Brain Wave I Allison Davies Talks About Life With Autism

Educator: Allison Davies talks about her life with autism. Picture: Supplied.

Educator: Allison Davies talks about her life with autism. Picture: Supplied.

Ex-Coaster, comedian Hannah Gadsby, joked about how she never thought she could live with anyone.

Then she found out at 36 she was living with autism and realized there was a diagnosis for it.

Tasmanian woman, Allison Davies, an award-winning neurologic music therapist, was also diagnosed at 36 and can relate to Gadsby.

Previously doctors told her she didn't have autism because she was married and good at socializing or so it seemed but like other girls with undiagnosed autism Davies was good at pretending.

All her life she put on a mask and acted up a storm to cover her inner turmoil.

"When you spend years believing you don't fit in, are lazy, selfish and stupid, and a fake...then you suddenly realise you're autistic and it's fantastic and the negative thoughts and shame start to disappear," 39-year-old Ms Davies said.

Sensing It: Allison says sensory overload is the hardest thing to deal with in the world. Picture: Supplied.

Sensing It: Allison says sensory overload is the hardest thing to deal with in the world. Picture: Supplied.

She remembers the torture as a kid when her school uniform touched her legs and thinking she would die if she ate squishy food.

Some people talk about the autism epidemic, and overdiagnosis and Ms Davies wants to challenge people's thinking.

"People are underdiagnosed if anything," she said.

"Regarding autism rates, all we know is the statistics are wrong. The more we understand about neurodiversity, the more we recognize so many people are living with autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and attention deficit disorder.

Music Magic: Maple with her mum neurologic music therapist Allison Davies. Picture: Supplied.

Music Magic: Maple with her mum neurologic music therapist Allison Davies. Picture: Supplied.

"Once considered 'a childhood behavioural disorder that effects boys' we now know that autism is genetic, non-gender specific and is a neuro-type, meaning it is who many people are, not a condition that needs fixing or changing. I will never advocate for changing a child or making them like someone else it's always helping a child to function at their best.

"Autism is a spectrum condition, but despite common perception the spectrum is not linear, with low functioning at one end and high functioning at the other. Picture the colour wheel, a round circle containing the spectrum of every imaginable colour - for an autistic person any given colour on the wheel could be overactive or underactive and this can lead to non-verbalism, excessive empathy, inability to cope with sensory stimulus, high levels of focus, anxiety, brilliance, high IQ and so much more.

Family Ties: Allison and her husband Leighton Burr, with their two children Chester and Maple. Picture: supplied.

Family Ties: Allison and her husband Leighton Burr, with their two children Chester and Maple. Picture: supplied.

"With our heightened understanding of neurology, and acceptance of neuro-diversity becoming more and more embraced it is important to revisit our personal perception of autism so we can fully accept and understand the experience of the 'more than you could ever imagine' autistic people living in our community."

The mum of two, said a lot of women like her discovered they were autistic while going through the process of having a child diagnosed.

Her daughter Maple, 5, is autistic.

"It comes about because we are filling out forms and checklists and ticking boxes to say 'yes, my child does that, but doesn't everybody'?," Ms Davies said.

Achiever: Ms Davies received an AMP Tomorrow Maker's Award for her contribution to Australian Families and last year she was third in the AusMumpreneur Making a difference and Women Will Change the World awards. Picture: Supplied.

Achiever: Ms Davies received an AMP Tomorrow Maker's Award for her contribution to Australian Families and last year she was third in the AusMumpreneur Making a difference and Women Will Change the World awards. Picture: Supplied.

"... some generations were never identified, and possibly they were alcoholics or the eccentric uncle who was a hermit not able to function comfortably in society and was shunned. We don't shun people now, but we still don't understand autism...the best way to understand it is to listen to autistic voices."

Davies said through telling her story on the world stage with such humour and emotion Gadsby resonated with people in a far more meaningful way than by overloading them with information and facts.

Davies finds speaking about her life with autism, and Sensory Processing Disorder still makes her anxious and vulnerable.

If having autism was a relief it was also a surprise because she spent years working with autistic people and thought she knew everything about it but never would have guessed she had autism.

"My diagnosis changed my life it was completely transformative," Ms Davies said.

"My life was much harder after I had children which it was automatically assumed to be because of postnatal depression, but I knew it was something else.

"I was not able to function because of the noise and unpredictability of it all and things I did up until then to manage my life that allowed me to function could no longer happen because I had small children."

She became non-verbal for quite some time.

"I could not make myself a cup of tea," Ms Davies said.

"I couldn't drive. In my town I would get to an intersection and have no idea which way to turn.

"Discovering my autism identity gave me clarity on how to support my needs, and it gave me insight into my entire life. I'd always felt there was something wrong with me and all of a sudden it all made sense."

With her autism knowledge she changed her lifestyle to support her needs. She wore noise-canceling headphones and applied anxiety management strategies in daily life.

"My meltdowns which before I thought were moody depression-filled explosions I could recognize when they would come on and how I would feel afterward and was able to support myself, and my husband was able to support me," she said.

"This was also the point where I stopped working with children so much because music therapy work with children is noisy work."

She switched her focus to work more online.

"Online I did not have people in front of me all the time, and I did not have to make eye contact. Before I thought everybody who made eye contact felt pain and it was normal, but now I understood why I did," she said.

In 2016 she developed Brains = Behaviours a two-day workshop to give teachers, parents and caregivers insight into their child's brain functions and strategies to support children to function at their best.

She toured nationally, and now it's an e-course accessed by thousands of people in nine countries.

She is about to do a national conference tour talking about anxiety in children with author and renowned parenting guru Maggie Dent.

Ms Davies said where she finds making small talk and being face to face awkward on stage performing or speaking at a conference is a happy place to be.

"A lot of autistic people are on stage and are public figures because they are naturally excellent actors."

Music has always been huge in her life.

She grew up with it at home, and she was good at it.

"Music brought me peace when I couldn't make sense of things or think straight, and the outside world seemed confusing like I didn't speak the language, but the music made sense in my head," she said.

As a music therapist working with dementia patients, traumatic brain injuries, in juvenile detention and so many other areas she saw how music, creativity, and movement helped people thrive when nothing else did.

Her advice to parents is something when she was struggling the most she wished she believed.

"You can be the changemaker in your child's life."