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Paige Layle: on autism, travel and more
By Pauline Mackenzie

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I’m a 23-year-old autistic/ADHDer who is just trying her best to survive really. I live near Toronto, Ontario and I make videos for social media. I act, teach dance and I’m an author. I also participate in plenty of hobbies and want to participate in more, but right now I like crocheting, gardening, painting, singing, and making stuff—anything and everything. I am a very passionate and caring person and I’m not too bad with my words and helping people understand things. I think my superpower in this world is my teaching ability, and I’m particularly good with teaching kids. I speak (very loudly) about what’s on my mind, which often includes how difficult it is to exist and live and make money as an autistic person in this society, the autism stuff in my life that I learn more and more about as I get older, and ways society can change to make us all happier and make everything more effective.
~ Paige Layle

Advocacy

I promote and spread awareness by advocating for myself and others online, by making videos on TikTok and YouTube that are educational and entertaining and I also post on other social platforms. I talk about my life with autism, different accommodations I use, what helps me and what really hinders me, my interests, and answering questions people like to know. I also wrote a book that publishes March 26th 2024, called But Everyone Feels This Way: How An Autism Diagnosis Saved My Life, which will be a resource for the autistic community by helping others understand autism.

Misconceptions about autism

I’ve had to address them all. Haha. Especially looking and talking like I do, people say silly things to me about autism. I don’t care too much to give time or energy to people who are just ignorant and live in the past and say stupid, mean things I’ve heard millions of times. I just think that they’re dumb, and it’s not my job to educate everyone and use my time and energy when they could be using theirs. I’ve already spent my energy answering a lot of these questions on my TikTok or YouTube before, usually.

I’ve heard people say girls can’t be autistic, which must have to do with someone having a deeper problem with girls, and not understanding that they are the same level of human as boys. It’s so silly.

Some other common misconceptions are:

  1. that autism is caused by vaccines or diet or anything . . .
  2. you can cure or outgrow autism
  3. every autistic person reacts the same and has the same sensitivities
  4. no autistic person can drive or hold a job or raise children and much more

I just think they’re silly, and it’s important that we remember the nuances that come with each individual person. No two people are the same, no two autistic people are the same!

Travelling

Although I haven’t travelled to many places, I can attest to a few things:

  1. I am always looking forward to a vacation. I am always excited for a break from reality and work and making money. I crave a break.
  2. It is so hard to get back to normal once I am back home! It is upsetting and shocking and a hard sudden change of routine to be thrown back into, especially as the normal life is often more boring than when travelling or vacationing.
  3. I LOVE travelling alone! I find it so easy and simple to navigate places like airports. I love looking at new places, learning new things, meeting new people and understanding more about the world, and how large it is, and how little I know.
  4. I am always fascinated and happy with how many strangers I come across that are so nice and good and make me feel okay with the human race.
  5. I love the world, seeing it and feeling like a part of it just a little bit.

Dealing with sensory overload while travelling

Sounds: I always have my earbuds and my headphones with me while I travel to reduce outside noise and to listen to something I can control at my own volume if I wanted to. My headphones also provide good noise dampening support on their own. I also own a lot of special earplugs, called Loop earplugs, that allow me to still hear everyone and everything clearly, just at a much lower volume.

Tactile I bring objects that I like to touch in my personal bag, just to touch and ground me, because I can focus on them and I like it. I pack specific clothes with specific fabrics and textures in mind, given the destination location and the temperature and the humidity, so that I am sure I will be physically comfortable in my travels and my new location.

Sometimes my ears pop horribly on an airplane and become incredibly painful, and that is hard to go through. I don’t know what to do there.

Importance of maintaining a routine and dealing with unpredictability while travelling

In general, it’s just important that we have one routine and I know what it is, so I know how much time I have available and when all certain things should be done. It’s important to make a routine while travelling to manage time. However, when travelling, I am usually much more lenient with disruptions to that routine – specifically, when on vacation. I don’t like to book any special excursion or appointments until I am there and I know how I want to manage my time. On the way there, I am not in control of everything and I expect delays and things to throw my routine off. There are still some events that could be a lot for me to handle emotionally, but most of those troubling moments are due to someone else I’m with, not me. For instance, being late to something because someone I was with made us late, after I warned them about it multiple times and they didn’t listen to me. That kind of stuff makes me so frustrated. Therefore, I like to travel alone. I don’t like my actions, or my time, to be limited by anybody.
I can follow a routine just fine, and I like to, because the routines I make are very efficient. If I follow my routine, I won’t miss anything. I won’t fall behind or go, “oh! I wanted to see x!” I would’ve already planned it. Routines usually mean I make the most out of the trip.

It is hard to get back home, though, and have to throw out everything you were just doing, and almost pretend like it didn’t happen, when I worked so hard at it and had so many big emotions and moments. I have to grieve a trip, almost, when I get back. I’m usually out for a few days, not talking to anyone or working, just recharging and focusing on myself.

Self-care strategies to manage stress and anxiety while on vacation

I like to travel alone. I try to utilize the disability services the various airports and hotels offer that are helpful to me such as being able to board the plane first, so no one is waiting behind me or nudging me or in my way. I wear a sunflower lanyard around my neck while I am on the move. The sunflower lanyard is a symbol recognized by many to indicate the wearer has an invisible disability, and a lot of staff are trained to recognize this. When I wear the lanyard, people are a lot nicer if you ask them questions, or take a little bit longer to respond, or cry.

I try to over-pack because I always end up missing something slightly important and freaking out. I like to limit that as much as possible and pack more than I need.

Take deep breaths! Remember what you can control and what you do not have control over!

I bring special interests of mine in my personal bag right on my person for me to focus on and get dopamine from. This includes things like books, yarn to crochet, notebooks to write in, little knick-knacks that I think are cute and make me smile.

When I was in school, I would absolutely dread having to go on a vacation my parents booked that made me miss school. It was very
difficult to enjoy a vacation when I was worried about missing school so much. I would do nothing but stay inside, studying. I’m so glad I’m older now.

Places that are supportive of individuals with autism

I haven’t visited but I have heard so much about Alberta and the different

supports they have for autistic people and their families that Ontario (where I live) isn’t even close to.

There is an autism town in Newfoundland (Channel-Port aux Basques), which I would love to visit someday.

The best I’ve seen was the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa where the Ottawa Senators play. They have sensory bags you can ask for and those signs are very visible.

My book But Everyone Feels This Way: How An Autism Diagnosis Saved My Life

Aw yay! I’ve always wanted to write a book, and once I gained a bit of a following on social media and saw how many questions people had that I could answer, I thought, I need to compile this all in one place and have that be a source of information.

A book! I chose to write about my life, as that is what I know best and where all of my autism experience comes from, and because I knew from social media that my experience was so similar to other people. I needed representation of someone like me, because I knew I wasn’t alone anymore, and there were kids out there struggling like I had. I wanted to share a story that shows how nature and nurture work together to create the autistic individual, and how my growing up impacted my life and my challenges with autism. I hope we can continue the conversation to learn how to best parent and educate autistic children.

Challenges faced as an autistic social media influencer

It is difficult being a public figure who people want to talk to, while also disliking being perceived by others in public and being really uncomfortable with small talk with strangers! I feel bad sometimes when I’m so awkward when I meet a fan in real life. It is just a very strange encounter from the receiving end, emotionally, when strangers come up to you very emotional about you, and you almost feel bad that you don’t know them and feel the same way about them. It’s also difficult being an autistic influencer because I don’t really like social media or how it operates or what it asks for. I started creating videos online when I was 19, and now I don’t care to make other people happy or have other people like me or agree with me. I don’t care as much as I once did about changing people’s minds. It really has been an emotionally draining and exhausting ride that is worth it, but it’s so hard.

Supports needed for the autistic community to create a more inclusive world

I could go on forever about this! I think the biggest barrier is education and just getting people to know what is going on with autistic people and what we are feeling and dealing with all of the time. We need education to get to understanding, and so much can be changed with more or MOST people understanding autism. For instance, going non-verbal, not giving proper eye contact, stimming/ flapping my hands, repeating words over and over, getting upset at a change in schedule that impedes on the arrangements I made… and any other generally odd behaviour that is outside of the societal norms but is harmless and just weird. I want people to say okay, that is fine and not something I think is strange or crazy, I have no negative feelings towards this and I do not feel the need to comment on this or make a face or think any further about it at all.

Also, we need more competent social workers. We need more caretakers available for autistic kids. And we need more doctors worrying about autistic kids and their well-being. We need more people looking out for autistic kids and their families, and we need more support for autistic people readily available. I think getting people to understand is what will get them to care, and will get more people to come and work with the autistic community.

Travel advice

Travelling can be really fun and exciting and also hard and overwhelming and fast and a lot! My advice to autistic people when travelling is: go fast when you want to go fast, go slow when you want to go slow. I can and will travel by myself.

Travel can be really liberating and important to autistic people.

www.paigelayle.ca

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