Aspienwoman Mentor Interview Series: Brandy Nightingale

Welcome to another Aspienwoman Mentor Interview Series, where I interview female role models and mentors diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and/or involved in the world of Autism or Asperger Syndrome.

In this interview I interviewing Brandy Nightingale from the United States about her life, Asperger Syndrome, her gifts and talents and more! Brandy Nightingale is a jack of all trades and received a late diagnosis in 2010.

 

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Tania:  Welcome to the Aspienwoman Mentor Interview Series Brandy! It’s fantastic to have you here where we interview females on the Spectrum about their lives, their diagnosis and their unique talents.

Brandy:  Thank-you so much. It’s an honor to be here and to be a part of this important interview series!

Tania:  When did you receive your formal diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome?

Brandy:  I was formally diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in November of 2010, at the age of 35.

Tania:  Please tell tell me about your work/career life.

Brandy:  Well, I was a teen model. I now work in the feature film industry as a Visual Effects Coordinator. I was a personal assistant to three celebrities before getting into VFX. I own my own local pet care business, The Peaceful Pup (thepeacefulpup.com). I am a retired stand-up comic (performed for 8 years). I’m married to an eccentric NT (2 years). I’m a survivor of childhood physical, mental, emotional & sexual abuse. I’m a survivor of school bullying. I have an active blog (http://brandynightingale.blogspot.com).

Tania:  Wow Brandy, that;s incredible. I’m always amazed at what females on the Spectrum can do. Tell me more about your writing please?

Brandy:  I just completed a personal memoir, Everything’s Hunky Dory: A Memoir. It’s a shocking yet humorous memoir titled, Everything’s Hunky Dory: A Memoir, which, from the perspective of an autistic child, explores personal stories of living with and attempting to rescue her alcoholic, drug addicted mother from self-destruction.

Tania:  Wow, that’s fantastic! You certainly have been and/or are involved in a number of careers and interests. You mentioned to me about also doing some advocacy work?

Brandy:  My newest goal is to work with girls/women on the spectrum, helping them to embrace ‘what is’, which is their autism, find their individual strengths and passions, and put those to use in order to become happy and successful.

Tania:   Awesome! What are your Superpowers?

Brandy:  Since I was a very little girl, I was able to recognize I had what I believed were superpowers. The first one I noticed was that I could hear what others couldn’t. The slightest sound of a leaf falling to the ground, a dog barking neighborhoods away, or even my mother whispering in the next room, I could hear it all. (I admit this superpower didn’t make surprises easy for others, which is fine, as I’ve never been one to like surprises.) This superpower has come in quite handy in life. In my adult years, I can hear instantly if my car isn’t functioning properly, if the toilet is broken, if there is a leak in a pipe, if a creature is lurking in the garden. My hearing superpower has turned into an incredible asset, enabling me to diagnose and repair pretty much anything. It’s also helped me to isolate particular sounds such as determining a territorial dog’s bark from a fearful dog’s bark, an honest voice from a dishonest voice. I’m able to use this ability when I work with animals and meet new people.

Tania:  What amazing Aspienpowers you have and I love the way you utilize them, in addition to the way you view them. What advice would you give to other Aspiens?

Brandy:  My take away from life and the wisdom I’d like to pass along to fellow female Aspiens is this: listen to yourself without the voices and opinions of others. Really sit with yourself and listen to what your body tells you about your needs, wants, and most of all, your passions and talents. What makes you feel giddy inside? What can you spend hours working on? What is it you do that seems to make time disappear? If your body wants to read, by all means let it read. If your body wants to write, by all means write! If your body wants to build, by all means let it build! Although we all have responsibilities such as school, work, or even families to care for, we MUST make time for our passions and develop our talents. We Aspiens are more specialists than generalists, meaning we can be really good or even genius at a topic or two, beyond what most can comprehend. Isn’t that incredible? That’s a superpower most of us share. It is people like us who create new gadgets, who have a special ability to connect with animals, who have a special ability to focus on small details of tasks for much longer than others. We are the ones who have the innate ability to solve problems for the world. More than ever, the world needs our superpowers, so let’s fine tune them and let them shine!

Tania: Fantastic Brandy and I just love you positive strengths-based positive attitude, something this Interview Series and the Aspiengirl Project is all about! People have been emailing us and telling us how they love this approach. How can people follow or reach you?

Brandy:  I can be found at:

Tania:  Brandy, thank-you so much for being a part of this fabulous movement. That of providing awareness, hope, inspiration to other females on the Autism Spectrum.

Brandy:  Proud to be a part of it Tania and thank-you for asking me to be a part of this Project, along with some other pretty cool Aspiens!

Brandy Nightingale was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 2010 at the age of thirty-five. An entrepreneur, visual effects coordinator on feature films, retired stand-up comedian, and writer, she resides in beautiful Ojai, California with her husband, three rescued dogs, and two happy hens.

 

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To learn more about female Autism/Asperger Syndrome, check out the Aspiengirl book series at http://www.aspiengirl.com where some of these mentors are included in the Mentor section!

 

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ImageTania Marshall©. 2013-2014. AspienWoman Interview Mentor Series. All rights reserved. Thank you.

 

Aspienwoman Mentor Project Interview: Singer and Songwriter Maja Nilsson

The Aspiengirl and Aspienwoman Project is devoted to showcasing females of all ages and from all walks of life, who live with a Spectrum condition.  In these interviews, I talk to mentor heroine Aspienwomen from a variety of countries about their lives, their gifts and talents and more. Singer/Songwriter and Asperchic Maja Nilsson joins me from Sweden to discuss her life, talents and more.

Tania: Welcome to the Aspienwoman Mentor Project. We are proud to have you join us? Where abouts in the world do you live?
Maja:  I live in Sweden
 
Tania:  How old are you?
Maja: 17
Tania:  You are a singer/songwriter/musician/music producer. When did you start singing and writing songs?
Maja:  I started writing songs at the age between 12-13 years old.
 
Tania:  When and how did you find out you have Asperger Syndrome?

Maja:  There was a classmate in primary school who had Asperger’s and I started to compare the symptoms to my own behaviour to see if I had anything similar.

Tania: What are Autism services like for you in Sweden?

Maja: A good example is that I’m in a special class for students with some kind of Autism diagnosis, we don’t have any homework as we do everything in school and go to lunch half an hour before rest of the school does. There is also a bad side that newspapers have blamed us for crimes and then “ordinary” people might get scared of us because we are seen as violent from the newspapers’ perspective.

Tania: I think it’s fair to say that the media has much power and unfairly pairs Autism and violence together. How do you think some of the traits of Asperger Syndrome have helped you in your career to date?

 
Maja:  Aspergers has helped me a lot to focus because of my sound sensitivity, I hear sounds all the time.
I also self diagnosed myself with Synesthesia, which means in my case I see sounds as dots and lines right in front of me which helps me even better to work.
 
Tania:  Synesthesia is a fascinating condition. Please tell us how seeing see sounds as dots and lines right in front of you which helps you work better?
Maja:  I literally see music in front of me which helps me know where to sing, for example.
Tania: That is fantastic and what a unique gift you have, Maja. It probably gives you an edge over other musicians. Now your first album is due out soon?
Maja:  There some songs left but I don’t have a deadline set (can’t handle stress that well).
Tania:  I believe Imogen Heap inspires you? For those that aren’t familar with Imogen, she is a UK born Grammy winning multi-instrumentalist and performer
Maja: Yes she has inspired me a lot by her way of sampling realistic sounds and also in her music genre. Another artist that also inspires me is the Icelandic singer Björk.
 
Tania: How do you think Aspergers has helped you in your career/life?
Maja:  It has helped me to become stronger as a person, from being teased some years ago to having supporting fans and friends who are curious about my music.
 
Tania: What advice would you give to other young females on the Spectrum?
Maja: I believe there is always a good solution to everything.
Don’t keep bad feelings inside you, then it would only hurt more.
Try to stay positive with who you are, because there is no one else like you in the world.
Tania: How can people listen to your music or buy your album?
Maja: My music is available to listen to and download for free on my SoundCloud account ( www.SoundCloud.com/MajaNOfficial )
Tania: Where can people follow you or find out more about you?
Maja: They can follow me on my website ( www.MajaNOfficial.Wordpress.Com ) or for smaller updates, on Twitter: Www.Twitter.Com/MajaNOfficial
 
Tania:  Maja, I want to thank you for your time and for being a seriously cool Asperchic role model and part of the AspienWoman Mentor Project. Thank-you for sharing your thoughts with us.
 
 
Maja: Thank-you for asking me to be a part of your mentor project.
Tania Marshall. 2013.  All rights reserved. Duplication in whole or part is explicitly forbidden. Thank you.

 

Aspienwomen Mentor Project: Professional Performer Chou Chou Scantlin

The Aspiengirl and Aspienwoman Project is devoted to showcasing females of all ages and from all walks of life, who live with a Spectrum condition.  In these interviews, I talk to mentor heroine Aspienwomen from a variety of countries about their lives, their gifts and talents and more. Professional performer Chou Chou (pronounced Shoo Shoo) is a professional performer and producer from the United States and an Aspienwoman mentor, who advocates for females on the Spectrum.

 photo danny fowler                                                                                                               Credit: Danny Fowler

Tania: Welcome to the Aspienwoman Project and thank-you for agreeing to be interviewed for the “Aspienwoman Mentor Interview Series”.

Chou Chou: Thank you for inviting me! It is a pleasure to be part of this conversation.

Tania: I came across you in my research on females on the Spectrum. You are a professional singer, performer and you have Autism. How long have you known you were Autistic?

Chou Chou: Officially, about ten years, but, in truth, always, but without that specific label. I was born in the fifties, when little was known about autism and cold, bad mothering was considered the cause. My mother was the business administrator and close friend of a young doctor who ran an exclusive rehabilitative rest home outside New York City. He was very cutting edge, and up on the latest research, and took a special interest in my atypical development and behavior. He made the diagnosis. I adored him and the special attention he gave me. I was sure I would grow up and marry him. At the time, it was common for autistic children to be institutionalized, in part to protect the child from the “bad” parent. This “Refrigerator Mother Theory” of bad mothering causing autism has been long proven as wrong, but, because of this belief, it was considered a priority by the doctor and my mother to keep this label hidden. This was done in an incredibly successful manner, both for my protection, and for my mother’s reputation. My mother, unfortunately, believed she caused me to be autistic, and took this belief to her grave, living with much shame.

I was called “slow”, “simple”, and sometimes, but never by my mother, “retarded”. My brilliant mother took a different, very supportive approach. She called me a “late bloomer”, and told me I could do anything. She openly considered me uniquely wonderful just as I was, and constantly said that one day I would surprise everyone with the woman I would become. She was a wonderful, successful person. I saw no reason not to believe her!

Tania: Unfortunately and sadly, in my clinical work, I still see and hear mothers being accused of the “Refrigerator Mother Theory”. Your mother was a fantastic woman. Tell me how you became a professional performer? How long have you been performing for?

© Brian Coltrane All rights reserved                                                                                                              Credit: Brian Coltrane

Chou Chou: I am a fourth generation performer, and both my mother and father were in show business in their early adult years, leaving for more stable careers. I was speech delayed, but had an incredible memory. Once I started talking, I could parrot what I heard, and memorize long scripts taught to me. It was difficult to speak without a script, and the usual child’s play and conversation was nearly impossible. I was very withdrawn, but, if I was dressed up and given a script, I would light up! This was my vehicle for communication and connection, and I adored that. I put on small plays, said grace at our holiday dinners, and, recited poetry, and even went door to door in our neighbourhood, with my little ukulele, asking neighbours if they wanted me to sing them a song. I performed in school plays, getting lead roles, winning awards of various kinds, and was offered scholarships, but never wanted to be a professional performer. I wanted a more private life, with a home and family. There was always a struggle, because performing was the one way I could connect well, but it took so much out of me. I stopped performing many times, always saying I would never perform again, but something would happen, and there it would be, as my best choice for income and survival. Now, I have found the perfect balance, for me, of a private life and performing for a living, both, with my adored husband, Doc Scantlin. We have performed together for the last twenty years. I am the producer, vocalist, costumer, and co-creator of our show, and Doc is the band leader, vocalist, and music director, and inspiration. Over the years, we have performed internationally at some of the most prestigious balls and gala and have a loyal fan base in our home base of Washington, DC. We do not record or tour, and are not part of the standard popular music industry. We are not big stars, nor have we ever desired for what that would entail. We are blessed with a wonderful reputation, and keep a roof over our heads. You have probably never heard of us, although it always surprises me who has. We lead a modest little retro life, in a 1920’s cottage on the Chesapeake Bay, with the quiet, peace, and loving support that makes me thrive, and able to survive the excitement and fun of the shows. I am who I wanted to turn out to be, am very, very, happy, and never, ever, take it for granted!

                              Chou Chou and husband Doc Scantlin       

Doc and Chou Chou                                                                                                              Credit: Brian Coltrane

Chou Chou: I married at a young age, and had my beautiful son, but my first husband was in a car accident, had severe brain damage for five years, and then died. I raise my son backstage a lot, and found it easy to get steady work as a free-lance talent. I have a unique, high pitched, hyper-feminine voice that people find appealing. I sometimes think I use the singing part of my brain to speak, instead of the language part, because it is the stronger of the two. I am not a particularly great singer, but I sing to an audience as if it were a gift, and so it goes over well. Everyone likes a gift, and wants to be loved!  I can do that when I perform, and that alone, I feel, makes me a worthwhile professional entertainer to this day. I am a rather normal looking person, but I enjoy dressing up and creating a kind of vintage movie star illusion of beauty, which is a great skill to have in my line of work. I am rather fearless and comfortable with this, and can get rather blissfully over-the-top.  It is the more status quo, appropriate, day to day dressing where I hopelessly fail. No matter how hard I may try to “blend in”, I never have, and accept that I never will. At some point, I gave up the effort, and said, “Oh well, ‘To thine own self be true'”, and never looked back. I wear what makes me feel like me, with usually comically dramatic results for a particular occasion. I find it makes for much less stress, and makes me less awkward. Since it is genuinely me, and not just wanting to make a spectacle of myself, people accept it, but I often get more attention than I am wanting when not onstage. Oh well. Small price to pay for peace of mind. As was said of Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, “She’s a fake, but she’s a real one!”.

© Brian Coltrane All rights reserved                                                                                                               Credit: Brian Coltrane

Tania: Was there a mentor and/or role model that helped you be the person you are today?

Chou Chou: I am unendingly grateful to so many people in my life who that advised and inspired me, but, without a doubt, it was my mother who gave me the ability to believe in myself and know that I may do things differently, but that I was very, very able, in my own way. My wonderful husband and son, too, inspire me endlessly.

© Brian Coltrane All rights reserved                                                                                                              Credit: Brian Coltrane

Tania: How does Autism affect you today versus when you were younger, say in your teens?

Chou Chou: Like most people, I have gained much wisdom and understanding over the year, both of myself and life. This is the reward of long living. I had many health issues and uncomfortable traits, that I was determined to understand, so I could accept, control, or eliminate them. I will often focus on an issue, and research it in depth, in order to find a workable solution. Sometimes there is no known solution, so I come up with my own. One by one, over many, many, years, and many failures, I have found a lifestyle and self-management that works for me. I am still an autistic woman, but I am a healthy, happy, and rather successful autistic woman, in my choice of life.

Tania: What kinds of “factors” would you say helped you become “successful”, as a female with Autism?

Chou Chou: I am often told that I work very hard at being “lucky”, and that may be true. I think everyone, autistic or not, needs to look at what their strengths are, no matter what their challenges, and accept that life can be very hard and uncomfortable, but that each of us has something to give, and can learn to give it, and in that, lies happiness. The factors that have made me find a happy life of my own making are:

  1. Being a visual thinker. If I can see it in my mind, I can create it in real life.
  2. Stubborn focus. I easily become immersed in a project, down to the smallest details.
  3. Finding everyone charming. This is a biggie. I am awful at reading expressions, or understanding social signals, and it was a cause of much stress. At some point, I decided that, since I was so awful at this, I would just assume everyone was charming and wonderful, and treat them accordingly. This was very hard to do, especially since I was so scared of people, but now I do it automatically. I learned that most people want to be considered charming and wonderful, and will try to prove me right! Granted, I do not advise unguarded, unsafe behavior, but, if someone is acting rude, I can remain unflustered, and offer them help, or, at least my internalized sympathy, while protecting myself. I have many friends now, and build good professional relationships. I do not socialize in the typical ways, and no longer feel I must do so. I don’t go around expecting everyone to understand, but, if the situation calls for an explanation, or a person deserves more information, I will explain and self-advocate. Then, people will prove, once again, they are, indeed, charming.

Photo1 Ben Powell                                                                                                           Credit: Ben Powell

  1. My ability to see patterns. It can appear that I have premonitions, but what is really happening is that I can see patterns develop, and so can predict outcomes, based on those patterns. That said, life is full of illogical twists and turns, and it has taken me much work to learn to stay strong and keep going when the pattern gets broken. I crave order, but chaos test my strength!
  2. Accepting myself as different, but not more or less, than everyone else. This is makes for good relationship building. That, and the ability to laugh at myself, and never at others.
  3. Having a clear understanding of what is truly harmful to me, and what to do to take care of myself. I am in the extreme hyper sensory range, even for an autistic person, and must make sure I am not put in a situation that is more than I am able to handle. I do not view this as any different from a person knowing their limits in other areas. We all have unique challenges, and there is no such thing as normal.
  4. NOT seeing myself as a damaged or sick person, or using autism as an excuse for getting out of things I find uncomfortable. I have things I can do very well, and some not so well…just like everyone else. I try to be brutally honest with myself about what I just don’t want to do, but should, and what can genuinely push me past my capacity, and cause harm. If someone wants me to do something that will put me in a harmful situation, I will refuse. They might as well try to get me to drink poison. I will not do it. If someone wants me to push myself a little further to achieve a goal, however, I hope I will always find the ’it’ in myself to try, and know the difference!

Tania: That’s fantastic Chou Chou. We are on the cusp of a knowledge explosion via way of research that focuses on females and includes females. What kind of advice would you offer other females on the Spectrum?

Photo Ben Powell                                                                                      Credit: Ben Powell

Chou Chou: Believe that your way of experiencing the world is as valid as anyone else’s. Life can be very hard when you experience it in a way most don’t understand, and you must find the courage to be yourself, and give the world the best of who you are. We each have an obligation and capacity to make the world a bit better daily, no matter how severely disabling we may find our state of being. Make this your goal, and you will always be happy. You do not need to sound, look, act, or live like anyone else, but, if you are true to yourself and give what is uniquely yours to give, and assume everyone else just wants to do the same, you will find a place where you are accepted and will thrive. You don’t have to be socially savvy, you don’t have to be good at conversation, and you don’t have to be pretty. You just have to see people as charming, and give them the gift of you, and that is the best gift of all!

 

Chou Chou Bunny

 

 

Tania: Where can people find out more about you or see you?

Chou Chou: Here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ariane-zurcher/autism-adults_b_1912430.html

www.docscantlin.com

Twitter: @docscantlin

Facebook: Chou Chou Scantlin

Also, we are honored that acclaimed photojournalist, Lucian Perkins, is soon to be completing a documentary about us, our band and our happy little autistic enhanced retro life. Lucian has made a trailer for the documentary. He is close to completing about Doc and me, our band, our little retro life, and how it all works so well with autistic me:)

I keep saying I will start a blog. I think I will, but, oh, life is so busy, and there are songs to be sung!

I also take breaks from social media. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do! I hope the day will come when I can contribute more, and positively, to the understanding of being an autistic woman, and perhaps make it a bit easier for younger ones, finding their way.

Photo Anthony Neenan                                                                                                          Credit: Anthony Neenan

 Tania: What a fantastic photo by Anthony Neenan.

 Chou Chou : I love the photo (above). The spotlight blocks the extreme sensory challenge of a room, and puts me in a place where I can connect and love the charming, charming people, in a way I cannot do otherwise. It is the one thing I do well that involves people. All my other best skills are best done in solitude:)

Photo1 Mark A. Simonson                                                                                                       Credit: Mark. A. Simonson

Tania: Thank you Chou Chou. It has been an absolute honour interviewing you and thank-you for your time, words and being a part of the Aspienwoman Project.

Chou Chou: Thank you, Tania! Best of luck with all you do, and may YOUR dreams come true! As I say onstage, when I introduce myself, “Now, we are friends!”.

Chou Chou

Tania Marshall. 2013.  All rights reserved. Duplication in whole or part is explicitly forbidden. Thank you.

Aspienwoman Mentor Interview Series: Actress Olley Edwards

This is my 6th Interview of people involved in the world of Autism or Asperger Syndrome. Previous interviews of mine include: Professor Uta Frith, Maja Toudal, Kathy Hoopman, Lynn Marshall, Rich Everts and The United States of Autism Movie.

This interview is the second in a series where I interview Mentor Aspienwomen from a variety of countries about their lives, Asperger Syndrome, their gifts and talents and more! Actress Olley Edwards is a professional actress from the United Kingdom and an Aspienwoman mentor, who seriously advocates for female Asperger Syndrome through by making a movie and writing a book about the condition.

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Tania: Welcome Olley and great to have you on join a phenomenal group of female mentors, in this interview series and future book!

Olley: Tania, thank-you for inviting me and it is a pleasure and a bit of a mission of mine to advocate for females with Asperger Syndrome.

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Tania: I came across you in my research on female Asperger Syndrome. I had initially heard about you in terms of this incredible movie that you were making, at the time, called “The Kindest Label”. When I read your script I was very impressed. I also want to say that I love the title of the movie because one of the most common comments I come across for not having a female formally diagnosed is the stigma of a ‘label’. Please tell us about your movie?

Olley: ‘The Kindest Label’ is a short 20 minute film about the importance of an early diagnosis of females with Asperger Syndrome and the consequence of a late or missed diagnosis. The movie told from the view point of lead role “Belle”, not only as an adult with a late diagnosis but also by Belle’s younger self experiencing the lack of understanding and support she should have had. Belle is a complex adult with addiction issues living in temporary accommodation. She is trying to rebuild her life now that she has received her late diagnosis at 26. Her younger self who tells her story in flashback scenes is a clever and bright young girl who has very little support in school and in safeguarding issues.‘The Kindest label’ also shows the adult Belle, with scenes of how she now can see how her life could have been happier if she had been diagnosed sooner. It shows just how Belle’s life could have been with Asperger Syndrome, the “The Kindest Label” she ever had.

‘The Kindest Label’ is going to be entered into as many film festivals in UK and Internationally as possible, My aims by doing this are to raise awareness, (open a few eyes and prick up a few ears) and to hope that someone with the expertise, money and contacts likes it enough to make it into a feature film for a global audience. My film is intense, information packed, hard hitting snap shot at late diagnostic consequences but it could easily be expanded upon to make a ground-breaking feature. The movie aims at raising awareness and changing the perception of “what female AS” looks like forever.

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Tania: How can people view ‘The Kindest Label’?

Olley: Due to festival regulations, I am unable to post film online until after festival use, to raise awareness in the meantime I am arranging private screenings and will endeavour to take film into secondary/high schools to use along with my book to talk about female Asperger Syndrome.

Tania: You directed this movie and you are an actress yourself?

Olley: I wrote, co-directed and acted in “The Kindest Label”. Luckily, being an actress, I have great actor, director, cameraman friends who came on board and gave up their free time and talent to make this happen. Playing Belle as an adult was a pleasure as well as hard work , to prepare myself for the “homeless addict” role didn’t wash my hair for 8 days and it also meant filming with no make-up or glamour, this felt very vulnerable as its normally these “costumes” as such that help me feel more confident when acting. I am however more than pleased with the end result as Belle is a very guarded yet unconfident young woman and that shows on tape.

Tania: How did you get involved in acting?

Olley: I started acting at a very young age; it started with dance lessons at 4 which grew into attending South Hill Park, the local arts centres drama classes every Saturday by 8yrs old. I became obsessed or should I say, hyperfocused with entertainment and was interviewing pop groups on Saturday morning TV by 10. I loved entertaining of any kind and took part in local productions and the school plays. My school was just a normal state school, it was huge, scary and I hated it. I went for one reason and one reason only, we had a great theatre and I use to skip PE and any lesson I could go unnoticed in just to pretend it was my drama lesson and go there instead. The teachers soon realised what I was up to but they let me get away with it most of the time. I got the role of the Artful dodger in the main school play, I prepared for this by constantly watching Oliver on VHS and copying the role of dodger over and over again. It was a boy’s role but loved playing a boy and was convincing enough to receive the school drama award for it. The next year I started lessons at a very well-known London Drama school. I only went one day a week but it was always the best day of the week. I felt so at home there and was offered a small role in Disney movie, which I couldn’t take up on, however the head offered me a full scholarship. Sadly I couldn’t attend fulltime as we lived to far away and the lodgings were very expensive. I can remember crying for a whole day in my room. I must have had the whole street thinking what a spoilt brat I was. I know now I wasn’t a spoilt brat, I was having a meltdown and unable to continue with my subject of hyperfocus.

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I’ve always been an extremist 100% in or 100% out. Very black and white thinking. To me this meant I could never act again and I went downhill into an extreme teenage rebellion by the age of 13. I had replaced the friend and buzz of acting with secret drinking, drugs, you name it. This resulted in a teenage pregnancy by 15.

From the moment I knew I was to be a mum my hyperfocus was just that. To be the best mum I could be. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I loved being a young mum and I felt truly blessed. I was married by 18 and had my 2 other daughters within that marriage. My obsession was 100% on parenting and housekeeping. I lived in constant anxiety that I wasn’t the perfect mum, developed OCD and insisted on everything being lined up a certain way, certain coloured ornaments in in certain rooms and felt so empty that I started to diet a lot, weighing just 6.5 stone at 22. I was very happy being a mum. I live for the girls, I loved the routine of marriage but I did feel like I was just playing another role and something was missing. I felt I was never good enough but I was a great mum and wife I just had a huge chunk of my identity missing.

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After my divorce, I had these awful voids of time where children were at their dads and step mum’s, I filled this void (which I can only liken to having 3 limbs removed) to go back to my first love, acting. My acting has gone strength to strength and even if I’m sleep deprived I feel acting energises me mentally. As any mum knows you have to put a brave face on a lot, any single mum with several children on spectrum will tell you how that brave face may as well be super glued on some days! Acting is once again, my safe place, whereby I can have escapology, display emotions, spend time with others, and cry on demand if required too….with ease.

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Tania: I have provided formal diagnoses and personally know many actors/actresses with Asperger Syndrome. Your own daughter Honey is also an actress and has Asperger Syndrome. She also starred in your movie. Did Honey naturally follow your footsteps, in terms of acting?

Olley: Honey has many talents. It would have been unfair for me to push her on the stage all “pushy mum”- esque. Honey also loves reading, history and sci fi. Honey is a really intelligent young girl but this intelligence was leading her to be very isolated and she was spending huge chunks of time alone in her room, not hours, not days but up to a week at a time in summer holidays. With the help of a bursary from South Hill Park, the same Arts centre I went to as a child, Honey was given a small role in the Easter show. I will never forget the first day when the teacher asked me if I knew Honey could sing. Actually, no , I didn’t know she could sing, Honey was almost mute at home after being drained from school. The first time I saw Honey acting and singing on stage I couldn’t believe it. It was like looking at a different child. Her Aspergers leaves the building the moment she is on stage or in front of a camera. As a result her confidence is so much more improved and she still receives a place every summer and Easter at South Hill Park. Honey also had the lead in a short film “A Fathers Gift” and the lead in ‘The Kindest Label’, my Aspergers film.

honey star

Tania: How is the diagnostic process in the UK?

Olley: The diagnostic criteria in the UK has well improved since I was younger. The doctors who diagnosed my two daughters were outstanding! Honey was diagnosed very quickly with Aspergers at 6 and Cherish was diagnosed with standard Autism at only 2 years (however I believe her to be more Aspergers). The criteria for teen girls, young women and adult women though I feel, is shocking. Female Aspergers looks so different to male Aspergers and women are still going misdiagnosed. Many of the Asperger traits look a lot like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder but they are merely co-morbid conditions to undiagnosed Asperger Syndrome.

Tania: Has Honey’s diagnosis and the new research on female Asperger Syndrome caused you to seek a diagnosis for yourself?

Olley: My parents have been and always are very supportive, In the midst of my teenage rebellion they sought help for me after I refused to go to school, spent hours alone in my room and had full blown tantrums (better referred as ‘meltdowns’). The doctor they saw called me lazy and washed his hands of me. After the routine of marriage I felt I was getting more and more anxious again, and with the fact I had two daughters on the Spectrum made me seek my diagnosis at last. The doctor I saw said on paper I was very Asperger’s, scoring sky high on a paper test. The Doctor however insisted that I couldn’t possibly be Aspergers on the basis I spoke about acting a lot (apparently people with Aspergers can’t act) and the fact I maintained eye contact (I stare).

I don’t know what he expected me to look like? Perhaps wearing a anorak and reciting train time tables (I do actually own an anorak and yes I do know the London train route a little bit too well but I also know not to make it common knowledge)?

I found it a puzzle as Honey is a great actress yet she is Aspergers? I wondered if females and males on spectrum presented differently. I went onto Google to research the differences in male and female Aspergers. The criteria felt like someone had watched me from birth and taken notes. I felt a rush of relief and sent it to as many friends as possible. I know in my heart I have Asperger’s, and I will now gain an official diagnosis outside the UK. My aim to do this isn’t to get support or services perse. I am 31 now, I cannot get my schooling or teen years back. It’s not even to let my inner rebel have her day and wave it in the face of the UK doctor who said Aspergers people can’t act. It is because, at last, I have my identity, my missing puzzle piece and above all I am proud of whom I am and that is an Aspienwoman, an adult female with Asperger Syndrome.

Tania: How do you think having Asperger Syndrome helps in terms of being a great actress or actor?

Olley: Females with Aspergers don’t make good actors, they are BORN actors. Neurotypicals spend thousands to learn method acting at university, but female Aspergers method act, without even knowing from day one. They are chameleon, watching people’s actions, mannerisms, accents and language and mimic this to get by, to socialise, to communicate. Acting is an Aspien girls second language, almost like being bilingual.

Tania: Now, not only have you made a movie about female Asperger Syndrome, but you mentioned earlier you have written a book entitled ‘Why Aren’t Normal People Normal? A Girl’s Survival Guide to Growing up With Asperger Syndrome’.

Olley: Yes, I have just finished it this past weekend and it is more of a guidebook for girls, in terms of what will help and support them as they develop.

Olleybook

Tania: Where can people purchase your book?

Olley: I am just now putting the final touches on my book. Once that is done, people can purchase it. I will let you know the details once we have it all set in place

Tania: It has been a real pleasure to interview you and you are such an inspiration to the many females with Asperger Syndrome. Thank-you for a fabulous interview and for doing what you do for the many females all over the world with Asperger Syndrome.

Olley: Thank-you for interviewing me and providing a platform like this where people can and learn more about female Asperger Syndrome, mentors, information and resources.

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Tania Marshall©. 2013. AspienWoman Interview Mentor Series. All rights reserved. Duplication in whole or part is explicitly forbidden. Thank you.