This interview is the third in a series where I interview Mentor Aspienwomen from a variety of countries about their lives, Asperger Syndrome, their gifts and talents and more! I founded the Aspienwoman mentor project to showcase females of all ages who act as mentors and role models.
Jo Redman is based in the United Kingdom and is a twice-world champion kickboxer and she has Asperger Syndrome. She is competing for her third title shortly. Jo advocates for females on the Spectrum by writing her first book, raising awareness and completing speaking engagements.
Tania: Welcome Jo and thank-you for joining the Aspienwoman mentor project, where we showcase female mentors on the Spectrum. When and how did you receive your diagnosis? How old were you at that time?
Jo: I was diagnosed as an adult in May 2010 at 23 years old. For me the road to diagnosis had been a long and difficult one and I had to almost break before I got the help I need. I had been involved in mental health services since 2007 being treated for things like social anxiety, I remember I was even discharged at the end of 2007 even though I didn’t speak in many of the sessions I had and the therapist reported finding it difficult. The issues were clearly far from solved and it wasn’t long before I was back involved in services. Early 2009 I was having a mental health screening assessment conducted by a social worker, I remember her almost stifling laughs at my difficulty to verbalise, it was a very painful thing to go through. She reported that as I was in full time employment, with a long term partner, my own house and was not taking drugs or drinking that all I needed was medication from a doctor and a mood diary, despite neither of these kinds of things working before and my insistence that I did not want to take any medication. A week later I was being assessed by 2 psychiatrists in crisis intervention and four months later in the absence of any depressive, psychiatric or anxiety related condition I was referred for diagnosis of an autistic spectrum disorder. The whole process from January 2009 took a year and a half to complete. I have mixed feelings about it, I feel very let down by some of the services and the fact that you need to be breaking down before anyone even looks to see what is going on but then the fact that those who eventually were assessing me were able to query Asperger’s was a relief, I know how often Asperger’s can be missed in females and different diagnoses can be given. I also can’t fault the under resourced team who did the Asperger’s assessment, the psychologist who diagnosed me was incredibly helpful to me and they were only supposed to give 6-8 follow up sessions following diagnosis but I had a lot more due to some major life events occurring not long after diagnosis, they stuck around for over a year after diagnosis which I feel really lucky about. I would say that since diagnosis though it has been difficult to get the support I need for issues related to Asperger’s – the problems don’t stop with diagnosis and certainly not when you become an adult.
Ultimately gaining a diagnosis was liberating and life changing for me, it was a huge turning point. Up until then I had worried extensively over who I was and why I struggled with certain things. I wanted to be part of things but always seemed to fail miserably. With diagnosis I was able to understand and accept myself.
Jo: Kickboxing is everything to me, it just makes sense and feels natural. I started when I was 13 years old with my Dad, he thought it would help to give me confidence. It took me two years to speak to anybody there but now I teach my own class and I’m quite well respected as a fighter there. I just feel like kickboxing is somewhere I fit, I am part of an amazing team at the BCKA they are like extra family to me. Kickboxing taught me I could be successful, it gave me an attitude to never give up and a sense of discipline. To me it is like an escape from the rest of the world and without it I am totally totally lost. It takes care of my stress and comes so naturally to me that it is a relief in a world where most things don’t. It is strange because when I am fighting I can read a person perfectly – I can sense when they are afraid, I know if they are hurt, when they are pumped up, I can tell sometimes what they are going to do before they do it. When I coach I can even translate these things to who I am coaching, I know what to say and when to say it to a fighter. Yet away from fighting I get lost and confused, I struggle to find the right words and to know where to slot them in. I don’t always pick up on how someone feels and when I do I have no idea how to deal with it.
Asperger’s and kickboxing go perfectly together as far as I am concerned. Aside from the fact that martial arts and fighting disciplines provide structure, routine and boundaries, are confidence building, stress relieving and help to develop muscle tone, proprioception and co-ordination…for me growing up undiagnosed has meant that I know what it means to fight and I know what it takes to win because I had to fight for everything and just to survive in this world.
Jo: Asperger’s Syndrome to me means I need to work harder than everyone else to be successful. I am determined, driven and resilient, I want to succeed, hate to lose and refuse to accept what people believe I can’t do – it is my choice what I do or don’t do. I love to prove people wrong and make no mistake if they ever doubt me I will prove them wrong! One of the biggest things for me is having that good support network, my husband Adam is an absolutely incredible and amazing human being. I often forget to give him credit for what he does for me everyday. We have been together since 17 and he has always refused to walk away no matter how tough things got and they did get pretty tough. Adam is kind, patient and in his own words ‘likes a challenge’. Life in our house is never boring. He is very supportive and without him I would have done nowhere near as much as I have. The biggest thing aside from this was gaining understanding of Asperger’s and applying it to gain an understanding of myself. I’m kinder to myself, don’t put pressure on myself to do the things I can’t. My understanding has helped me to implement a range of solutions to my need for structure and organisation – I live in a goal orientated environment with processes and actions to help achieve the goals I set. Achieving my goals makes me happy. My house is run almost like a business, we have a 22 page household processes manual which enabled me to do the housework. I had to define the process of how things were done before I could do them. There is a lot that goes into me being able to function well on a day to day basis and most of this is never seen!
Jo: I grew up worrying about who I was, hiding and avoiding things. I thought I would never be able to achieve things as simple as getting married and learning to drive but I have managed to win 2 kickboxing world titles, I have trained and qualified as a sport and remedial massage therapist, I’m establishing my own business, teaching kickboxing and speaking to audiences about Asperger’s and my experiences kickboxing. Just in this year I have done far more than I could ever have imagined. The biggest pieces of advice I ever received, and these have shaped my life completely, were first that it was ok to be me – I just think, act and behave differently to others and its not wrong or right. The second was life is about choices, you have two choices you accept something and get on with it or you change it – there’s no need to moan about anything. If I don’t like how my life is I change it. One of the big things I would say is don’t be afraid to have a dream. We all have something we are good at or that interests us, whether on autism spectrum or not, be confident in what you know and what you do. I set myself the goal to be a world champion at 13, never really thinking it would happen but I held on to it and it did. In life everything has to come from you, wherever you are in the world and just because someone else thinks it isn’t possible it doesn’t mean that it is. Celebrate your talents, your achievements and what makes you uniquely you – have a goal, have a dream and never give up on working toward it.
Jo: What I want for the future is simple, I want to be the best that I can be in whatever I choose to do. I want to continue being successful in my sport, establish and be successful in my business and develop myself as a public speaker. I have just recently started writing my book and I’m over halfway through, I’d love to see this published. I also am one of the patrons of autism charity Anna Kennedy Online and I want to help out with awareness where I can. Away from autism my mum also has MS and eventually I would like to raise some money for the local MS Centre which runs solely on donations – they have been a huge lifeline to my mum and do brilliant work. One day I would also like to have a family with my husband. I love to be kept busy and I’d also one day like to perhaps give something back to people like myself. I’d love to help other martial artists competing at a world level fund their sport knowing the difficulties I have had with funding and also I want to be able to help people on the autism spectrum to follow their dreams through providing funding or some kind of grant. It is all a far away idea but something I would love to make happen once I am more settled and perhaps retired from competing myself. I’d also like to study and get a degree in something related to my field, not sure quite what yet. There are quite a lot of things I want to do really!
Twitter – @Joey_BCKA
Instagram – @jobojet
Website – www.joredman.com
Blog – http://jo-redman.blogspot.co.uk/
Tania: Jo, thank-you for joining the Aspienwoman mentor project and for being such a great mentor! Jo’s kickboxing career and highlights here at http://www.bckakickboxing.com/fighter-profiles/jo-redman/
Jo: Thank-you Tania for inviting me and I’m proud to be able to be in a position where I can mentor others.
Tania Marshall©. 2013. AspienWoman Interview Mentor Series. All rights reserved. Duplication in whole or part is explicitly forbidden. Thank you.