Celebrating UK Disability History Month: Aimee’s story
In 2019, Aimee was diagnosed with autism and in the same year completed her undergraduate degree at Leeds Beckett. Since her diagnosis, Aimee has graduated in MSc Psychology and is now studying a PhD in Creative Arts.
During the last 12 months of her doctorate, Aimee has been working on a graphic memoir which aims to help educate people about the importance of an autism diagnosis or self-diagnosis. You can read Aimee’s story below, in her own words.
“I got my autism diagnosis in 2019 when I was 28 years old. I think if I had an earlier diagnosis I wouldn’t have struggled as much as I did in work, school and life in general. I had a follow up meeting with the diagnosis team and then I was left to my own devices. I did expect some kind of counselling, but no. So, I learned everything I could about myself, but I found that people like myself and neurotypicals in my family couldn’t bear to read through the clinical information.
I completed my undergraduate degree in 2019 at Leeds Beckett (Digital Journalism), then moved on to MSc Psychology at Leeds Beckett and jumped straight into my PhD in November 2020. I really love to use my brain and being creative, so it seemed the best route for me.”
Aimee had initially set out to work on a comic which focused on women in autism after a diagnosis, as part of her research project, but says the idea has now evolved throughout her studies.
“My project has evolved as much as I have throughout my PhD. I’m still in the research phase of the project, which is something I’m passionate about, and throughout my research I’ve found it difficult to focus on one single area.
Originally, the comic was going to be about autism in women after a diagnosis and their traits, however, after a lot of research and reflecting on my own experiences before my diagnosis I’ve decided to create a graphic memoir to highlight the importance of early diagnosis and how it can help an individual to know themselves, look after themselves, and protect themselves from toxicity. The study itself has been reframed to revolve around empathy and graphic narratives and how I can use this in my comic to connect with autistic readers.”
Aimee has named the comic Masked, as she wanted the title to be something that would resonate with people, was relevant to autism and that would identify that there is an issue.
“Autistic girls are more likely to be looked over when they’re young - I was!
“We develop a coping mechanism called “masking”. We observe people around us and absorb their behaviours, traits, and tones of voice like a sponge so we can use it to seem neurotypical. And we do all this without even realising. I can think of many examples where I realised that I’d picked something up from a fellow student after my diagnosis. I had to try hard to break the habit!”
Aimee’s hopes are to remain in academia at Leeds Beckett after completing her PhD, and says her studies have helped open up new opportunities to her.
“My PhD has open doors into new and unexplored areas which has really let me develop as an artist. You forget sometimes that you’re not just a researcher, you’re an artist too! My art style has changed as much as my academic writing and research skills have. I’ve been having fun trying to replicate the tones and textures of traditional art in a digital way!
“In an ideal world I’d love to stay in academia. My autistic brain is really comfortable here and everyone has been really supportive. I’d love to stay at Leeds Beckett and research more into comic narratives and empathy in autistic individuals, as well as working on another book on the side.”