Autism Awareness Week – My journey with Autism

By Dr Tanya Banfield

Starting off a blog for Autism Awareness week is always difficult as being autistic means cognitively I have ‘impaired theory of mind’. For me this means I find it very hard to write about myself as I simply cannot see myself through someone else’s eyes. However, I can see other people through my autistic lens, and this has been very insightful when I carried out my doctoral research at HMP Dartmoor between 2025 and 2021. I framed this in my thesis and an ‘insider – insider approach’.
I left school in 1990 with very little in the way of exams, knowledge, or socialisation. All I really knew was that I did not fit in, and I did not know why. I was just glad that it was over. After these frankly terrible formative years I went into full flight and spent my early twenties trying various things and then running when they invariably went wrong. Always looking for something that fits and makes sense to me. A standout time in my twenties was when I did a social policy course at university. I loved looking at process, rules, and standards. I did not know it at the time but that was going to shape everything that happened afterwards.
My two daughters came along in the late nineties which makes me sound old but now I am approaching 50 I still feel very young in my cognitive acceptance journey. Always trying to fit in instead of being happy walking my own walk. I knew very early on that my youngest daughter was a carbon copy of myself and I was committed to making sure that she did not face what I faced. I began advocating for her needs and becoming an autism expert through my lived experience. This was not enough so being an all of nothing kind of person you could say that knowing everything about autism became my specialised subject for the last twenty years.

My daughter passed through school with many bumps but she did excel at college and university and I have shown her over and over again how to live her best life through acceptance and strategy to overcome. She is now a para surfer on the England Adaptive Surf Team with Surf England. Meanwhile my eldest daughter is a fierce nurse who strongly advocates for her patients that are neurodivergent. I have no idea where she got her fierce streak from. You could say parenting my daughters through my wonky lens is my greatest achievement.
Alongside this it has been my undivided passion to work with people that are neurodivergent and have for one reason or another found themselves having to explain themselves to the police or detained in a prison. Knowing they are different but not knowing why. People that find themselves in these situations are often ones without diagnoses, without support, without any form of advocacy and they need help to learn from their mistakes and to know how to be a better person. In Dartmoor I worked with 210 offenders over a six-year period and all but 3 were released and when into training or work which a personal tool kit of knowledge about how to manage being different in a confusing world.
My specialised interest in Criminal Justice Rehabilitation has not burnt itself out yet and I am now working hard to create opportunities to work in settings that make a difference as I want to be able to know when I am 70 sat in a chair that it was all worth it.

Dr Tanya Banfield is qualified to doctorate level; she is a chartered psychologist registered with the BPS, as a specialist working with neurodivergent people, providing coaching, therapy and counselling since 2015. Prior to entering private practice in 2022, Tanya worked as a psychologist in several social justice and educational settings. Tanya specialises in working with people that identify as or have a diagnosis of Autism.  She also has a particular interest in working with people with combined diagnoses such as Autism and ADHD.  Being neurodivergent herself, Tanya has a unique ‘insider-insider’ perspective.

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