Autism is by nature a communication disorder. It is not an illness or a disease but a fundamental aspect of a person’s personality.
Alis Rowe was diagnosed with autism when she was 22 years old. Her childhood was plagued with feelings of isolation and a belief she was different.
The main tool she used to understand her condition was through the development of the Curly Hair Project in 2013, a social enterprise dedicated to helping females with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families.
At the time of her diagnosis, Alis felt there was a limited amount of information and resources available to her and women as a whole, who were on the spectrum.
Speaking of her experiences, Alis said: “Most information to date has focused on males (especially boys). Females, especially women, have not been written or talked about much in comparison. A lot of people think we have been underrepresented and under recognised.”
This lack of information spurred Alis on to create a project which enabled her to properly understand ASD and most importantly give an insight into the thoughts and feelings of a person with autism.
The award-winning organisation, now in its fourth year puts on workshops for those living with the diagnosis and the families supporting them.
She explained: “I would say the aim of the workshops is to help people understand the mind of a person with an ASD.
“Our work is of a highly empathetic and sensitive nature and we help you to see things from another point of view.
“There is also a high focus on easy, simple, practical strategies into making life better for not only the person with the ASD but also the family and other people around them.”
Her pioneering workshops are supported by over 60,000 Facebook followers, which keeps growing every day.
And her website, endorsed by leading ASD psychologist, Tony Atwood, offers a plethora of information and avenues to explore for both patients and their support systems.
Perhaps what really showcases Alis’ ability to embrace her diagnosis is her love of weightlifting, a sport which lends itself to a person who enjoys ‘ticking boxes’ and repetition.
She said: “It is peaceful, solitary, and sets up each day very nicely. It is good for reducing anxiety and also for being mindful and learning to live in the moment (you absolutely have to be in the moment when you have a very heavy bar above your head!).
“A lot of people with an ASD like repetition and sameness. Weightlifting is repetitive. A lot of people think it is boring but for me there is nothing more pleasurable than doing exactly the same movement over and over again lots and lots of times forever!”
It takes a certain type of person, diagnosis or not, to build something so overwhelmingly positive out of a somewhat testing situation, yet Alis understands and utilises the gifts she has been given.
“I feel lucky that I am able to communicate in such an easy to understand way so that other people can relate. People tell me I have a very powerful, very clear, realistic, accessible way of describing a very misunderstood and complicated condition.”
The Curly Hair Project will be in Twickenham, Surbiton and Tolworth over the next couple of months dedicating workshops to specific areas of autism such as anxiety and shutdowns.