I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder ( aspergers under the DM-IV) and anxiety as an adult. My parents always suspected something was “different” about me but ASD didn’t really come up in conversations with specialists. Maybe it was because I was a girl or maybe it was because I was able to hold it together at school, so what my parents and siblings saw was totally different to what the teachers saw. I hear this scenario very often on facebook groups and pages that I am a part of.
Due to much ongoing support from family and friends, I have been able to maintain a semi independent life. I live on a property in the gorgeous Lockyer Valley, QLD with The Ashton Circus Family. I first met my circus family when I was fourteen years old. When I was eighteen; I would often travel to perform with them in towns on The Sunshine Coast ( I grew up and at that time lived with my parents in Caloundra). I also travelled frequently to Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
Five years ago, sixth generation circus performer Tanya Falagan invited me to move out full time to help her with the workshops she ran at schools. I moved in with Tanya and her family and the rest as they say is history.
While I love to travel often to attend theatre shows or gymnastics competitions, for me the Lockyer Valley has become my home. My favourite view is the mountains as the bus drives into the Lockyer Valley after I have flown back into Brisbane after being away.
Despite the challenges of having ASD and anxiety, I have been able to establish myself here. Alongside teaching and performing circus, I write a weekly theatre column for Australian theatre group TheatrePeople, I play soccer in the Laidley Women’s Soccer Team and currently studying a Certificate IV in Education Support, completing the prac component at Forest Hill State School.
I want to give you a look inside a “typical” or regular day in my life. I have decided to choose Monday as that is the day I do more then any other day.
If we aren’t going to a school to conduct circus workshops, I like to lie in “my spot” and write. On Mondays my writing is a mixture of preparing the first draft for this week’s TheatrePeople column and working on the written component for my tafe subject. Most recently I completed case studies and explanations to do with Cluster 3- Special Needs. This has been my favourite subject so far as it touched heavily on ASD. I want to specialise in working with people on the spectrum.
To start my weekly column, I check sources such as social media and the websites of theatres around the country. I will also check in with my editor who is based in Melbourne as to whether she has any news she would like in this week’s column. Often I can become overloaded with information and my brain needs a rest so the first draft process can take a few days. After I complete a first draft I email it to my editor and wait on her response.
I could do the whole process in a day but I find it easier on my brain if I space out the process over the whole week.
I like this role as it is something I have always done and am often referred to as a walking encyclopedia on the topic. I also get to meet some very interesting and talented people along the way.
For my studies, at the beginning of each term I log onto my course which is available on Connect which is the tafe’s online system. Here I can access any news, discussion pages and the material for this subject. Connect is also used to upload assignments once I have completed them. The column is published on either Saturday or Sunday. Here is what the column link looks like on the Facebook page.
In the afternoon I head to circus school with Tanya. On Mondays we are in Laidley. Here we teach the local children skills such as silks, trapeze, Spanish web, lyra, juggling, plate spinning and rolling globe. Here the children learn at their own pace in a safe and judgement free environment. We attract many children on the spectrum to our circus schools because they struggle to fit in and be themselves elsewhere. We usually find they come out of their shell and we are able to see them grow in both circus skills and personal development.
This is one of my favourite parts about being a circus instructor. Being on the spectrum myself I know how hard it is to find a place where you can just be yourself. I think it helps the children and their families to have that role model too. In circus, I specialise in plate spinning, clowning and static trapeze.
I am very thankful for my circus family and their acceptance of my ASD. They know that some days I can add ridiculous sums in my head but on other days I need help putting my costumes on during the show because I am very anxious. They know sometimes I need a pep talk and other times I need some alone time. At the end of the day we talk about it then hug it out.
After circus school, Tanya drops me at the local recreational grounds. I am there early but I will watch the junior teams train and also love to watch the sunset over the mountains. During winter it gets very cold so I try to rug up as much as possible. When my team mates arrive we chat about the weekend’s game before working on various drills and skills. This is my first year back in a mainstream team after a five year absence. I was very hesitant and scared to sign up as I didn’t know how my ASD and anxiety would be received by my team mates and the club.
With the help of the Brisbane Paralympic Football Program I was able to make a smooth transition. The club, our team staff and my team mates have gone above and beyond to help me feel like I belong. They are very open to learning. My team mates have even taken to reading my resources to learning more about ASD. During training they are not afraid to explain things more then once and during games they have become very apt at picking when I am overloading and need a short break off the field for a break and to cool down.
When I arrive home from Soccer training it usually around 7:30pm. I grab myself dinner which is often on the stove or in the microwave. After dinner I will sometimes watch TV but most of the time I will go back to my spot and write until I go to bed.
My goal for the future is to help children and adults on the spectrum realise their talents and show them that their “disability” should not be a barrier in achieving whatever they wish to achieve in their life.