Not ‘just a naughty little girl.’ Why my autism is a superpower

“I am Natasha Karena Nathan and being autistic makes me who I am, it’s threaded through me and make me the person I am. Who is creative, imaginative, and sees magic and beauty in the world, even when it’s hidden to others.”

Natasha’s unicorn cushion reminds her that “I am magic.” In tough times, seeing the cushion and feeling its sequins on her hand helps Natasha think to herself…

”Magical Tasha, you can manage, even though the situation you find yourself in is bad you have got this and can rise above this or if you look deep inside, you know where to get help.”

Struggling with school

Since Natasha can remember she always struggled with school, relationships and understanding others. Age 11 Natasha was diagnosed with dyspraxia and dyslexia and age 14 she recalls waking up on the art room floor following her first epileptic fit.

Bullied throughout school, no one knew how to teach her properly and no reasonable adjustments were made for her, with huge social and educational impacts. Tragically, her dreams of becoming a classroom assistant to help kids like her were cut short for health reasons – cancer, hysterectomy and premature menopause – all things Natasha wants to talk about and wants society to understand and accept.

An autism diagnosis as an adult

Aged 45, she was finally diagnosed with autism. This has helped her understand who she is and relate to others. It helped her understand and share the difference between the butterflies in your tummy, a meltdown, a panic attack and even severe depression.

Natasha now has a sense of purpose and is using her own life experience to encourage reasonable adjustments so people get the very best help from public and community services, through being part of two self-advocacy groups: KeyRing and Opening Minds Training & Consultancy.

“She is passionate about making all services better for people who are autistic…Natasha is always ready to listen to other people’s experiences, is kind and caring and offers to help whenever she can…” – Karen Murray, Keyring

“We call Natasha ‘The Connector’ because she is always joining people together, keeping her ear to the ground for new initiatives and ideas, and linking people in to those.” – Jo Martin, Opening Minds

Having been thought of in her own childhood as a ‘naughty little girl,’ and only recently been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Natasha challenges negative stereotypes and champions strengths-based approaches, including with parents and carers.

Using her autism superpower

Natasha describes her autism as having a superpower. Instead of hiding she embraces who she is and is impatient to change the world. Even when comments hurt, she takes a deep breath and carries on to educate others. She’s currently helping educate new care workers as part of their Care Certificates.

As an individual with lived experience, Natasha now works with not-for-profit ‘Opening Minds Training & Consultancy’ to provide training, education and support to individuals and organisations relating to accessibility, inclusivity and disability.

She’s recently made short films for e-learning on understanding autism for the whole of the national NHS health workforce on behalf of Health Education England and is lobbying for dedicated autism nurses in North Yorkshire hospitals. She has also co – led a webinar on autism and mental health for Health & Adults social care workers in North Yorkshire.

“Keyring and Opening Minds gave me the confidence to believe in myself and taught me the basics. I’m hugely grateful to them.” Natasha

For Natasha, Covid-19 has laid bare the inequality of our society

She says, “I’m supposed to be raising awareness to stop those with autism and learning difficulties dying too young. And then Covid hits and bang – no coverage at all, at exactly the time when it was needed most.

“Worse, doctors are putting do not resuscitate on peoples’ notes. I’d never heard of people without disabilities being withheld treatment.

“That’s so scary. How do you tell people what to do to stop that from happening?

“And lots of people [with lived experience] don’t have a smartphone, don’t even have internet, can’t attend their day centre. So they can’t be contacted now, aren’t being listened to, aren’t being supported.”

With those advocacy skills now more important than ever before, Natasha is a hugely deserving winner of a spot on the Leaders List 2020. We hope it helps her make an even bigger difference, to even more people, in the future.

“Natasha is conscientious and a determined advocate for herself and others. She is always seeking ways to support other people and share knowledge and awareness of relevant issues in her community. Natasha is a driving force and keeps things moving forward at Opening Minds. She is full of ideas and will take an idea forward and seek out the people she needs to speak with to make things happen.” – Claire Flynn