10 things everyone needs to know about autism and ADHD
Chloe Hayden is an award-winning motivational speaker, actor, performer, author, influencer, content creator and disability rights activist and advocate. She’s just made headlines for being cast on the Netflix reboot of Heartbreak High, currently filming in Sydney.
24-year-old Chloe was diagnosed with autism and ADHD when she was 13, and through her online platforms – a YouTube channel with more than 42,000 subscribers and an Instagram account with more than 68,000 followers – her voice is truly being heard.
Here’s a few myths she’d like to bust and truths she’s keen to tell us about what it’s like living as a neurodiverse person in a neurotypical world.
1. Living with autism can feel like you’ve ‘crash landed’ on an alien planet
Scientifically, autism is a developmental condition that affects the way we communicate with people and interact with the world around us.
“For me,” Chloe says, “autism feels like I’ve crash landed on an alien planet where everyone is speaking in a secret code and the rocket scientist forgot to give me a handbook on how to understand it.
“So I have to figure it out myself. But something I’ve discovered is that just because I feel like I’ve come from another planet, doesn’t mean that I was the only one that crash landed here. There were millions of other people just like me that crash landed as well.
“It also doesn’t mean that I can’t create my own life here … my own identity.”
2. ADHD is “in our brains”
Similar to autism, ADHD is a developmental condition. Chloe says ADHD affects the way people see the world around them, their sense of time, and their executive function levels, or how they interact and perceive things.
“It a condition which is in our brains. It’s a brain thing. And a lot of people will use that as a mislead to go, ‘Well, if it’s in your brain, then you can stop doing it – like just be normal. Or, we can fix it with invasive therapies.’
“But you can’t do that. It’s a part of my wiring.”
3. A person can “love” being autistic
Chloe says that even though there can be struggles living in a neurotypical world as a neurodivergent person, she genuinely believes it is her greatest power.
“I love being autistic – it’s incredibly important to me, and it is a huge part of my identity,” Chloe says.
“We need to start taking away that stigma that if we have a disability, it’s inherently bad. We need to take away that disability deficit model and focus on more of a social model of disability.
“I am an autistic person and I am who I am because I’m autistic. I’m not ashamed of being autistic.”
4. Asperger’s syndrome (AS) no longer exists
Chloe was originally diagnosed with Asperger’s when she was 13, however says Asperger’s is no longer part of the DSM- 5, or diagnostic criteria used to diagnose mental health disabilities and developmental disorders.
“Asperger’s in itself is a name that is derived from a man named Hans Asperger who was a Nazi and murdered disabled children during World War Two. So, not something we want to be associated with.”
Chloe believes that some people use the term Asperger’s because they don’t want to be known as autistic.
“People hear Asperger’s and they think, ‘Oh, you’re some crazy savant genius who just happens to not be great at talking to people.’ But it’s all autism. Asperger’s does not exist. High functioning and low functioning autism doesn’t exist. It’s simply autism.”
5. Autism might not be the only diagnosis a person is living with
Chloe has recently been diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a disorder of the autonomic nervous system which controls essential bodily functions like heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, sleep cycles, and temperature control.
It means, she says, her nervous system “can’t be bothered” doing its job.
“My body has constant tachycardia, meaning heart rates above 100 bpm, chronic fatigue, low blood pressure, migraines, palpitations, brain fog and memory issues, muscle pain, fainting, dizzy spells, nausea, shakiness, blurred visions, and struggles with physical activity.”
6. Taking medication does not make a person weak
POTS leaves Chloe’s body feeling as if it is not connected with her mind, and so she takes medication a few times a day to ensure her heart rate slows down.
However, Chloe says there’s a stigma around taking medication.
“People think that if we take medication, we’re weak or we need to try harder. We have the right to take medication unashamedly, if it’s something that’s going to benefit our lives.”
7. Advice for parents on receiving a diagnosis for their child
Chloe says her main piece of advice is to speak to your child – don’t speak over your child or for your child: “That’s honestly the worst thing you can do.”
She says it’s important to remember when a diagnosis is given that your child is still the same child.
“It doesn’t mean that anything is different. Love your child, and if they need help, give it to them. Don’t stop them from doing things which they know they can do.”
Another tip is to encourage your child with everything they want to do, “even if they suck at it”.
“I cannot even walk in a straight line without falling over, and I was like, I want to be a dancer. My mom was like, ‘All right, let’s go.’ I had dance classes every day, and I loved it. I felt like I belonged somewhere.”
8. Reshape the education system
Chloe had endured mental and physical bullying at school, every day since kindergarten.
“School was the pits for me. I became a shell of the person I once was. I used to be a bubbly, happy, vibrant kid and by the time I got my diagnosis, I was mute. I was terrified. I was having panic attacks multiple times a day.”
Chloe was homeschooled, but also believes that this shouldn’t be the only option, and that our education system needs to be reshaped.
“We’re not teaching kids how to be their own people. We’re not teaching kids how to thrive as an individual. We’re teaching them to be an ant in a colony, so it’s not just failing autistic kids. It’s failing most children.”
9. Stop infantilising
Chloe is advocating continually for an end to the infantilising of people with autism.
She says it’s crucial “we stop letting other people speak for us”.
Chloe has experienced doctors, psychologists and teachers who have been speaking to her “like I’m a normal functioning adult”; “Then as soon as the conversation comes up that I’m autistic, their entire attitude changes. They’ll start baby-talking me. They’ll start using simple words. They’ll start speaking to me as if I’m an entirely different human to who I was two seconds beforehand.”
10. Happily-ever-afters exist
Chloe says her life now feels like “an absolute fairy tale”.
“I often compare our lives to fairy tales and how we all have our once-upon-a-time stage, adventure stage, dragon fighting stage. I’m still in that adventure stage. I’m still in the dragon fighting stage, but I can see my happily-ever-after, and it is so freaking cool, man.”