Hannah Molesworth is on a mission with the National Autistic Society to challenge and overhaul the stereotypes surrounding autism.

Hannah Quinton
Over 700,000 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum. We talked to Hannah Molesworth, 25, an optician and part-time model who received an autism diagnosis two years ago. Hannah wants everyone to understand autism better and is backing the National Autistic Society’s Too Much Information campaign.

“I always knew I was different”

I was 17 when I thought about getting tested for autism. My driving instructor would tell me to turn left and I would turn straight into the curb. He said that I reminded him of his brother, who was autistic. My mother didn’t know anything about the condition, and it wasn’t until my sister was born that she  realised I wasn’t like other children. I always knew I was atypical. Social cues are often difficult for me – I misread signals, or I don’t understand something others find funny. My father-in-law, who’s very witty, will often spend 20 minutes explaining a joke to me. As an optician, I work with the public, so I’ve had to learn what things I can and cannot say. In the past, people would ask if I was on drugs because I couldn’t keep up with the subtleties of a conversation and often seemed confused.

“People stereotype autism a lot”

People hear that I am autistic, and jump to the conclusion that I’m like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory – I’m not! We don’t all fit the ‘lone white male genius’ stereotype – autism presents differently. For me, change is difficult. I was once sent home early from work, so waited for two hours at the station for my usual train as I was too anxious to get on another. Bright lights and loud noises can both feel like overwhelming migraines, but a lovely perfume probably smells better to me because of my heightened senses. I also pick my clothes based on texture – if my sister didn’t help me, I would probably wear pyjamas to a wedding.  

#DoILookAutisticYet

“Oh, you don’t look autistic!” is something I often hear, which I feel is actually very offensive. As a response, I created the hashtag to show how people of every colour, sexuality and nationality can be autistic, and to give autistic people a voice. The hashtag is about celebration and pride – there are now over 2,000 people using it on Instagram. I also set up a private group for the people I met through the hashtag, so we can chat about our experiences. There are over 100 members, and hopefully it’ll keep growing. 

“There’s still a long way to go…”

We need to increase the public’s understanding and create a world that works for autistic people. Equal representation would also really help to combat stereotypes, too. The National Autistic Society’s new Too Much Information film is a move in the right direction because it features a woman who is played by an autistic actor. It’s time we challenged the misconceptions, myths and stereotypes surrounding autism. 

“I like to have as much structure as possible”

Public transport is difficult to negotiate for a neurotypical person a lot of the time, let alone an autistic person. I struggle with time keeping so obviously this a problem when it comes to public transport because the train will leave whether I’m on it or not! From a sensory point of view, public transport is very overloading. Lots of people create lots of noise and lots of smells. The lights are often very bright, sometimes flickering. There are neon signs that have all the information on them though so you can’t help but look at them. Train stations and bus stations are often a echoey big room with loud announcements over the tannoy, not great for an autistic mind to process. There can also be unexpected interruptions and changes to public transport that can affect not only the journey, but the plans that I have afterwards. This makes me feel helpless and out of control of the situation. For me, control is important because there are so many things that are out of my control that I have to cope with and deal with that I like to have as much structure and familiarity as possible in areas and places that I can control. Personal space is also an issue, I hate strangers touching me or being too close and even on quiet public transport there are lots of people all in a small space. I also panic about worst case scenario situations, like if the train or bus crashes. I certainly wouldn’t get in a taxi without friends or family, I panic too much about being alone with one stranger as I feel like my safety is in their hands and I don’t trust people that I don’t know.

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