Focus on strategies for understanding mental health and autism

October 20, 2017

20 October 2017 – Altogether Autism national manager Catherine Trezona attended the fifth annual Asia Pacific Autism Conference (#APAC17) in Sydney in early September 2017. There she heard keynote speaker Jeanette Purkis talk on Mental Health and Autism: Strategies and Self-care.

CATCHING UP: Altogether Autism national manager Catherine Trezona with Jeanette Purkis at APAC17 in Sydney.

DO YOU HEAR voices? Yes, voices are meant to be heard.

Do you see things? Yes, things are meant to be seen.

Such answers may lead a psychiatrist to give a client a diagnosis of schizophrenia, when the accurate diagnosis should have been autism.

Jeanette Purkis, in her keynote presentation at APAC2017 in Sydney, put it another way: “If you’re a person with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Jeanette knows first-hand the damage an incorrect diagnosis can cause, and her experience as both patient and professional, combined with her love of writing and presenting, brings wisdom and insight to the autism community.

“Misdiagnosis is common and terrible on identity,” she says.

In addition to some clinicians not getting the diagnosis right, crisis teams seldom ‘get’ autism which can lead to ‘terrible invalidation’ when a person is at their most vulnerable.

Meltdowns, which are very common in autism often due to sensory overload and stress, can be seen through a mental health lens as poor behaviour and this misunderstanding by clinicians can keep autistic people in the mental health cycle for years.

Jeanette’s tips for clinicians are:

  • You can’t fix autism so forget cures and focus on strategies
  • Learn to ‘speak autistic’ (e.g. autistics are not ‘puzzling’, just different)
  • Understand intersectional disadvantage when multi-factors coincide, such as autism + intellectual disability + poverty + racism

Jeanette’s tips for autistics

  • Be informed – keep involved with decisions that affect you
  • Positive Enablers – find one, be one
  • In crisis – remember that this too will pass
  • Use thinking skills
    • Opposite action (doing the opposite of what you feel like doing, such as when you don’t feel like getting out of bed, but you do it anyway – it will ‘trick’ your mood to improving)
    • Distraction (Jeanette’s gold standard thought strategy and includes anything you find engaging and that captures your whole attention such as television, playing with your pet, or talking a walk)
    • Acceptance (Jeanette finds this can be the hardest and you may benefit from support from professionals who offer strategies such as mindfulness, acceptance and commitment therapy or cognitive behaviour therapy)
    • Happy Box (create this before you need it, to remind yourself of happy times and that sad times are temporary. Fill your box with things that make you happy such as photos, chocolate, poems, books, art, and fidget tools).

Jeanette Purkis with Mr Kitty. Photo: Steve Bittinger

Jeanette also recommends making use of a range of healthy habits such as asking for help when you need it, keeping involved in decisions that affect you, taking medication as prescribed, building your confidence and self-worth and taking care of your physical wellbeing through right eating and exercise. More healthy habits include rewarding yourself for your achievements and helping others. And perhaps most importantly of all, at least for animal lovers, get a pet. Jeanette credits Mr Kitty with being the best therapist she has ever had!

If you are interested in learning more about mental wellbeing and autism, Jeanette has co-authored an excellent book on this topic, called The Guide to Good Mental Health on the Autism Spectrum. This book was written by Jeanette, Dr Emma Goodall and Dr Jane Nugent and you can read more about it on our website, along with an interview with Emma Goodall on the background to writing it.

Book Giveaway

The Parents’ Practical Guide to Resilience for children aged 2-10 on the Autism Spectrum.

Jeanette and Emma have a new publication on resilience due for release on 21st November, called The Parents’ Practical Guide to Resilience for children aged 2-10 on the Autism Spectrum. To enter the draw for this much-needed new book, enter our draw here. We are so excited about this we have not one but THREE copies to give away. The draw closes on 21st November.

YouTube Video

The video was created for Specialisterne by Jeanette Purkis- an influential, autistic self-advocate in Australia. In this video, Jeanette talks about mental health strategies for employees on the spectrum, and getting prepared for work for those who aren’t currently employed.


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