In this ninth episode Ginny Grant begins by introducing the show and providing context about herself and Reframing Autism. Ginny then introduces Medha Gupta, who is a young Australian Autistic advocate.
In the conversation, Medha reflects on her journey of Autism acceptance after receiving a diagnosis at the age of twenty-one. She discusses how she connected with the neurodivergent community online and face to face and the important role this had in her understanding of her identity. She discusses some of the ways in which she has contributed to the Sydney Autism Lions Club and her advocacy more broadly, including her 2021 presentation “Flourishing in Otherness” for Reframing Autism. Finally Medha gives some important advice for Autistic students seeking a tertiary education.
Ginny: Hello and welcome to Amplified: Autistics in Conversation with Reframing Autism.
I’m Ginny Grant, an Autistic advocate, writer, and Reframing Autism’s Communications Manager, and I am the host of this podcast and today I’m thrilled to be chatting with a young Autistic advocate, Medha Gupta.
I’d like to start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which I’m recording this podcast today, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. Reframing Autism extends our gratitude and respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to all Elders past, present, and emerging, for their wisdom, their resilience, and for helping this country to heal. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.
For those of you who are new to this podcast series, Reframing Autism is an Australian-based not-for-profit organisation which is run by and for Autistic people and their families and allies. It is dedicated to creating a world in which the Autistic community is supported to achieve acceptance, inclusion and active citizenship. And we are all about nurturing and celebrating Autistic identity.
[Music continues briefly]
Welcome to Amplified, Medha! Would you like to introduce yourself to our audience?
Medha: Hi, yes I would. So, my name’s Medha. I have both ADHD and Autism. I was only diagnosed when I was about twenty or twenty-one though – twenty years old for the ADHD and twenty-one for the Autism and I’m currently twenty-two, so this is all … It’s been … The last two years have been very new for me, and it’s been exploring sort of a new aspect of my identity and a new community of people in Sydney. So far, I’ve been studying and working with my life.
Ginny: Thank you, Medha. Let’s start with your Autism journey. Can you tell us a little bit more about when and how you learned that you are Autistic?
Medha: Yeah, so that’s actually quite interesting in that I very much lucked my way into it, in that … so I had a therapist in general and she actually has ADHD. And so, she’d been nagging me for years, just going like, “Are you sure you don’t want to get tested for ADHD?” Then a couple of years ago, you know, I finally came … I went and … went to a psychiatrist and they said that yes, you do have ADHD. From then, I joined a whole lot of ADHD communities and learned that ADHD and Autism are actually very similar and go hand in hand. And the more I learned about Autism the more I’m like, hmm, maybe this is something I have. So I actually went and got re-evaluated to a psychiatrist who was a lot more positive than the first one, and after I went through all the assessments there, that’s when I got fully diagnosed with both ADHD and Autism and got put on, you know, a better management plan for that as well. But yeah, it’s pure luck that the only … my second psychiatrist actually also has ADHD, so I find it quite interesting in that I only got to where I was and got the diagnosis I wanted through other neurodivergents. They’re the ones who are actually able to pick up on these things when I wasn’t advocating for myself or I didn’t know that I had it.
Ginny: Can you tell us about how you came to understand and accept your Autistic identity?
Medha: Well, um, it has just mostly been through the neurodivergent community in Sydney, to be honest, ‘cause, well, we all know that there aren’t great media representations that we all get growing up. So like, we don’t … I had no full understanding of what ADHD or Autism were until I got, you know, at least my ADHD diagnosis. So then I started joining communities where people talked about it and talked about the uncommon symptoms and talked about the common misperceptions and, like, these communities have been absolutely amazing. I love spending time with them. I am so happy to invest as much of my energy as I can into them, and it’s through, sort of, these discussions with all these, like, different people who got diagnosed at different times who have had different presenting characteristics of Autism as well, and I guess that’s how I’ve slowly come to understand – and I’m still learning – like, neurodivergence and Autism.
Ginny: Definitely. So, in what ways have you connected with the Autistic community? You mentioned some neurodivergent online groups.
Medha: Yeah. So I’m not sure how common this is, because I have heard other people who did the same in that when I got diagnosed, I literally googled “Autism groups Sydney” and it’s the Sydney Autism Lions Club that comes up first. And so basically I started going … they have some social meet-ups and then some more important … like, basically more agenda-based meetings that … and everything’s open invite, so I started … that’s how I connected basically. I found them online on meetup.com and I started going to their social events and that sort of thing, and that’s how I got mostly involved. And otherwise, it’s just been like, you know, online Facebook groups and stuff, sort of introduced me to Autistic communities all over the world.
Ginny: Beautiful. So, how did your interest in Autistic advocacy develop?
Medha: Yeah, see, that’s actually quite interesting ‘cause, um, it’s kind of just by accident, like I didn’t wake up in the morning going like, oh, I’m going to … I’m going to fight for the rights of Autistic people, you know. It’s just I wake up in the morning and I’m like, I just want to be treated like a normal person, just being out in the community, being openly Autistic, you know, and still doing, like, things in society, like dating, having relationships, having jobs and doing all of that while being Autistic counts as advocacy. And, like, just telling other people, like, hi, I’d like to be treated as a normal person counts as advocacy, but for me it’s just like, I’m just trying to live my life and fit in with the … with the world around me, and apparently that makes me an advocate, because, like, other people are like, oh what, you’re meant to stay at home and, I don’t know, watch Big Bang Theory all day, like. So I guess that’s how it developed, like I’m just trying to be myself and myself is apparently an advocate and I don’t fit the stereotypes and idea of what people think I should be.
Ginny: You recently contributed a presentation to Reframing Autism’s Autistic Flourishing Symposium called “Flourishing in Otherness”. Can you tell us a little about what you meant by that?
Medha: Yes, so all throughout my life, I’ve always sort of been in minority groups, because my family’s like an immigrant family – so my parents were born in, like, India – I’m a woman, so I’m an immigrant, I’m a person of colour, I’m queer, and then on top of that while I didn’t know I am, like, Autistic as well. So I always was a little bit weird for … I never did fully fit in with sort of mainstream culture and mainstream groups. I would always end up in these side groups. In uni I joined like, queer groups … queer groups that were led by people of colour, like, all sorts of, sort of small minority groups, advocacy groups, those types of things. And that’s how I came to be the person I am and I would say that that’s how I learned how to, like, flourish which is the theme. So all of these groups that are considered “other” I ended up in communities of people who are really amazing, who teach you new ways to see the world, they teach you non-conventional ways to just live your life that are a lot healthier than I feel what mainstream culture tells us to, like, you know, it’s “take your time with things, don’t worry about external pressures, everyone does things differently”, it’s … they’re much more compassionate messages I feel than what we’re expected to do and so, yeah, being in all of these “other” groups, like, groups of so-called weirdos because they’re feminists or non-white or whatever is … just really helped and has been really amazing. And that’s what the presentation was trying to be about, was trying to express just how … just how positive these groups are and how much they made my life so much more rich.
Ginny: You mentioned the Sydney Autism Lions Club. Can you tell us a little bit more about that organisation and your role within it?
Medha: Sure. So I think my role … I’m the treasurer of it, actually. I joined it on a whim like before, and I was just really interested in the stuff they do. So, as a Lions Club, it’s a community service based group. It’s a community service based club for, like, um, Autism. Yep, so we do a lot of stuff, so we throw lots of events, both for fundraising and that spread awareness or acceptance, we’ve done writing competitions, we’ve done trivia nights, I’m working on an online escape room. I was meant to make this in time for, like, the previous lockdown because everyone was indoors so it was like, “oh, an online escape room, a fun event you can do from your bedroom”, but that’s been delayed. So we do lots of events like that and the other things we do so with the money that we raise, we then spend and like help people in the Autistic community who need it. So a couple of times there’s been families who ended up in desperate situations because their, like, Autistic child needed something that they couldn’t afford or they were just … COVID hit really hard and they couldn’t afford to put, like, dinner on the table and we helped them out there. We’re looking to invest in other things, like, um, scholarships for kids in Autistic schools and stuff like that. So yeah, we are a community service based group, we fundraise money with events based around Autism and spreading sort of awareness and education about it and we spend the money on Autistic causes.
Ginny: Great. So, in terms of the Autistic advocacy work that you have done, what are you most proud of, would you say? And what do you hope to accomplish through your advocacy?
Medha: Mmm … to be honest, I feel like I’m still at the beginning of this journey and I’m most proud of what I think I will achieve in the next five years, if that makes sense. I feel like I’m on a path where we’re building up more and more momentum to make more and more, like, impactful events and have more and more, like, impactful services and things like that. Like our club has, in the last year and a half or two years, I’m not sure, that I’ve been a part of it, I can see us growing a lot and changing a lot. We’ve gotten a lot of, like, new members. So in terms of my Autistic advocacy, I don’t want to put a label yet on what I’m more proud of because I think that we’re just on the edge of getting to the things that I’d be most proud of, if that makes sense.
Ginny: Yes, absolutely. You’re currently studying at university. Can you tell us how that experience has been for you and if you have any advice for Autistic or otherwise neurodivergent students who might be entering tertiary education?
Medha: Well, first of all, university was so much better than high school because I’m so neurodivergent, like, I’m so Autistic. But like, you know, the schedules of high school and … they sort of force you to learn certain things even if you weren’t interested in it, you have to get up at the same time every day, every morning to go to school whether you liked it or not. And university, it just offers that flexibility that you were never allowed, and so university really worked well for me because of how flexible it was. You know, you choose your own subjects. For most classes attendance isn’t compulsory, so, like, you don’t always have to turn up if you’re not feeling well and you can just, sort of, adjust your schedule according to what works for you. You know, you have a bad couple of weeks, you can just catch up later. It’s not about a week-to-week, daily performance. You can have a stretch where you don’t do a lot of work and easily make up for that in university, which I really liked and it really basically worked for me.
So the advice that maybe I’d have for Autistic or otherwise neurodivergent students would be: first of all, definitely go straight to your disability officer and get all the help that you can, all the extra arrangements and extra flexibility that you can, ‘cause it just means that you can have extra extensions, you can have accommodations during exams as well and all of that. The other thing is, I know that for me at least, I can do really well at assignments and I can do really badly at exams. Like, sitting there doing an exam, I just don’t always turn up my best work, but an assignment is something I can do, redo, sort of, I have that time to think about it, there’s more flexibility to do with that. So I would say that when you’re choosing your subjects, don’t just look at the content, look at the structure of that subject, and be like, how many assignments are there? How much is the exam worth? Is there an exam at all? Be aware of what your strengths are, as to whether you’re better at assignments or exams and choose them that way. So, for me, I’m not good at exams; I would look at the subject structures and look for subjects with the most weighting on assignments because I know I can do assignments well. And when you do badly in exams, not only do you fail the subject, it affects your self-esteem as well. So, like, you really need to try and be aware of your strengths, like, while you’re figuring out your strengths, and play to them, ‘cause it helps avoid those situations where you feel like, oh, I failed this because I’m stupid. It’s like, no you didn’t, it’s nothing to do with your intelligence, it’s often you failed it because you didn’t suit the structure of the subject. So don’t take that to heart and try and pick the subjects with more, you know, you-friendly structures.
Ginny: That’s really great advice, thank you. Can you tell us what your vision is for your future beyond university?
Medha: Yeah, so my long-term career goals are – which is quite ambitious – is … So, we’re on First Nations land and I feel responsible for that. I think that I need to do something. Because I have decided to live in Australia, I want to find a career in helping … helping a lot of the First Nations causes. So something that I am interested in – I have a background in both Social Science and I’m doing a Masters in Data Science at the moment, and what I’m hoping to do is to find a career where I’m analysing data bias against First Nations people, or I guess any racial data bias that we have in Australia and finding solutions for it and basically hold companies, governments and everything basically accountable for the data bias that exists.
Ginny: Thank you, Medha. And thanks to our audience for listening to this episode of Amplified.
If you’re not already part of our social media communities, please do join us online. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. We also have a website – www.reframingautism.org.au – which has a treasure trove of Autistic-created resources. Thank you again, goodbye!