Updated: Aug 26
For the Spring 2013 edition of Autism Spectrum, Dr. Liane Holliday-Willey interviewed me for their 'Celebrations of Excellence' section.
Here is the full interview:
"WillowHope is an impressive young entrepreneur who has never given up her dreams of reaching independence, employment and happiness. Her story is a blueprint for others to follow. "
LHW: As we all know, employment opportunities for people on the spectrum are too few and far between. You've made your own path and started your own business with the help of your fiancé. How did you gather the strength you needed start a business?
WH: Both me and my Fiancé have Aspergers Syndrome and knew that we needed to work for ourselves one day so we could create our own environment, so there would be no pressures or stress. We were able to start something up from home, which I run whilst my fiancé works a 9-5 job, though we hope to run the business together full-time at some point. I’ve always being interested in graphic design and art, so running a company where I can use my skills is amazing. It’s really not easy, and we couldn’t have done it if one of us didn’t still have a full-time job. Starting a graphic design business doesn’t require a lot of face-to-face meetings, most of it can be done over email – so it’s really suited to me. I don’t feel strong enough to have a real job, so working from home is my only option. It started out as just logo designs and other small projects, but I recently decided to begin making my YouTube videos again – which I sort of stopped after we got engaged. From there, I decided to do my own website which I can eventually blog on and sell my photography/artwork. I also looked back at all the poetry I wrote whilst I was going through my breakdown, and I thought it could be helpful to others who might be going through a similar thing, so I decided to release it as a book. As I can design my own cover and everything, I knew it’d be easiest to self-publish – which is what I intend to do for my second book which is due out around August 2013. It will be about my childhood/teenage years and how I coped with school etc., but will also focus on how I cope as an adult on the spectrum.
LHW: You mentioned you don’t feel strong enough to have a real job. I think you mean a ‘traditional job’, because, after all, you are working very hard with your own business. You suffered tremendous bullying, challenges that were left without support at school, and anxiety. Eventually you had a breakdown. Can you tell us about that?
WH: During my breakdown – which must have last around a year and a half – I really don’t remember a lot of what happened. I know I got to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed anymore, and if I did, I barely left my room. Trips into town were too difficult and if I did go, I’d have to rush home early because of a panic attack after seeing someone I knew from school. I think I just got to a point where I thought that I couldn’t possibly get any lower, and I’d kind of exhausted myself, and just felt…nothing. But because of that, it meant I had room to start thinking about what I needed to do with my life. I felt like the bullies in my life had won and I didn’t want that. I loved education and getting my qualifications meant a lot to me, so I just started looking into how I might be able to get back into school, despite being 2 years older than I should be to start the course I wanted to take. I just solely concentrated on making that happen – it became an obsession. I knew the old bullies would have moved on, which gave me a chance to start fresh. I changed my last name (to my Mum’s rather than my Dad’s) so that I could symbolically try and put my old life behind me. Focusing on one thing and having it all work out was what helped me recover. I was allowed to begin again with a group 2 years younger than me. Being around younger people helped because I don’t think they felt they could bully me, but I also got on with them really well. Unfortunately, I had to leave before completing my course because we got a new head teacher and he wouldn’t allow the exceptions that had been made for me to continue. I did still get a couple of qualifications though, and by setting new goals and not giving up on my dreams, I did recover from my breakdown!
LHW: How can we convince schools, the work place and other social institutions to let us make small adjustments in their standard program such as wearing a uniform made of a material different from their standard or wearing sunglasses to class?
WH: I’m really not sure how to tackle this issue. I wish it was simple - as often the small changes that would help are, but schools/workplaces don’t always see it like that. I understand that sometimes changes are difficult to make for an individual, because everyone else will wonder why they can’t have the same – and may even bully that individual because of their needs. If changes were allowed for an individual right from the beginning of school though, their peers would grow up knowing that that person needs something, and accept it – more so than if the change is made later on through school; younger children are more accepting of change. Things need to be put in place so much earlier on than they currently are. In terms of workplaces – it’s much harder to make changes, especially with things like uniform in say, a bank or supermarket, where everyone wears the same. I think we just need to have more information available to support our claims that we need modifications, so that it can be understood from the start. It’s just hard to make people understand – and that’s really all we need: understanding.
LHW: Isn’t that the truth! You’ve obviously earned great insight about life and ASD. Given all you’ve learned and been through, do you consider your AS a gift or a curse?
WH: I used to think it was a curse, because I was struggling so much as a teenager. I just couldn’t see how it could get any better – which is what ‘The Girl in the Panda Hat’ (my book) is about. But now I’m older it’s neither a gift nor a curse – it’s just who I am. There are still bad things which happen because of it; like panic attacks in really busy places or not being able to motivate myself to do anything (I sometimes feel like I can’t get out of bed, and it reminds me of when I had my breakdown, and I get upset about it). But there are good things too – being obsessed with certain things sometimes can be fun, or even productive. My creativity I think is a result of my AS – I think it’s my ‘special talent’. If I had to pick, on the whole, it would be a gift – although it’d be more of a gift if people were more understanding about AS!"
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