Hello readers, and welcome to the Actually Aspling blog! In this special post I’ll be sharing an interview I did with the incredible Lauren Melissa from the Aspienelle Instagram page. It was an honour to be able to interview Lauren, and I hope you enjoy this!
At what age did you get your Autism diagnosis? What was the process like for you, and what difference did it make?
I received my Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis when I was 23 years old. For me, a large part of the process was the research I undertook before even reaching out to a psychiatrist. In the United States, ASD diagnoses often occur through private practices without the benefit of reduced cost through health insurance. Before I paid a hefty price for an evaluation, I wanted to be as sure as possible that ASD was a likely fit for me. As such, I read an inordinate number of books, articles, and traits lists. I also spoke to many close friends and family about their opinions of whether or not ASD described me.
As my confidence grew, I began seeking a psychiatrist that understood what the spectrum looked like in both girls and adults. I spoke to a friend, who is also a therapist, and she referred me to a psychiatrist that might be able to help. Instead of booking an appointment, I called that psychiatrist, who honestly informed me that he had little experience with adult women on the spectrum. However, the psychiatrist kindly referred me to one of their colleagues.
Thus began a series of phone calls to various referred psychiatrists, until I eventually came across Dr. Lara Mattox. She believed that she could adequately assess me. We booked an appointment two months in advance. During the waiting period, I saved the money to afford the evaluation. The evaluation itself included an in-depth interview, DSM assessment, and two take-home surveys for a closed friend and/or partner and a parent. By the end of the process, I was diagnosed with “High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome).”
Receiving this diagnosis truly freed me. I no longer viewed myself as a broken individual, incapable of fitting in. Suddenly, I belonged to a vast community of neurodiverse people. Thanks to my diagnosis, I have grown to accept and embrace my unique self.
What advice would you give someone who is seeking a diagnosis?
Two pieces of advice I would give to Americans seeking a diagnosis:
1) Call and email psychiatrists before booking an appointment. It is perfectly acceptable to ask psychiatrists about their qualifications, evaluation tools, and specialities prior to forking over the cold hard cash for an evaluation.
2) Make peace before the evaluation that the entire process may conclude without the ASD diagnosis.
Prior to the visit, ask yourself, “What if the psychiatrist determines that I am not on the spectrum?” Your answer might be to seek a second opinion or to move on with your self-discovery journey. That is up to you.
How have you found being part of the Autistic community? Are there any blogs in particular which have helped you?
The Autistic Community has served me in so many ways. Without the my community, I would never have learned how to cope through sensory overload or build stronger skills in meltdown prevention. Even more, there is a certain solidarity and sense of understanding that I feel whenever I connect with other autistics. I do not know any adult autistics outside of the relationships I built through social media. Thanks to the virtual community, I am not alone.
There are so many autistics that have supported me through their content, collaborations, and direct messages. A few that I’ll name in particular are Neurodivergent Rebel, The Good Bunny Club, and The Autistic Life. Truly, there are too many to name!
Do you have any special interests and could you tell us about them?
I most definitely have special interests! Before I discovered that I am on the spectrum, these strong passions were a sense of joy but also frustration for me. Why did no one else love certain subjects like I did? Now, I know why!
One of my longest standing special interests is Japanese visual kei rock music. This kind of music centers around alternative heavy metal with a beautiful gothic aesthetic. I have listened to and supported these music artists since the eighth grade.
More recently, I am a passionate follower of the pop music group BTS. The band has so much content, music, and history that it was very easy for me to immerse myself in them as a subject. Sometimes, I can hyper-focus on a single song by any given music artist and become especially interested in the track and an accompanying music video. Previous special interests that have sense fizzled out are natural hair care, skincare, and cosplay.
What is it like living in NYC? From an outsider perspective it appears quite busy and intense
I love living in NYC! Many autistics have reached out to me with concerns about my big decision to move to the Big Apple, but I have managed to organize my life in such a way that supports my sensory needs. I live in a quieter residential area, so the hustle and bustle that most people imagine when they think of NYC is something that I voluntarily opt into. Even more, I work as a librarian in a suburb of the city.
My world is relatively serene, but I can pursue my special interests with more vigor, since NYC has such a vast array of experiences and opportunities.
When did you start your Instagram, and what impact has this had on your life?
I started the Aspienelle Instagram in the summer of 2016. Back then, I operated under the username LM the Aspien. I never imagined that my Instagram would connect me to so many autistics and become such a vast avenue for advocacy.
Prior to Aspienelle, I never used Instagram. Now, I log-in multiple times a day! I’ve gained new skills in photography, photo editing, and networking. Sometimes, I get a little overwhelmed, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.
I noticed on your blog/IG that you have a series called ‘Autie Tips’, can you tell us a little bit about that?
Autietips are the basis for Aspienelle.
When I was diagnosed with ASD, my psychiatrist told me, “Even though your symptoms are pretty severe for Autism Level 1, you have managed to create some amazing coping skills on your own.” At first, this news hit me hard. I thought, “Because of these coping skills, no one knew I was autistic. I’ve struggled because of these skills.” But then, I decided to reclaim and embrace many of my coping mechanism. I wanted to share them with other auties that are building their own repertoire of coping skills.
Autietips started very small, just simple advice for the little things, like using comfort items or motivating oneself to take part in personal hygiene. Now, the tips have transformed into something similar to an advice column. Fellow spectrumites send me autietips requests, and I use my personal experience and research to offer advice from autistics for autistics. I have learned so much about myself along the way!
How would you describe your blog/IG in three words?
Advocacy, growth, self-empowerment.
Would you say that you’ve had mostly positive reactions/feedback to your posts?
I am fortunate to receive regular encouragement from other autistics, whether in comments or direct messages. These positive bits of feedback keep me going.
Sometimes, parents of children on the spectrum also reach out to me, which has been a big surprise, since I consider my content to focus primarily on autistic individuals. I hope that my sincerity shines through my posts. As such, I hope to continue to receive loving reactions and build up the autism community with my small contributions.
What do you hope to achieve with your blog/IG?
My main goal is to cultivate a platform where autistics support each other. “Advice by autistics for autistics” is my mantra. Instead of being told who we should be by neurotypicals, I strive—alongside numerous other advocates—for a world where neurodivergents empower each other.
Currently, I have no plans to monetize my content. I want Aspienelle to remain my hobby, not my career. Eventually, I would like to create an archive of the Autietips in order to categorize them and make them more accessible as their quantity grows.
Do you have any other social media, or is it just Instagram you use?
Instagram has and will probably always be my main mode of operation. I am currently working on the aforementioned archive through WordPress. I do dally in Twitter under the same handle Aspienelle. It’s proven to be a better avenue for connecting with other autistics of color.
Finally, can you describe yourself in three words?
Enthusiastic, authentic, and weird. I love the word weird!
I’d like to thank Lauren (@aspienelle) for such an inspiring and wonderful interview. Please do head on over to Lauren’s instagram here and support her advocacy!