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Actually Autistic: All About Women

Chloé Hayden is an actor, influencer, published author and disability advocate, best known for portraying the beloved autistic character Quinni in the 2022 Heartbreak High reboot, while Grace Tame won Australian of the Year in 2021 and is an advocate for survivors on sexual assault and Dr. Jac Den Houting is a research psychologist who researches autism while also being an advocate for the community. Amy Thunig is currently undertaking a PhD in education with a focus on indigenous women in academia, and is also a published author like Chloé. Everyone included on the panel is a high-achieving autistic person, which was able to provoke thoughtful discussion about what it means to be an autistic person who faces gender bias during the diagnosis process, and how it affects multiple aspects of life.  

A few quick notes on accessibility: this livestream was fully captioned, though it did have some quickly moving visuals at the beginning which may be difficult for certain people to watch. While it was signposted at the start of the talk that difficult subjects would be mentioned, and they provided the Lifeline number in case anyone was struggling, specific triggers that would be discussed were not mentioned. The livestream cost $15 to purchase and is available for 30 days following pre-order. In terms of accessibility at the Opera House itself, it was stated that two quiet rooms were provided and clear directions were provided on how to access these rooms at the beginning of the talk.  

Within this review, all panellists will be referred to with identity first language (ie. autistic person rather than person with autism) as that is how they have chosen to speak about themselves, and the term ‘allistic’ will be used, which refers to anyone who is not autistic.  

Other important terms include ‘neurodiversity’, which is an umbrella term encompassing a range of conditions that cause the brain to diverge from the norm, and ableism, which refers to discrimination against the disabled community.  

The discussion itself was fascinating- topics touched on ranged from the autism diagnosis process and how difficult that is as a femme-presenting person, workplace accommodations and the exhaustion that comes with self-advocacy, the stigma associated with an autism diagnosis as well as answering audience questions. The discussion, though centring autistic voices, did waver between saying relatable experiences aimed towards autistic people and providing information for allistic people to better understand the autistic experience.  

Though the talk was intended to be for all ages, there were multiple times where presenters swore and/or discussed adult topics before quickly correcting themselves. None of these slip-ups were wildly inappropriate, and I think young autistic people may find this kind of discussion helpful to see, however if you’re considering showing the livestream to someone else I think that this swearing and occasional dark themes are important to note.  

Dr. Jac den Houting’s inclusion in the panel was one that I believe elevated this talk significantly- though all panellists had something unique to bring to the table, being able to listen to someone who was both autistic and involved in ongoing autism research provided a scientific perspective that was quite refreshing. While all the perspectives brought to the foreground in this discussion were valuable, being able to hear specific statistics such as the unemployment rate for Australian autistic people, as well as other numerical markers of systemic ableism was eye opening.  

Chloé Hayden’s perspective on autism diagnosis was also fascinating- the other panellists had what are considered late diagnoses, but Chloé was diagnosed as autistic when she was 13. This is unfortunately an early diagnosis for women, but it meant that Chloé was able to provide insight into how the stigma attached to an autism diagnosis affected her mental wellbeing as a teenager, which though harrowing to listen to was an insight that brought more variety to the discussion.  

Chloé’s thoughts during discussion were also interesting, as she talked about how her autistic traits make her excel as an actor, even if the acting industry isn’t always accepting of autistic people. Chloé, as well as the other panellists, are adept at ‘masking’, and hiding their autistic traits from the public. Chloé expressed that this masking is very similar to acting, since she had been pretending to be a different person from a very young age. Though Chloé is a practiced actor, having appeared on shows such as Heartbreak High and Counter Girls, she said that disclosing her diagnosis has meant she has been turned away from roles, and that her support needs often aren’t accommodated on set.  

Amy Thunig’s perspective on autism diagnosis was also interesting, as her diagnosis followed that of her child. For many late-diagnosed autistic people, the diagnosis of a family member or child can prompt further introspection, and recognition of autistic traits within oneself. Amy shared that she was visiting a psychologist to talk about her son’s autistic traits, and continually referred them as normal before being told that she was likely also autistic.  

Grace Tame and Amy Thunig also shared an interesting exchange where they met each other at a party for the first time, and Amy looked to Grace as a safe person to be around when she was overstimulated but trying to appear polite.  

Overall I’d highly recommend watching this talk for anyone who’s autistic or hoping to learn more about the autistic experience.