In 2019 I carried out a study to explore how late-diagnosed autistic women (like me) managed their health and wellbeing. You can read the summary of my findings here. This is the second of four blog posts describing the themes I identified when analysing the interviews. You can find the first one here.
Theme 2: individual health practices
Because my study was about autistic women who were really interested in health and wellbeing, this theme was mostly about how they researched, adapted and developed strategies for themselves. Obviously, not all autistic people are so interested in strategies for managing their own health, but if you are here on this site, maybe this and other posts will inspire you to look further.
Rather than relying on prescribed recommendations or generic advice from professional sources, my study participants generally preferred to learn about how to manage their own health. This way, they gained thorough understandings which helped them to work around their own needs and preferences.
The process of learning tended to be immersive, gleaning a wealth of information from varied books, medical journals, websites and podcasts. Many of the participants talked about how learning about health and wellbeing was intense and enjoyable. They explored different theories, practices and philosophies, did plenty of ‘thinking-outside-the-boxes’ and made unique connections for themselves.
Most had developed dietary practices to address challenges such as digestive issues and/or chronic pain, such as avoiding sugar, gluten and/or processed foods. But they also noticed benefits in sleep, energy, focus and co-ordination; and reductions in sensory challenges, anxiety and agitation.
Although executive dysfunction, sensory issues or fatigue made food preparation difficult for some, all the participants tried to base their meals around unprocessed foods such as fresh meat or fish and vegetables. Some even grew their own vegetables, fermented foodstuffs and made bone broth. Herbs and supplements were used by some to support mental health and hormone balance. All these practices were based on the participants own research and were felt to make a noticeable difference to their health and wellbeing.
Martial arts, yoga, walking and strength training were often used to lessen anxiety, improve co-ordination, proprioception and mobility; reduce chronic pain, improve sleep and stave off burnout. Quiet and supportive classes meant that they could go at their own pace and tailor any movements that might cause pain or discomfort. If such classes weren’t available the participants enjoyed quietly training at home alone, without having to go out and socialise. I will be talking a bit more about this in my next post.
Autistic people are recognised as showing a high performance in detail-focussed processing. Let’s look at how my study participants demonstrated this so beautifully! (1) they had all researched physical and mental health, therapies and autism itself, (2) they thought about how this all fitted in with their own health and wellbeing symptoms such as fatigue, executive dysfunction, chronic pain and sensory sensitivities, and (3) they developed practices that fit their needs and requirements.
This site has a growing number of posts describing how and why our autistic contributors develop their own health practices from the research and experimenting that they have done. Could you write one too? If you grow or forage your own vegetables, or have multiple jars of ferments on your kitchen counter, how did you learn about traditional food preparation? If you teach or practice yoga or meditation daily and find that it helps with anxiety and digestion, tell us about how you got into that! Contact us here if you would like to share your story.
Flo is a founder member of Autism HWB and a post-graduate researcher exploring wellbeing strategies for autistic people.
You can find her on Twitter @FloNevilleNAT and Instagram @nourish_align_transform
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