Dr Emma Marriott shares how autism is her family's superpower in a book about mental health | News and events

Dr Emma Marriott shares how autism is her family's superpower in a book about mental health

Dr Emma Marriott a clinical psychologist from Ipswich has added her story to a new book about mental health and autism.

She has contributed to 'From Hurt to Hope: Stories of mental health, mental illness, and being autistic', which was released on 22 December.

Each of the chapters in the book is a personal account of the writers’ own experiences of mental health and their tips on maintaining good mental health, edited by Mair Elliott, a young patient activist working to improve awareness of mental health and autism.

“There are some really powerful stories in the book, and I would say that anyone who works in mental health needs to read Mair’s account of mental health services and inpatient experiences. It is really food for thought,” said Emma.

Emma's chapter is written under her married name as it is a personal account of her experiences rather than a professional chapter.

She said: “I write as a mother of autistic children, as a clinician working in an autism diagnostic service and as an autistic woman diagnosed in my late 40s - what was once described to me as ‘360 autism’ – it is all around me.”

Mair put out a call for contributors in January 2020 and Emma “tentatively” submitted an essay. “I was delighted when Mair contacted me to say that my chapter ‘Big Brain Trees and Superpowers: A journey of discovery, patience and understanding’ had been accepted.”

The idea of big brain trees came from her son when he was eight years old. Emma said: “He told me that the difference between people with autism and people without autism was that people with autism have ‘bigger brain trees’ – busier and over-thinking brains with lots of branches to analyse and no sense of when to stop thinking things over. He was very right, and it is a concept that has rang true with a lot of autistic people I have spoken to.”

She added: “It is very exciting to have this chapter published, but equally I am feeling some anticipation as this is opening my story up to the public. However, as my chapter title says, in our family autism is a superpower, being just like others but with an added dimension. If we keep our stories quiet and hide our superpowers, we perpetuate the myth that we should be ashamed of our differences.”

Emma had not thought about autism in herself until her son was diagnosed. “I always felt a bit like I didn’t quite fit in with others, that I was a bit ‘out there’. With my son I started thinking ‘well that can’t be autism because I do that’ and when I had said that repeatedly about a number of things I took a step back and reflected.

“I mentioned to my husband that I was starting to wonder if I was autistic. His response was ‘oh yes, you so are’. I still don’t know what it was that I was doing that made it so obvious to him, but that was the deciding factor in getting it assessed. And when my sister read my report, she recognised things about herself so pursued an assessment and from that a diagnosis - the snowball effect of having one member of the family diagnosed.”

She said a later diagnosis brings a lot of reflection. “I was reviewing my life in a new light and a new understanding. That can bring relief (it was the autism, not naughtiness), anger (why did no-one ever notice; if we had known that could have been done with more success), guilt (I should have done that differently; I shouldn’t have said / done that), and also a sense of sadness – the people in my life who are no longer here and will never know or understand why I did things in certain ways, particularly my parents.”

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