I Am AspienWoman Interview Mentor Series One: Maja Toudal
This is the first in a series of interviews I am doing involving female mentors with Asperger Syndrome or Autism. I hope you enjoy this interview and much as I did!
Tania: I first became aware of you through my Doctoral research, when I discovered your YouTube Channel, known as The Anmish. Then, later I came across you some professional trainings that I attended by Professor Tony Attwood. He includes one of your videos in which you articulate so well what it is like to be a female Aspie. How did your AnMish Channel come about? And what does AnMish stand for/mean?
Maja: I wanted to share my experiences and thoughts with others. Initially, I used the channel for several subjects, but Asperger’s and Autism quickly became a focus for the channel. Lots of people ask what the name means, and I hate to disappoint, but there’s really no meaning behind it. I needed a username that could be pronounced – as I find such names easier to remember – and the ones I wanted were already taken, so I just messed around with letters and ended up with TheAnMish.
Tania: At the time of this interview, your channel has close to 7,000 subscribers and your videos have had approximately 458,000 views! You also have quite the following here in Australia within the Autism community. Social media such as YouTube is immensely popular and a brilliant means for discussing female Asperger Syndrome. Are you surprised by the level of interest and success in your channel at all?
Maja: Very much so. It seems strange to me, that so many people actually want to hear what I have to say. It is especially strange to think about how far away most of these people are. They are all over the world. But it’s great, too. It is wonderful to see comments from people whose minds I’ve changed, or from people on the spectrum who can relate. Mostly, I just hope that I can help others to feel less alone in the world, and to make them realize that having ASD doesn’t make you “wrong”, it just makes you different.
Tania: You are an accomplished model and singer. Please share with us about these talents of yours.
Maja: I’ve written songs in English since I was about nine years old. I used it to express thoughts and feelings. I was bullied a lot during the first three years of school, and I had no way other than singing to express how I felt about it, or to have that dialogue about why. So that’s how it started. I went to the studio in 2011 for one day, and had the pleasure of recording some of my songs. It’s all recorded live, one or two takes per song, because I only had that one day to do it. I released them on a digital album called Live, Acoustic & Stripped, under the name Maja Toudal. My modeling career was somewhat short. 3½ years total. I learned a lot from it, but ended up quitting because I got tired of being told to lose weight. I liked the work, but not the business. I still miss the photo-shoots and shows. It was fun work, even when it was hard. But the constant worry about gaining half an inch around my hips or waist was not a healthy situation, mentally, for me, as a teenage girl, to be in.
Tania: How did you and Professor Tony Attwood initially meet?
Maja: Kirsten Callesen arranged for me to perform at a conference of his in Copenhagen in 2009, I believe. We were introduced by her then. We’ve kept in contact via email since. I did a short interview with him at his 2011 conference, for my YouTube channel as well.
Tania: You are now studying psychology. What are your plans in terms of psychology?
Maja: I am not at a university yet. I do have plans to attend the University of Copenhagen to study psychology. To begin with, I am going for a Bachelors degree, but if I decide to do the candidate as well, I think it is likely that I will specialize in neuropsychology. I think that field is interesting and that many advances are happening in that field now. I also think it is very relevant to the study of ASD. If things go as planned, I will begin in the summer of 2014.
Tania: You also now work at the Psykologisk Resource Center. Please tell us about the clinic and your role there.
Maja: The center itself is a collaboration between a bunch of people who are specialized in working with ASD and ADHD. We offer a lot of different courses and individual help. And of course, we also arrange Tony Attwood conferences every two years (for as long as I’ve known about it, anyway). I am just in the role of a student assistant for now. I do also speak to parent groups there. I answer questions and give advice to the best of my ability. I’ve also been sent out to speak to young students with ASD, to give them advice on how to get through school and exams, especially in how to deal with teachers and classrooms. I am also involved in a girl group which meets monthly, just to create a social network for the girls, and give them a free and fun place to be.
Tania: How has Asperger Syndrome helped you to be successful? Or more specifically what Asperger traits have helped you to be successful?
Maja: I am a slave to doing things that make sense. At least, when it comes to long term plans. I never liked going to school, because it has been tough for me, socially. But once I had somewhere to go with it, a reason to do it, I have really applied myself to getting the grades I need. So when I’m motivated, I can work very hard at things. And in school, this stubbornness and ability to organize notes and information has been very helpful. In the same way, I don’t go to school to be social. I like to make at least one friend, but other than that, I can sit in a class with someone for six months and never know their name. My purpose is to learn, when I’m there. It’s hard to make friends, of course, but the friends I make are long term. I think my honesty and loyalty make me a good friend. Also, because I’m honest, my friends all know that my not calling for two months doesn’t change anything, it just means I’m busy and distracted. When we meet again, everything is the same that it was before.
Tania: How would you describe your life now, after diagnosis, as opposed to before your diagnosis? I see many females who ask me about the benefits of a diagnosis as an adult. What would you say to other women who are contemplating an adult diagnosis?
Maja: Well, I was diagnosed at age 16. I had always known, since age three or four that I was different, and by the time I was diagnosed, Asperger’s was just a name for being different. But it also meant that I wasn’t alone. When I was ready to start working on my difficulties in life, the diagnosis made it easy to know where to start. I was aware of what to work on, rather than just knowing I was weird.
So I think, if you are willing to see a diagnosis, not as a description of how you will always be, but of your current strengths and weaknesses, then you can use it to greatly improve your life. Especially, if you are also willing to work hard at that improvement.
Tania: Lastly, how can people find out more about you or follow you?
Maja: My Youtube channel: http:/www.youtube.com/user/TheAnMish
Facebook artist page (for my music): https://www.facebook.com/majatoudal
My album is available on iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp etc.http://majatoudal.bandcamp.com/
Tania: Thank-you Maja for agreeing to this interview and for sharing with us your journey, until now. I am looking forward to seeing what other amazing things you will be achieving in the future.
Maja: Thank-you Tania. It has been a pleasure.
Tania Marshall©. 2013. AspienWoman Interview Mentor Series. All rights reserved. Duplication in whole or part is explicitly forbidden. Thank you.