Photo of a young woman in the spectrum design next to a quote

Meet Charl Davies, autistic woman, tattoo artist and lover of all things colourful! Charl works on the MTV show, Just Tattoo of Us, and has her own business, Tattoos by Charl. You can admire Charl’s handiwork on her Instagram page here.

When she’s not busy tattooing, Charl makes YouTube videos, which you can watch here. She uses this platform to raise awareness of autism in women and girls, sharing her own experience of being on the spectrum.

Charl chatted to us about her diagnosis, breaking autism stereotypes, and using her creative talents as a way of coping with day to day life.

When were you diagnosed as autistic?

I was diagnosed at 25. I’m 27 now and my life has drastically improved since my diagnosis. I spent so long masking my traits that I forgot who I was. Now that I'm diagnosed I'm on a mission to find myself again.

What prompted you to seek a diagnosis?

A few years before my diagnosis I asked a doctor if I could be autistic as I have family members who are also on the spectrum. He said "you can’t be autistic because you’re looking at me when you're talking to me".

Based on that alone he dismissed the possibility of a diagnosis and potential help that would have changed my life for the better. At that point I felt as though I'd exhausted every avenue with my mental health.

After years of struggling I managed to get through university and complete my apprenticeship. I then fell into the TV industry working as a tattoo artist for MTV's Just Tattoo Of Us. Although I love my job, there are many aspects that are difficult, due to my autism.

While filming the third series I had a major meltdown in a restaurant with fellow cast members and couldn't physically speak. I was hysterically crying and I couldn't understand what was happening or why.

MTV provided a psychologist who suggested I might be autistic. A few months later I was officially diagnosed and it was such a huge relief.

I could finally begin to understand and help myself. It felt great to know that I wasn't just going crazy!

What is being autistic like for you?

Being autistic is struggling to live in the real world but excelling in my own world.

To live as an independent adult with poor executive function is far from easy and I often need help and support from my family. But on the other side, my imagination is limitless, bursting with colourful images. Seeing the smaller finer details as opposed to the whole picture isn't necessarily a bad thing.

It’s tough living in a world that wasn’t built with autism in mind, but when I'm tattooing or being creative I am lost in my own world.

Art is definitely my way of survival and helps me to function. Autism is my superpower and I turn as many negatives into positives as I can.

I wouldn’t change who I am for anything. I'm just learning to ride the waves through a storm I can't control.

Autism is often missed in women, girls and non-binary people. Why do you think this is?

Due to stereotyping and current general perceptions of autism, there is a huge gender issue with diagnoses. There is little research on females on the spectrum and our differences haven't been highlighted. The diagnostic criteria is based mainly on stereotypically male traits and a huge lack of awareness of one specific trait that is more common amongst females - that is 'masking'.

In your videos, you talk about how autistic women can often present differently to men on the spectrum. Do you think this is partly due to societal/gender stereotypes and expectations?

I would say that in life, I make an excellent actress. I became so good at hiding my traits, as well as mimicking and copying other peoples' behaviour. I had a major breakdown when I was 19 because I had massive identity problems and felt I didn’t recognise myself or know who I was. I find society very expectant in many ways purely based on the way I look and, because my autism is invisible, they are often dismissive of my struggles.

I find that being a female I am expected to behave a certain way to fit in socially which is why I have spent so much time masking. I think because of this societal pressure, females often develop the ability to mask. This could be why we are so often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed.

I often have people say to me "you don't LOOK autistic".

There are many misconceptions about autism that I'm trying to stamp out. I break stereotypes of autism because I am a high achiever and autism helps me to excel in many aspects of my life. I'm hoping that by sharing my story I can help change people's perception of what autism is and that it has no specific 'look'. Have a little more faith in us autistics!

Since being diagnosed and understanding all of this, I am slowly finding myself again. I still mask but I actively try to do it less so that I feel less pressure in social situations.

Your tattoo art is amazing! How long have you been doing it for?

I've been tattooing now for 4 years. I managed to find employment and be part of the 16% of autistic individuals that are in full time paid employment. Just living independently is difficult alone without throwing employment into the equation, but most of us want to work. It’s hard, but my creative side makes it easier and enjoyable. I feel very lucky to be able to do something I feel so passionate about for a living. Tattooing is my motivation. I feel like I'm connecting and being a part of society in my own little way, it is my therapy and a form of escapism when the pressure of life get too much. I absolutely love what I do.

What inspires your art?

Videogames and virtual worlds that I can escape into.

I like to put my colourful imagination on to paper. I feel there has been a lot or dark times in my life that I associate with dark colours so when I draw I like a lot of bright colour.

There is something about bright colours that stimulates my brain in a positive way.

In many aspects of my life that I feel I can't control, art is something I am totally in control of. It’s my way of making sense of the world I live in.

It's giving people an insight into my imagination and hopefully they can see the beauty that my autism can offer...

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