Emma Finch (a young autistic woman) in the spectrum design, quote

Though having children can be wonderful, being a parent is no easy feat! For parents on the spectrum, having kids can present its own unique challenges.

Since the birth of Stories from the Spectrum, we’ve spoken to several autistic parents about their experiences of raising children. To celebrate Mother’s Day this year (Sunday 22 March 2020), we interviewed autistic blogger and content creator Purple Ella, who opened up about pregnancy and motherhood. Last year we chatted to Ronnie Pinder, autistic man and father of five, and Rachel Townson, autistic mother and developer of our Women and Girls module.

Continuing with this theme, we caught up with Emma Finch, autistic mum to seven-month-old Jeremiah. Emma lives in Birmingham and is an avid fan of fashion, make up and all types of music. She is also starring in MTV’s brand new series of Teen Mom UK, which premieres this evening (Wednesday 1 April 2020). Ahead of her TV debut, we chatted to Emma about her autism diagnosis, motherhood, and representations of autistic mothers in the media.

How old were you when you were diagnosed as autistic?

I was diagnosed with autism in year ten, so I was between 14 and 15.

Why did you seek a diagnosis?

At the time my behaviour was quite poor. My school believed that this didn’t come from a bad or malicious place, but I was just slightly misunderstood. I was then referred to a doctor who assessed me.

What was the process of getting a diagnosis like?

I had to take a series of tests, which included question like: “what can you see in this picture?” or “can you organise these colour blocks?”. I was then asked questions about how I think and feel on a day to day basis.

Soon after, I received a letter confirming my autism diagnosis. I was asked to name people and organisations in my life who were able to offer me support – like my school and my mum etc.

After I got the diagnosis, I felt relieved. I now knew there was a reason for how I was. Before my diagnosis people looked at me strangely or differently for certain things and I couldn’t understand why. Now I know that was the reason for it. It made life a lot easier in a way, as I can now explain why I am different and why I’m viewed that way. It made things clearer to me.

After I got the diagnosis, I felt relieved. I now knew there was a reason for how I was.

What are some of the main challenges you face as an autistic person?

One of my main issues has to be communication difficulties. I don’t struggle with developing sentences, but I do struggle with them coming out how I would like them to. I know I tend to say things very bluntly, which makes people think I am being insolent when it’s not what I meant at all. I also struggle with criticism from others. If I sense any change of tone I’ll pick it up and my automatic response can often come out very rude.

I don’t struggle with developing sentences, but I do struggle with them coming out how I would like them to.

I always take things very literally and I don’t understand sarcasm. There are a lot of people who don’t know I’m autistic, so they don’t know how to talk to me in a way I would deem approachable. Sometimes when people are rude, I take it ten times worse than others might, even if it was just a cheeky comment. I don’t have a filter either, so I think that’s another element to it.

How do you feel about the representation of autistic mothers on TV?

In my opinion, on TV they rarely show how autism is experienced in day to day life. The people I see on TV with learning difficulties or autism only show it at its most ‘extreme’. Often, they’re seen to be incapable of doing things for themselves.

But there are autistic people and people with learning difficulties out there who can look after themselves, feed themselves and dress themselves. Too often, TV shows don’t represent all aspects of autism. They just show cases that are really extreme. Autism is on a spectrum and I think it’s so important to represent it as such.

I feel great about having the opportunity to represent autistic mothers. When I was young, I was very afraid or felt almost embarrassed to talk about being autistic. Society places so much emphasis on fitting in, when really, standing out and accepting your difference has a much stronger impact.

I feel great about having the opportunity to represent autistic mothers.

What was you experience of pregnancy like and how has being autistic impacted your approach to pregnancy?

Being autistic, I need to have things very planned out. When you go through pregnancy and giving birth, things just don’t work out in one certain or specific way. There were of course times when everything was fine, but there were a lot of times where I would bleed. Or there were times when I’d have to drop everything during the day for a hospital appointment. I like to have my days planned out. Jeremiah ended up coming six weeks early, so already that was something very unplanned. I think there’s a lot of anxiety associated with pregnancy.

There were many situations where I wish it would have gone as planned and it just didn’t. I think everything happens for a reason, but I definitely found it very difficult at times. You just have to take everything with a pinch of salt and I’m not used to doing that.

What I did like about being pregnant is that everything revolved around me a bit! When I went to see my mum or my family, I’d get to sit down and everyone would jump up if I wanted a drink. When you’re pregnant, you never have to carry heavy shopping or go shopping by yourself, there are a lot of positive aspects that come in handy when you’re having a lazy day. I’d obviously never milk it/take advantage of it, but it was fun for a few weeks!

What are some of the barriers that autistic women face when seeking support during pregnancy or new motherhood?

Seeking support while pregnant is needed. A lot of times during my pregnancy I had complications where I had to go to hospital. My baby’s father and I were not getting on during my pregnancy so I went to hospital appointments by myself. It was very intimidating being in a room full of strangers. In a lot of cases, both parents were there. This caused me a lot of anxiety as soon as I left the hospital, as I compared myself to other parents. Being young also made me feel out of place. I used to just go in and keep my head down and try to avoid eye contact as much as possible. I even hated when my name would get called by the midwives when it was my turn for a scan. I’m not sure why but I just felt very exposed.

How did you end up on Teen Mom?

I saw the callout for new UK cast members. I have always loved the show (the USA one included). My friend Lauren sent me the application and said ‘I think you’d be really good on here, you should apply’. That gave me confidence, and I thought, ‘even if I don’t get it, I’ll regret it if I don’t try.’

What sort of experiences unique to an autistic new mum will we be learning about on Teen Mom UK?

My experiences of being autistic are not shown overtly in every episode, as it’s not always obvious in my day to day life.

You will notice that I do everything the same way - from making Jeremiah’s bottle to the exact same nappy brands and the exact same type of bath oil. I have to have a pattern, a routine. I just wouldn’t feel right if I had done it any other way. You’ll also see that I get wound up very, very easily. I take comments very literally and sometimes out of context which can sometimes make it hard for Nasseh (Jeremiah’s father) to communicate with me. He does his best to explain himself afterwards, which I appreciate.

I wanted to be very open about my diagnosis as it is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people, including past relationships or friends, had no idea I was autistic until they saw videos of me talking about it. I always felt a little different, so I tried my best in past situations to more or less dial back my personality. This was wrong. And I should be who I am. Regardless of my diagnosis I will always do my best when it comes to looking after my son. I know now that confidence in yourself is not a negative thing, especially as a mother.

I wanted to be very open about my diagnosis as it is nothing to be ashamed of.

What are you hoping people to take away from your experience on Teen Mom UK?

There are many people on the autistic spectrum, including mums. People often doubt us as autistic people, particularly when it comes to being responsible. Do not let anyone bring you down and it’s ok to talk about it. Do not hide it away. Show your true colours because we shine so bright. Just have confidence.

How has coronavirus affected your everyday routine?

There are a lot of new rules put in place and changes to my routine that I’m not used to. For instance, not being able to leave the house and all the shops being shut. All the rules have changed everyone’s lives massively and change isn’t necessarily something I’m used to or I like.

There are a lot of new rules put in place and changes to my routine that I’m not used to.

I moved in with my mum because I didn’t want to be all alone with my son, which is a big change. I thought it would be best for us all to be together during lock down, to save me making unnecessary trips back and forth. This has affected me as I’m used to my own house, my bed, my TV. At my house it’s all set up in a way that I like it set up. At my mum’s house, there are different rules. There are things that my mum would say and it might annoy me. It’s definitely different coming back to her house from the shops.

Having a baby is difficult during lockdown. Jeremiah and I are very active and like to get out. We would often go to town or get the train. I’d happily put him in his push chair and take him out. Wherever I’d go he’d go. Sadly, we can’t do that for the time being, so it’s going to be strange.

Tune in to the new series of Teen Mom UK  this evening at 8pm.

Find out more

Are you home schooling your autistic child?

We’ve created a series of learning resources in line with the National Curriculum, which parents looking to home school children during this time can use. Our secondary school resources include videos and activities from autistic Hollyoaks actor, Talia Grant, who talks about her experiences of being an autistic teenager.

Read more stories from autistic people and their families