Posted on April 2, 2022
Given that the theme for this day was only announced by the UN a week or so ago, this isn’t as prepared as I would’ve liked; I would’ve liked more time to work on it, to organise my thoughts on the topic. ‘Cause this week has just been chaos, both in reality and emotionally: I had to leave my cats at a cattery, pack for my trip to the US, fly to Boston, go to a concert there, and then fly to Nashville, where I’ve been super busy. And all of that has been very stressful. So it’s not ideal but I’ve done the best I could with the time and emotional energy I’ve had.
Given that the theme set by the UN this year is ‘inclusive quality education for all,’ I thought I’d write a bit about my experience in education as a young autistic woman. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was twenty so, while my years in school were obviously affected by my being autistic, we didn’t know that that was the cause.
During primary and secondary school, things were pretty okay. I loved learning so that was never the hard part for me. I was shy – painfully so (P.E. and drama classes were cause for weekly distress) – and I was exhausted by being in school but otherwise I think it was fairly normal. For the most part, I was a high achiever: I learned to read and write well very quickly; I was top of the class in most subjects (some of which I tried hard in but some of which I seemed naturally good at); I was in my school’s ‘gifted and talented’ stream for multiple subjects. I was left to myself a bit, I think; I guess there’s a logic to the idea that you don’t need to help a smart kid be smart but then, in the long run, said smart kid doesn’t learn how to learn, if that makes sense. I picked things up very quickly so no one ever really taught me how to study; once I got to the harder stuff, I started to struggle.
Things were fine until sixth form college, when that problem really kicked in. But still, I pushed through: I worked harder, I exhausted myself further. But I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I was stupid, that I was missing something; it never occurred to me that something like ASD meant my brain processed information differently, that the combination of the undiagnosed ASD and my all-consuming attempts to keep up were having a detrimental affect on my physical and mental health, or that I wasn’t being supported as I should’ve been. I had individual teachers who were kind and understanding but the institution itself offered no support at all. By the time I was taking my A Levels, I was so burned out and worn down that I was right on the edge of a breakdown. I ended up taking a gap year between the end of sixth form and the beginning of the university as I tried to get a handle on my spiralling mental health.
I went to the same university for both my BA and my MA (although with a few years in between), mostly because it allowed me to pursue my greatest special interest (songwriting) and study it in depth. I was diagnosed with several mental health problems during my first year of the BA and then ASD between the first and second year, which was when my university became more open to supporting me (it is worth pointing out however that I had to fight for almost every step because they simply didn’t understand why I needed what I told them I needed). They had what was called a Student Support Agreement that was supposed to be sent to all of my tutors before classes started so that they knew the difficulties I struggled with and what sort of accommodations I might need but I’d often introduce myself to a tutor and they’d have no idea what I was talking about.
In general, most of my tutors tried to understand; they were as accommodating and supportive as the university would allow them to be. They wanted to know; they wanted to understand; they wanted to make things easier for me (obviously not easier than it was for everyone else but to put me on the same level as my peers so I wasn’t disadvantaged). And while, I don’t mind – and even at times enjoy – educating others on Autism, it took a lot of energy to have those conversations at the beginning of every semester, sometimes multiple times. (It’s also worth pointing out that having those conversations can be really enjoyable when the person wants to learn but it can be a totally different story when you’re having those conversation out of necessity and the person isn’t really engaged.) It wasn’t until the last semester of my Masters that I worked with a tutor who was neurodivergent herself and it was a completely new way of experiencing education; feeling so understood and accommodated was amazing and that was definitely reflected in my work.
But while the individuals were open, for the most part, I felt like the institution wasn’t particularly interested in my experience as a neurodivergent student. It’s a small school so there were never that many of us (or there weren’t when I last spoke to them about it) because there weren’t that many of us in general and I don’t think they saw us as worth investing in (as in, it wasn’t financially worthwhile to educate all of their tutors on Autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions for just a handful of students) despite the benefits it could have for all of the students and for the tutors themselves.
Having said that, when I started the Masters I was introduced to the person brought in to support students with Autism and ADHD. I was feeling really optimistic about going back to uni – that progress was being made – but I hadn’t even known her a month when her actions triggered the biggest meltdown I’d had to date in the middle of a busy London train station, which was a traumatic experience. After that, I never heard from her again and found out from someone else that she’d transferred me back to Student Services without her ever saying anything to me. And all of that was with her training and experience. So I didn’t have a lot of faith in their efforts after that. I’m still talking to them though and I hope that I can still help them make the university experience better for neurodivergent students. They could – and they should – be doing more. With so many neurodivergent students dropping out of university, more needs to be done and I think the starting point is teaching the teachers.
I think it’s worth pointing out that I am in a fairly privileged position: I’m from a white, middle class family with a good support system and I went to good schools throughout my time in education. I was also able to go to university and had support from home that allowed me to do that in the way that was best for me. I was (and am) very lucky. But despite all of that, education has been an incredibly distressing experience.
Ultimately, everyone in education needs to know more about Autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions; knowledge and understanding is the only way that the education experience is going to get better for neurodivergent students. All of these institutions have been built on ableist foundations and I don’t have the answers on how to fix that but I do know that, without the knowledge, nothing will ever change.
Category: about me, anxiety, autism, chronic fatigue, depression, diagnosis, mental health, response, school, university Tagged: accessibility, anxiety, asd, autism, autism acceptance, autism awareness, autism awareness day, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, autistic student, depression, education, inclusive education, inclusivity, mental health, mental illness, primary school, school, secondary school, sixth form, sixth form college, united nations, university, waaw, waaw 2022, world autism acceptance week, world autism acceptance week 2022, world autism awareness day, world autism awareness week
Posted on January 1, 2022
In hindsight, I don’t really know what I was thinking, setting goals when I had no idea what the year was going to look like. I’m not really surprised that I haven’t done as well as I would’ve liked, had the year been a normal year. But it wasn’t a normal year and I try to remember that when I feel myself getting stressed.
FIND A RHYTHM IN THERAPY AGAIN – This has been a tricky one. For various reasons, my therapy was fairly erratic for the first half of the year and then I wasn’t going at all until just a few weeks ago. A lot has happened and a lot has changed and going back is hard; it feels like I’m learning how to do therapy all over again. But we’ve worked through tough periods before. There’s no reason why we can’t figure out this one too.
PROGRESS WITH MY INVISIBLE BRACES – Okay, I officially failed at this. I’ve actually slipped backwards, going back to an earlier mold. It was just that, with everything going on, sleeping was the one time where I didn’t feel some sort of sensory overwhelm and I was so reluctant to lose that one safe space. I have worn it a little but not enough so I need to figure out a more manageable way to wear it.
WORK ON MY CORE – This has been a tricky one. Since the lockdown ended, I’ve been swimming as much as I can (and feel able to depending on various things: mental health, COVID numbers, etc) and I do feel like it’s helped, although it doesn’t feel like the pain mirrors how much or how little swimming I’m doing. Eleven months after the Hydrotherapy referral, I got a Physiotherapy appointment which resulted in them referring me to Hydrotherapy and a month or so later, I finally got a Hydrotherapy session. I’ve been doing the exercises by myself and I have a follow up appointment in the new year to make sure everything’s happening as it should. It’s too soon to know what effect it’s having but hopefully it’ll help with some of the problems caused by my EDS.
COMPLETE MY MAJOR REPERTOIRE PROJECT – I did it! It was hard work and utterly exhausting and, by the end, I was working twelve (or more) hours a day but I absolutely loved it. I loved being totally absorbed by one project and just writing as many songs for it as possible. I did struggle to balance what I wanted to do with the project with what I needed to do for the grade (although it’s true that trying to meet that criteria did result in it being a better project) but I had a fantastic supervisor, who was passionate and knowledgeable about a lot of the same things as me and who was also neurodivergent, which I think made a big difference when it came to tackling problems and her general support; my project was better because of her help. The day of my final presentation was a bit anti-climactic after everything and suddenly it was all over. But I’m so proud of the work I did, the many songs I wrote, and the mark I achieved, my highest out of every module. I’m so relieved, so happy, so proud, and so grateful to everyone who helped me get there. It was the best part of this year, easily.
FINISH MY MASTERS DEGREE – I still kind of can’t believe that I did this, given everything over the last couple of years. It’s so weird to look back at the beginning of the Masters in late 2019, knowing what I do now. But I did it: I completed my Masters Degree in Songwriting. During a global pandemic no less. But despite that, it was still an amazing experience; I met a lot of incredible people, I did a lot of work that I’m so proud of, and I got so much out of it. I’m so proud of my final project in particular and it was amazing to get such a high grade, as well as the Outstanding Student Award at graduation; that meant so much to me after everything that went in to getting the degree. And while I am excited for what comes next, I’m also really, really sad that it’s over; that’s the end of my education at ICMP and I don’t want my time there to be officially over. I loved my BA but doing an MA was the best thing I’ve ever done. It was beyond difficult and there were times when I hated it but it was an amazing experience and I’m so proud of myself and the work I did.
MAKE SIGNIFICANT PROGRESS IN CATCHING UP WITH MY DIARY – Yeah, no, I did not manage this. I’m barely managing to keep up, let alone clean up the messy notes I’ve been keeping over the last two years. My diary writing is in a state of chaos right now. It takes up so much time and causes me so much anxiety but I can’t stop; my OCD won’t let me. So I’m just keeping on keeping on; I don’t know what else to do.
WORK ON NOT COMPARING MYSELF TO OTHERS, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO MUSIC – I think it’s fair to say that this is probably something I’ll be working on for the rest of my life; it’s not something that will ever be done, complete. I’m not sure if I’d say I’ve made progress with this but I do think I’ve learned a lot about myself and my insecurities. Two big factors that affect those insecurities are my mental health and how much I’m writing. When my mental health is good and I’m doing a solid amount of writing, I feel more comfortable and confident in myself and what other people are doing doesn’t feel scary or upsetting; they feel inspiring and exciting. But when my mental health is bad – and thus, my ability to write disappears – everything feels just too much. So most of the year was great, apart from a few dips, but my mental health hasn’t been great over the last two months – or in other words, completely fucking awful – so that’s what I’ve been focussed on: trying to make that better.
FIND MY NEXT PROJECT – This goal kind of makes me laugh now. To think I wanted to find my next project and now I have more projects than I know what to do with. It’s kind of stressful, trying to manage so many things at once, but it’s also wonderful to have so many things that I’m excited about. They’re all in process right now and I don’t know how they’re going to turn out so I don’t want to say anything yet, but I definitely found my next project.
This year has been a hell of a year for many reasons and while there were many negative surprises, there were also positive ones; those just aren’t always visible in the review of goals set at the beginning of the year. I’m really proud of a lot of things from the last twelve months and, given everything that’s happened, I’m actually kind of impressed that I was able to complete any of these goals at all. So I’m trying to focus on that.
Category: about me, covid-19 pandemic, depression, emotions, heds, identity, mental health, music, ocd, therapy, treatment, university, writing Tagged: 2020, anxiety, comparing, comparing myself, comparison anxiety, depression, diary, diary writing, eds, final project, goals, heds, hydrotherapy, hypermobile ehlers danlos syndrome, hypermobility, independent artist, invisible braces, journal, journaling, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, memory hoarding, mental health, mental illness, music, new years resolution, new years resolutions, obsessive compulsive disorder, ocd, pandemic, pandemic 2020, physiotherapy, plans, reflection, self confidence, self esteem, songwriter, songwriting, therapy, university
Posted on December 24, 2021
I found this post incredibly hard to write, which was very unexpected because, when I started putting down ideas for this post a few months ago, my thoughts just poured out of me. I was overwhelmed by how grateful I felt but now, while I can say I’m grateful, that all of that feeling is still there, for all of these things, my feelings don’t feel quite as accessible as they did before. I’m assuming the medication change is behind it somehow. So this post isn’t quite what I imagined it would be but it still felt important to try, even if I couldn’t get it ‘perfect.’ Done is better than good, as the saying goes. So some of these are shorter than they have been in the past, shorter than I’d like them to be, but the meaning is there. I hope that makes sense.
My family – I’m not sure if there’s anything I can say about my family that I haven’t said before but they are just the best. I love them more than I could ever put into words. It’s been so, so hard to be separated from so many of them for so long but I am grateful that everyone has been so careful over the last year. It’s been a really scary time and it’s just made me even more grateful for them than I was already.
Mum – Again, I’m not sure if there’s anything new I can say but my Mum is just so incredible and I’m grateful for her and everything she does every single day. This year has been so difficult for so many different reasons but there hasn’t been a moment that she hasn’t been there for me, regardless of what was going on for her. I don’t know how she does it but she’s my hero and I don’t know what I’d do without her.
My Granny – While my feelings about my Granny’s death are still an absolute mess, the one thing I do know is that I’m so grateful for her: for the time I had with her, for what I learned from her, for the memories I will always hold close. I am so proud to be her granddaughter and I just hope that she would be proud of me, wherever I go from here.
My friends – Between the lockdown, managing my Masters, and my health, this has been a really weird year in terms of spending time with my friends. But whether that was in person, on the phone, or over Zoom/Microsoft Teams/FaceTime, all of the time I did get to spend with my friends this year has been so special and I wouldn’t trade a second of it.
As always, there are more people and photos than I could fit in this little montage. I love you all.
Seeing people in real life and HUGGING – What more can I say? The opportunities to see my loved ones in real life and getting to hug them for the first time in months have meant so much to me.
The technology that’s allowed me to stay in contact with people – While I have been able to see more people and see them more often this year than last, I’ve still been very dependent on technology to stay in touch with friends and family. Between FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams, I’ve been able to talk to family and friends, complete my Masters, write songs, continue with the puzzle that is my health, and so on. I am so grateful that all of these things have been able to continue through the chaos of the last year; I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d had to stop.
The cats – Ah, the family of cats. They are such a source of joy in my life: their cuteness, their playfulness, their cuddliness, their obliviousness to the world going on around them… They make every day better. They always bring me comfort and calm and they always make me smile. The timing of the pandemic has meant that I’ve gotten to spend so much time with them while they’re all still so young, especially the youngest generation, and that’s forged a really strong bond. They mean the world to me and I’m grateful for them every single day.
Writing songs and creating music – I’ve written so many songs this year that I’m so proud of, that I love so much. I’ve written with so many people and I’m so excited to put together my next project. It’s kind of hard right now (because the medication is messing with me so much) but when I’m writing songs, everything is good. I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing; it’s the best feeling. I’m so grateful to have had such a good year and I really hope that all of this medication stuff will be sorted soon so I can get back to writing.
My Masters – Looking back at September 2019, I really had no idea what the Masters would be like but I’m so, so glad I did it, even if most of it ended up being done in a pandemic. I met some incredible people and wrote a lot of songs I’m really proud of. The two modules I did this year were my two favourite modules of the whole course, The Writer’s Voice and the Major Repertoire Project. The latter was amazing and so much fun; it gave me the opportunity to really explore and experiment with my writing and I’m so proud of the work I did. I’m also really grateful because, for the first time ever, I had neurodivergent support. It made such a difference and I know I wouldn’t have done as well – or explored as widely – as I did if not for that support. I got so much out of the course and as excited as I am for what comes next, I’m really sad that it’s over.
Getting to gig again – I have missed gigging so much and so, getting to perform again was so, so much fun. It’s such a unique form of joy. As I said in my birthday post, “Performing songs that I’ve written about things that matter to me… it’s when I’m doing that that I feel most comfortable in my own skin, most in sync with the world around me. It’s the best feeling.” It was a bit awkward to start with, like the muscle memory didn’t kick in straight away, but then it all came back and I just had the best time. I’m definitely looking forward to doing more, COVID dependent of course.
My new diagnoses – While I don’t feel great about having hEDS and ADHD, I am grateful to know about them so that I can start to figure out how to manage them. My attempts so far haven’t been hugely successful (and in some instances, pretty unpleasant) and that has been distressing but I have to hope that things will get better at some point, that I’ll find something that works, that it won’t be like this forever.
The cool opportunities I’ve had (despite the pandemic) – While the pandemic has disrupted a lot, I still managed to do some cool things, aside from my Masters of course. I got to release the Honest EP on CD with a run at the awesome local independent music shop, Resident – something I’ve always wanted to do. And playing live again, at the Hard Rock Cafe no less, was very exciting. But I think the most exciting thing and the thing that I’m most proud of is presenting my first academic paper at a conference. And to make it even more perfect, it was the first Taylor Swift Musicology conference and I got to write and present a paper exploring a particular songwriting technique that I find really interesting. I loved writing it and I loved being a part of the conference and I may or may not be thinking about what I could write for next year.
Weekend swims – About a year ago, we found a pool that essentially does quiet evening swimming sessions. The lights are dimmed and they only have a certain amount of spaces so it’s always quiet (and feels about as safe as is possible in current times). These things make it about as Autism friendly as possible and we’ve been going as often as possible, swimming being something I’ve always loved and the least painful form of exercise right now. I’m still trying to find somewhere that feels as safe and as calm to swim during the week as these nights are only on weekends but I’m so glad to have it at all.
The exciting things coming in 2022 – Next year is already filling up with so many cool things: plans to release new music, new creative projects, some long awaited concerts, getting back to Nashville and all of the amazing things that that entails… If the pandemic taught us nothing else, it’s that we have no idea what may be just around the corner but even with all of this uncertainty, I don’t want to give up being excited about things. Yes, they may not happen but that’s a pretty miserable way to look at the future. So I’m going to stay excited about things. Or try to, at least.
I’m in a weird place emotionally at the moment, swinging between feeling completely overwhelmed and not feeling anything, so I’m not sure whether this flows or not. But hey, I tried. And I am grateful – so, so grateful – even if I can’t quite seem to access it all of the time.
Category: adhd, animals, autism, covid-19 pandemic, death, diagnosis, emotions, family, heds, holidays, mental health, music, university, writing Tagged: 2022, cat, cats, coronavirus, covid-19, family, family of cats, friends, gigging, goals, grateful, gratitude, hard rock cafe, healthcare, isolation, lauren alex hooper, lockdown, masters, masters degree, mental health, pandemic, pandemic 2020, performing, pets, plans, pride of cats, self isolating, singer, singersongwriter, songwriting, university
Hi! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD (Inattentive Type), and Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), as well as several mental health issues.
I’m a singer-songwriter (it’s my biggest special interest and I have both a BA and MA in songwriting) so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is on all platforms, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.
My debut EP, Honest, is available on all platforms, with a limited physical run at Resident Music in Brighton.
I’m currently working on an album about my experiences as an autistic woman.