Olatunde Spence- Art Psychotherapist and Community Activist
I am a Black parent of teenage children we are of African-Caribbean heritage and we are all autistic. I was recently diagnosed as autistic at the age of 56. My own journey started with looking for information to better understand my daughter’s experience of being very sensitive to noise, smell, touch and light. I came across a book recommended by a colleague called Too Loud Too Bright, Too Fast and Too Tight by Sharon Heller, PhD. This was the beginning of recognising as a family we shared similar traits of what I wasn’t sure.
After taking time out of work due a flare up of my ME caused by stress I set up my own private practice as an art psychotherapist specialising in working with people impacted by childhood trauma. With the support of a work coach we worked out what would help with keeping my stress levels manageable so that my ME symptoms could be better managed. I had always struggled with working in teams and noisy offices and my coach wondered if I might be autistic.
During this period of setting up my private practice my son was permanently excluded from school and after a long battle the authorities and my own concerns that he was autistic both my children were assessed for autism and received a diagnosis in year 9 and year 10. We struggled to get the school to accept my son’s diagnosis and eventually went to a disability discrimination tribunal and won. He returned to school after a 15 month battle and this promoted me to write about our experience of racism and ableism within the education and school exclusion rate for Black autistic boys. My chapter on our experience was published in The Neurodiversity Reader – D. Milton 2020.
I have always been involved in activism and recently I have been working with a journalist to shine a light on the counselling and psychotherapy profession and the racism that trainees and people using these services have experienced. This latest piece of work was as a direct consequence of experiencing a lot of racist abuse on the BACP members Facebook page after sharing my concerns with colleagues about a man being tasered by the police in front of his young son. The incident was filmed by a concerned citizen and shared on social media. It was shocking to see a young child screaming as he watched is father fall to the ground. It was an example of yet another trauma experienced by a family at the hands of the police. Some counselling colleagues felt it was an inappropriate post and irrelevant to the work that we do as counsellors and psychotherapists. Just eleven days later the world witnessed the murder of George Floyd by police officers.
I will always speak out against racism and injustice