Ahead of Holly Bridges’ appearance at the 2017 Autism West Symposium in November 2017, Nick McAllister caught up with her for an exclusive interview.
What myths or perceptions do you think exist still in society around someone who identifies as being on the Autism Spectrum? Do you think that through your work and events such as the 2017 Autism West Symposium, beliefs can be changed?
There are still so many myths and preconceptions about autism. “People with autism have no empathy; they are like repetitive tasks; they don’t like to socialise”. I think events such as the 2017 Autism West Symposium do a great service for allowing the autism community a wider voice. Yes, I definitely think that we can help change beliefs. And my work is helping to shift perceptions of what can be achieved.
Why should we reframe our thinking around Autism?
It can be limiting to see autism as just a brain disorder (or divergence). In reality autism is very multi-faceted. People on the spectrum are all very different and they change and grow over a lifetime. What is consistent is the physical aspects of autism and we need to give them more attention.
How far away are we from pushing past the ‘glass ceiling’ of autism?
There is still a long way to go. Despite a lot of information to the contrary people are still being conditioned to think of it as an issue primarily in “the brain”. We can get so far with that model.
We need to broaden our definition of autism to include the body and to see it as a systems issue. More and more research is pointing to the link between the brain and the body and we need a competent model for this. The Polyvagal Theory is a wonderful model for understanding the complexity for autism.
Can you briefly explain the Polyvagal Theory?
The body can go into an involuntary shut down as a safety response. Our vagus nerve controls the eyes, ears, face, voice and feelings and can switch it all on and when we feel safe and when we do not.
You state on your latest blog post that every student can upgrade their mind/body connection given the right tools how do they go about obtaining those tools & empowering themselves?
The first thing to do is to recognise so many of the difficulties of being on the spectrum is physical. When you say about anxiety or sensory issues “oh that’s just autism” or “oh that’s just who I am” you can’t do much about it. When you see how much it is part of learn and body patterns, there is so much more you can do. This is first and foremost. Then we slowly begin to reconnect and retrain the system. It’s actually quite simple. It is what I teach.
You also stated that you work to help those you work with fit into their body better do you believe that, that applies to only those on the spectrum or can it be applied to those who aren’t on the spectrum?
Yes, we all have a nervous system. We can all upgrade how our body responds to stress. We can all learn to improve or help our body to stay connected and responsive under duress. It is just a bit harder for people on the spectrum because they are generally quite disconnected from their bodies. Also I don’t really focus on neurodiversity in my work except to appreciate the individual and how they respond to their body and to their world. If anything I like to focus on sameness. We all have a nervous system, how we get you to have a better relationship with yours? What does this mean to you?
Do you believe there is an autism gender gap?
Yes, we tend to judge women’s behaviour differently. We are less tolerant of women not conforming to social norms and we often misread or misinterpret their behaviour. That said there is a lot of research coming out about testosterone and autism and I think that this can help to explain the greater prevalence of autism in males. It fits in well with the P.V.T.
You have a 5 element program that you offer your clients on a 1-to-1 basis. How did you narrow down which elements were important? And which areas needed the most focus in order to enable those who come for a consult with you to achieve the best results?
I tried to look at what was needed sequentially and what is first and foremost is that people need to feel safe. They need to feel well met and connected to the work so that they want to learn. This is paramount. It has to make sense to you if it is to be of beneficial. It has to be about you and what you think and what you want.
What do you want to achieve through your progressive approach to Autism and Asperger Syndrome?
I want to widen our appreciation of who and what people on the spectrum can do and be. I also want to upgrade our approach to therapy to include the PVT model. There is so much more that we could be doing.
Finally, where do you see your work taking you? So have you achieved all that you set out to as you have your consultancy business and you are an author within the autism field, what’s next for you?
I have just got back from a 6-week tour of the USA and I intend to go back there early next year to begin training people in this work. I am also doing a tour of the UK and Europe.
So many people are interested in this theory and the application of it. The more people I can share it with the better.
Many people find the current model of autism limited and they are wanting more.
This theory makes sense and in particular it makes sense to the people who actually live with autism. So I will continue to do this work and continue to develop my practice.
Holly Bridges will be speaking at the 2017 Autism West Symposium, which will take place on the 3rd & 4th November at the Esplanade Hotel, Fremantle. Tickets are selling fast so don’t miss out – grab yours by clicking here.
About Holly Bridges
Holly Bridges is author of Reframe your thinking around autism and an advocate for a progressive approach to Autism and Asperger Syndrome. She is a keynote speaker, workshop leader and 1:1 therapist. Her mission is to facilitate progress with those on the spectrum to greater and greater levels of resilience and self-mastery. Rather than working from a ‘brain deficit’ model of autism Holly starts from the premise that every student can upgrade their mind / body connection, if they are given the right tools and are treated respectfully, positively, and creatively.