My name is Saskia Lupin, I am 21, an aspiring actor from Brighton and I am autistic.
I’ve come a long way in 21 years. I was non-verbal until I was eight years old. School was a huge struggle of continually feeling misunderstood and my drama degree had some amazing highs but also some devastating lows, I struggled to manage my autism alongside social and academic pressures.
As an autistic person, it can be really challenging trying to explain how it feels when things get too much.
Something that I find particularly difficult though is public transport. I struggle a lot with the unexpected changes that can take place: they make me feel anxious, they make me panic, they make me angry but overall I feel confused, like I can’t do anything and all sense of rationality is lost. I also struggle with the big crowds and all the noises, smells and lights that you are faced with, particularly on the underground.
I was recently at London Victoria station and it was early in the morning so it was really busy. I was stuck in a crowd of people trying to get on the tube, I started to panic and hyperventilate. Everyone was so set on getting to their destination that I ended up having to lean up against a wall, trying so hard to breathe, until the crowds dispersed.
My fear of public transport doesn’t stop here though, I also experience anxiety about how the general public may react to me if I start acting in a way unfamiliar to them. I feel really passionately about helping to improve public understanding of autism, for me it is just the small things people can do that will make the biggest difference. It can be something as simple as not staring, or giving me some space that can make life so much easier. There’s a man in the ticket office at my local station who has served me quite a few times now and is aware of the anxiety I experience about the delays, diversions and cancellations that can take place whilst travelling. Recently, he has taken the time to write out a detailed plan of my route and run me through what I would need to do when I changed trains and alternative routes if something went wrong. I can’t explain how much that means to me.
In February, I was offered the lead role to star in the National Autistic Society’s Too Much Information campaign which is all about raising public awareness and understanding of autism. This year, the focus of the campaign was around how the fear of unexpected changes for autistic people can result in crippling anxiety and leads to social isolation. Not only was I delighted to accept my first official acting job, I felt so passionately about helping to educate the public on something that I struggle with every day.
In the film, I play a young woman called Sarah who is preparing herself to leave the house and get on a train. Sarah allows her imagination to run away with her and she finds herself on a busy commuter train. The train has delays, diversions, loud crowds and then when her discomfort becomes visible the public start tutting and staring. The fear of what could go wrong on the train and the unexpected changes that could take place are so overwhelming for Sarah that she never manages to leave and instead stays inside.
When I first watched the film back, I was so overcome by how much it mirrored my own experiences that I got really emotional.
Being autistic can feel very lonely and isolating. Even if you are surrounded by a group of people, you feel alone because you feel different and it takes up a lot of energy trying to keep up with social cues. So this World Autism Awareness Week, please take the time to watch the National Autistic Society’s campaign film and learn more about autism. No-one expects you to become an autism expert but by having that understanding, we feel less misunderstood and together we can make a more autism friendly world.