirts of London, I now live in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside with my teenage son, cat and two guinea pigs. Location isn’t an issue for me as I conduct much of my work online through 121 client sessions, courses, and group coaching programmes. I am on a mission to challenge the misconceptions and stigmas around autism and what I consider to be my superpower.
I am often asked why I tend to work with females only, the main reason is that women and girls are so often missed or misdiagnosed for an autism diagnosis, the vast majority of research is carried out on cisgender white males. These observations have become the autistic norms for which individuals are measured against, so if you don’t tick the boxes neatly, you may struggle to gain a diagnosis. Autism is a spectrum, this is very well known, so it makes sense that people display their autistic characteristics differently regardless of gender or race. After all, autism itself isn’t gendered, if it was then you’d have male autism, female autism, transgender, and non-binary autism which makes absolutely no sense.
What does make sense is to know yourself and work on yourself (work on things like triggers that can be barriers to learning); reasonable adjustments in school can be made if you know what you need. I once worked with a young person who had a table outside the classroom. When he started to feel overwhelmed, he’d walk out of the class and sit at the desk outside the class. If he was able to, he would continue his work, otherwise he’d take the time to destress and decompress. This worked well for the entire class, the student was able to learn key skills around autonomy and honouring his needs in the moment. The class experienced no disruption from potentially explosive behaviour. The teacher was able to continue to teach, and then would check on the student when he had removed himself from the class. It was a brilliant arrangement and the autistic young man didn’t experience any shame from potentially melting down in front of his fellow students.
There are similar things you can do at home to support your young person, but first you need to know that learning styles can look different to neurodivergent people. Fidgeting around, not making eye contact and doodling does not mean your person isn’t engaged. Quite the contrary! These activities allow a person to focus their mind without the added sensory inputs of eye contact, or the focus required to sit still—which do not help autistic people to learn but rather hinder their growth and frustrate teachers or parents!
Most of the time helping your autistic child to thrive means you need to become a detective, so working backwards from the event that wasn’t supportive to their growth or was disruptive to the family. Once you’ve worked out what triggers them (maybe it’s sound, a certain smell or being asked to do something in a way that their brain rejects), then you can start to put a plan into place that creates more balance. More balance has a knock-on effect in all areas, like in their confidence and self-esteem, and their problem-solving skills develop due to being given the chance to work through things rather than being punished for bad behaviour.
Life is way too short to take things seriously all the time, so an element of play is another invaluable source of learning and development. Things like executive function can really trip autistic people up. I have been known to lose six hours straight looking out of the window watching for squirrels, if I don’t have systems in place then I will lose large chunks of time, and this leaves me feeling frustrated and inadequate. What I like to do (and what I suggest to other people) is to make the things I don’t want to do into games. I’ll often go into the kitchen and fill the kettle up to the top, that way it takes longer to boil, as soon as I flick the switch on the kettle I start with my chosen task, maybe it’s washing up, I will then race myself against the kettle. Chances are the kettle will boil and I’ll continue to wash the dishes until they are finished—it’s the getting started that’s the hard part! This can be transferred to all sorts of areas and the games can be different—the only limit is your imagination—so you can have some real fun getting creative here.
My top tip for autistic people is to recognise that our brains process information differently to our neurotypical counterparts, this means that we need more time to process information. This doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it means that the process of information going in and coming out in a way that is useful is delayed for us. This can feel frustrating, but don’t worry—when the information has been processed you’ll be just as well informed as those around you, if not more so. Trust the process.
- More about Executive Function and it’s role on learning on the Learnfully Blog
- The Power of Play for learning development on the Learnfully Blog
About the Author
Nicky Collins, The Autism Coach, is a champion for autistic women and girls. It is her belief that every woman and girl deserves to be proud of who they are and not frightened or fearful. Nicky spent 34 years not knowing she is autistic and has ADHD; this revelation empowered her to use her personal development skills and passion for helping others, into a business that encourages and emboldens autistic women and girls to step into an authentic version of their autistic self. Nicky is a globally recognised motivational speaker, coach and transformation leader, whose work has touched the lives of many families across the world. Born on the outskirts of London, Nicky lives in the UK with her teenage son, cat and two guinea pigs. Location isn’t an issue for Nicky as she conducts the majority of her work online through 121 client sessions, courses and group coaching programmes. Nicky is on a mission to challenge the misconceptions and stigmas around autism and what she considers her superpower.”