July 7, 2023

Ellie Middleton | On building neurodivergent community & advocating for your needs

In this episode we talk to neurodivergent entrepreneur Ellie Middleton (she/her) about the process of founding a community for neurodivergent folks, how she’s navigated hustle culture, and what it takes to show up authentically in your work.

Team Tiimo

Ellie Middleton | On building neurodivergent community & advocating for your needs
If you’d like to listen or watch our interview with Ellie, the episode is available on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.


  • Ellie emphasizes the vast diversity of the neurodivergent community, highlighting the need for representation beyond just the most prominent voices.
  • Through her community, (Un)masked, Ellie collaborates with neurodivergent activists and creators to create content that is truly inclusive and intersectional. 
  • One of Ellie's primary goals is to ensure (Un)masked remains sustainable and doesn't lead to her burning out like she has in the past. 
  • Ellie envisions transforming (Un)masked into a space where the community has more ownership, allowing them to organize events and produce content.
  • Upcoming projects, including her book, aim to foster dialogue and discussions, allowing the community to come together over shared experiences. 


Natalia: Hi and welcome to Brainstorm | Changemaker series by Tiimo! My name is Natalia, I use she/her pronouns and I work as a Social Media and Partnerships Manager at Tiimo. We're a Danish-based startup that helps people feel empowered in their daily lives through visual planning. We're especially geared towards neurodivergent people, but we like to think of ourselves as helping anyone who needs to feel validated and empowered in their daily lives. Today I have with me Ellie. Ellie is an ADHD and Autistic entrepreneur who is a founder of (Un)masked, a community of neurodivergent folks. Hi Ellie!

Ellie: Hello! 

Natalia: First of all, thank you so much for having us today. Thank you so much for saying yes to this talk. And could you just tell us a little bit about (Un)masked and what the process of founding this community was like? What did it look like for you?

Ellie: Yeah, so I guess for me it was quite soon after getting my ADHD diagnosis first that I started talking online about my experiences and my audience grew quite quickly. And I feel like, the more that it grew, the more people I had messaging me of people saying that they were going through the same thing of a late diagnosis, that they had questions about how to get a diagnosis that they had no to answer, just wanting to have conversations cuz it was, I guess something that people don't talk very openly about or don't always have people in their life, people that they know personally that are going through the same thing. So I was getting loads of different messages from people who wanted someone to speak to about this. And I kind of realized that as my audience grew I couldn't be that support system to all of those people.

I just didn't have the capacity, I guess to reply to all of those messages. But I could also really empathize with being in that position myself six months earlier of having all of these questions and wanting to talk about it and not having anywhere to ask. So it was kind of a thing of like, “Oh I want, I want to have this place for all these people to get these answers, but I, I can't do that myself.” I can't just reply to everyone's messages all day, every day. So it was kind of like, okay, I can't do that individually, but what I can do is put all of these people in a room together and kind of answer the questions in one go and everyone can get the answer at the same time. Also when they're in the room together, they can find other people to answer their questions and they can make other friends who are going through the same process. So I guess it was kind of like a problem-solving thing of like, “Okay, I want to meet to not have to reply to messages all day, every day and I want these people to get their answers, so how can we do that?” And yeah, I guess that's where it started. So we started with the online community and then since then, we've had in-person events too, which have we got to meet some of the Tiimo team there in January. So that was amazing.

Natalia: So whenever you were running this, you know, sort of prequel to the community, it was just you, and you had full control over everything, but now that (Un)masked has grown into a community, how do you make sure that everyone is accommodated and how, how do you guys hold space for each other at (Un)masked?

Ellie: Yeah, I guess it's a kind of tricky one as well because everybody in the team that we work with is neurodivergent. So there's kind of me, Nao, and Lewis who are the main team that are here all the time. And then we also work with obviously different speakers when we have events, different writers for the blog, and stuff like that. But everybody that's involved in some way is neurodivergent. So it means that we all have our ways of working and we all have our accommodations and our own support needs. Which I guess can be quite tricky because I guess for example, I often have times where I don't want to communicate verbally, I don't want to be on a call. I find calls quite stressful to get the information in sometimes, but then somebody might need to ask a question that can't be answered as clearly as a message.

So it's kind of like that combination of, okay, how do we suit everyone's needs but still get the same outcome? I would say a lot of what we do is kind of online and, it is asynchronous almost. So it doesn't mean that we have to all be working at the same time. It's kind of stored in Notion or Google Drive so people can access it whenever they want to work. If you don't feel up to it in the morning, go get some fresh air and come back to it in the afternoon. I don't have to be working at the same time as you. So I think that's helpful. And I think just listening to each other really, I think this is what so many companies kind of think that it's so complicated and it's so like specific things and specific policies where a lot of the time it's just like, listen to what someone's telling you. If someone's saying, I don't wanna do a call today, okay, we'll find a way around it or we'll do the call tomorrow. Or if someone's saying that they find it tricky to have the verbal instructions and saying, okay, well I'll email it to you instead. And just listening to those things one at a time I guess is the, the, the main thing of, yeah, trying to to treat each person as an individual and honor their needs separately.

Natalia: So you've mentioned this amazing capacity for working at different times. Do you have any other lessons or any general golden rules that (Un)masked has taught you about running an inclusive community?

Ellie: Yeah, I think it, it's tricky of, yeah, honoring everyone's needs at the same time, cuz I think it is that sometimes those things are gonna clash. You know, sometimes I'm not gonna want to talk to people but my team needs me to communicate with them to know what to do and the community needs us to be there to communicate with them, to let them know what's going on and to, to kind of keep them in the loop. So I think that's the main thing for me. I think one of my natural coping mechanisms is to shut myself off when things get overwhelming. I'm just like, I'm just gonna go into my own little bubble and I'm just gonna kind of focus on me. I can't kind of communicate right now or talk to people or even let people help me cuz that feels like so much effort sometimes.

But I think it's kind of like making the effort to like know I've got to keep the doors open to, to my team and the community and to kind of everything it feels, I think vulnerable as well when you are going through an overwhelmed time. But I would say that keeping the doors open for the people is a big lesson that I've learned. I think there are two sides to this one, like everyone's always gonna have an opinion so it's like sometimes that's tricky cuz sometimes everyone in the community is like, “Can we do this event? Can we have this going on? Can we have this channel? Can we do this thing?” Which is a bit like, oh I'm just trying to, to make it work. Like please just let me like deal with what I'm doing right now. But then that's also like an amazing thing as well of everyone's always got an idea and an opinion and some of those will form the best things that happen.

So we kind of did the first big in-person event which was more of like panel speakers and stuff like that. And then loads of people after the event were like, oh we'd love to do more social things where we get more time to chat to people as well. And then that's how the smaller hyper fixation stations events were born and if we hadn't been open to other people's opinions, we never would've kind of discovered that side of the community. So I think it's, yeah, having that knowledge that everyone's always gonna have an opinion and ideas and thoughts and finding that balance of like, okay, which ones do we kind of keep at arm's length and now cuz we need to just focus on what we're doing and not get overwhelmed and how many of those are, you know, amazing ideas that we can bring into the way that we're doing things to, to have a better time for everybody.

Natalia: So I've, I've been wondering how you select projects that you get to collaborate with (Un)masked based on the fact that it is very personal and it is based on this, on this own lived experience. How do you keep it authentic for yourself and the community?

Ellie: Yeah, I think it's just always got to be, “Do I believe in this thing” and “Do I want to do this thing” and “Does this feel right to me?” Which is, I think, a big part of the unmasking process generally. Whether that's within business or just in your personal life or in the way that you are working or in all of these things. I think it's learning that skill of like “Is this right? Does this sit right with me? Does this feel natural? Does this feel good for me?” Or am I doing it because I feel like I should do it because other people think I should do it or because I'm trying to people please?

There's kind of no way to explain it. It's one of those things that you just have to take time with yourself and be like “Is this a right fit?”

Which I think is important when building a community as well because the more that we make those right decisions right at the start, the more that people trust us going forward. So if at the start we'd worked on projects that weren't aligned or we'd worked with brands that weren't actually inclusive themselves or they were kind of just doing it as a more performative thing or if we'd have made those decisions right at the start, although it might have been easier to do because it's, you know, you want to just be doing stuff at the start and get things rolling, that would've meant that our community maybe wouldn't have trusted us in the long run. 

Whereas now we have like very specific things and we do and we, I guess we’re trying to even streamline what we're doing, even more, to make it so clear what we're doing then it's like, okay we know that this is something that the community is choosing things that care about the other people in there then that's kind of good for going forward. It's like the trusting process.

So I think it is just that taking that time and that pause and not getting caught up in the, okay, what's next? What's next? What's next? Like what's the next big thing? Like how can we be doing something more exciting? And just being like, does this feel right for us and right for the community I think that taking that pause is a really important thing to learn.

Natalia: So we've been having these talks about keeping space for others and keeping the community authentic to the neurodivergent experience. But I'm curious, how do you as a neurodivergent entrepreneur advocate for yourself when working with other partners?

Ellie: Yeah, I think this is a hard one to learn how to do, especially cuz I, I think I sometimes forget how early on I am in my own journey as well. It's still under two years since my first diagnosis. So it's still very new to me as well. But I think I sometimes forget that cuz I've got all this stuff going on and I'm like have this audience, I'm running this community that you forget that, oh no, I'm still like a baby neurodivergent almost. But yeah, I think we're so, so lucky with Tiimo. Working with a neurodivergent team I think is the best thing in just knowing that you don't have to explain it in any way because it's, you get it and I think that's sometimes the hardest thing of, it's not the actual advocacy that's the hard bit. It's the wanting to overexplain.

Why? Because you don't want anyone to think that you are being lazy or that you are putting it off or that you are unreliable or all of these things. So I think sometimes it's not the actual explaining of, you know, I can't make the call today. That's the difficult bit. I want to say I can't make the call today because I'm Autistic and I don't have the energy to speak right now because I've had loads going on last week and you know, I do care about this project but I just don't have the energy to, and it's like all of that bit, that's the tricky bit because it's you, it's the, it's the fear of judgment, right? That is the hard bit. So I think for us we're really lucky that everyone in the team at Tiimo is just on that same, I know that I don't have to do that.

I know it's just, I don't have capacity right now and that's fine. Which is, yeah, I, I think it's been really good in like teaching me, I guess especially like my worth with that as well. Cause I think until someone gives you that space, you still feel like you have to be the people pleaser, the person who's conforming to the normal way of doing things. You don't wanna be the odd one out of the box and then when someone gives you the permission to be like, no it's okay to do things your way and we still like you for doing it that way. It kind of teaches you that, oh well I can, I can do that with other brands and companies then as well. But I think it's still definitely something that I am learning. I think especially when you feel so grateful for the work that you're doing, you don't sometimes want to be the, the difficult one cuz you are like, I feel so grateful to be working with these people and to have this opportunity.

And I think especially when I'm doing talks and stuff like that, it, it almost feels like, you know, they, anyone else, they just book them and they turn up and they do the talk and it's quite easy for them. Whereas I'm like, I need a quiet space, I need an agenda before I need the lights not to be too bright. I need, you know the noise not to be going on too much at the same time. And sometimes I think it's, it, it's scary and it's uncomfortable to get used to that feeling, but then I think over time you kind of realize, well I need those things to be able to do the job well. So, if it's better for me cuz, I'm not burnt out by the experience, then it's accessible to me. But it's better for, the company or the brand or the partner too because then they get the best workout of me as well.

But I do again, think that it's a slow process, of learning to get comfortable with feeling a bit uncomfortable with it. And it's, it's no one kind of wakes up overnight after getting diagnosed of being like, I am advocating for my needs and I know exactly what I need as well. I think that's another one as well that, that the more that my unmasking journey goes on, I, I can't do, I'm kind of getting more and more layers off over time. So maybe right at the start, it was fine if the instructions weren't that clear cuz I wasn't used to having clear instructions from anybody anyway cause I'd never really known that that was a thing beforehand. But then, as I've learned my needs over time, maybe if it was a company that I'd worked with back they might be like, whoa, well a year ago we did this and it was fine and the short deadline was fine and this was fine, but now that maybe wouldn't be fine for me anymore.

And I think that's a tricky thing to get across to people of, you know, my needs are changing over time and they also change day to day as well. Like some, I might have some kind of phases where ADHD is the most prominent side of me of, yeah I wanna do all the projects and do all the things and I'm so excited and I'm hyper-focusing and I'm getting loads done. And then there might be a week a couple of weeks later where by doing that I've kind of burned myself out. So the Autistic side is kind of more at the front of, you know, I need space, I can't be around work, I just need to quiet time. And I think that's a, that makes it trickier in your head as well because I think sometimes you feel or you kind of trick yourself into feeling like you're making it up because you're like, oh well they're gonna think that I'm making it up because I could do it last week and I can't do it this week. But I think again, it's just dipping your toes into the water I guess over time of like, no I can, I can express the way that I'm feeling and I can state my needs. And over time the more that you do that, the more comfortable it gets. I think.

Natalia: I think the most profound thing that you've said was that you don't even know what accommodations you could potentially ask for. And that learning process, I can relate to that so much cuz you know, working with a, with a brain that is different to everyone around me, it's also super difficult to, to navigate those boundaries. And once you finally realize that this is an accommodation that you need, it's so difficult to even advocate for it because it's like, okay, I didn't need it a week ago. Yeah. And all of a sudden I'm presenting it to all these people, it's like, what are they gonna think? So I think that's, I think the, the most profound takeaway from this is that we sometimes don't even know what accommodations could potentially be available to us. So that is so difficult. And on that note actually, I would love to ask you, what were the biggest barriers working with other partners? Was it maybe, maybe what you've just mentioned, not knowing what your accommodations were or the receptiveness of the other people. I, I would love to hear how, how that is for you. 

Ellie: Yeah, I'd say something that I think quite early on I realized that people either get it or they don't. And I think that's a really hard thing to come to terms with because especially the work that I do, like I am an advocate, I'm an activist like I want to change people's view and understanding. But sometimes you can't, sometimes people just aren't gonna get it the more that you, you could spend all day explaining it to them and they aren't gonna understand, which you can kind of understand. Because I think there's this whole thing where we're told like to have empathy for other people where it's like, put yourself in their shoes and how would you feel if it was you? And I think that's important, but like that's kind of the easy part. If you can't understand how they're feeling, then it's easy to, be kind towards them.

But there are some things that other people are never gonna understand about me. They're never going to have a brain that can't physically focus or physically can't do the housework or they're never gonna have a brain that needs to ask a hundred clarifying questions to be able to picture what's going on. That's not the way that their brain works. So to them, if you are saying those things, it's like her like no, like that doesn't make any sense because it's not an experience that they've got. And I think, you know, some, yeah, sometimes no matter how hard you try, you, you can't make someone get it. And I think that that was kind of a learning curve for me because sometimes it's better to walk away than to, put all more and more energy into trying to make something work. Which I think is, the case for everybody, right?

Whether it's to do with accommodating your needs as a neurodivergent person or just generally in life, some people aren't the right fit for you. It's whether it's ways of working, whether it's personality, whether it's friendships. And I think having that confidence in yourself, I guess to think this isn't working, I'm, that's fine. That's not, doesn't mean that I'm a bad person, doesn't mean that they're a bad person necessarily. It just means that this isn't a right fit. So the best thing that I can do right now is walk away from this. I think that was a hard, hard lesson to learn. But yeah, I think that thing off of you can't make everybody understand everything, I think is a, is a tricky one. And also it's not necessarily your job too. I think that's something I think I got to a point where I became frustrated with it I'm so tired of every space that I enter.

I've got, you know, I'm doing the job that I've been hired to do, whether that's content creator, whether that's speaker, but then I also have this unpaid role of like neurodivergent inclusion manager because I have, I'm not just turning up and doing the job. I've got to do the, is there a quiet space? You know, please can I have an agenda ahead of time? Please could you send me all the information, you know, I need my travel details at least us a week in advance because I need to, you know, I like to know what's going on? That's kind of an inclusion manager role in itself and I think that's something that, I have to do at the moment to be able to make spaces accessible for myself. So I think it's, it's learning that that's not on you. I think now I kind of ask the question of what are you doing to make this space neuro-inclusive?

You know, if it's, if it's an in-person event, if it's an online event, if it's, you know, other companies I've said, you know, have you worked with neurodivergent talent before? And I'm putting it on them almost. Cause I think it is the natural thing of like, I've got to advocate for myself, I've got to explain all these things. But kind of, yeah, taking a backseat and remembering it's not my job to make everyone understand and it's not my job to educate every single person. It is to an extent. Like I love, I love that piece of what I do and the public speaking and training companies, but that's the job that they're paying me to do. That doesn't mean that everybody else that I work with and everybody else that I encounter gets that for free. I think is a, is a tricky one to get your head around.

Natalia: Yeah, I think, I think it's, it's, it's an unfortunate reality that very commonly you, you meet with a situation where you need to put in all that emotional labor even though you were not hired or getting paid to do it. Which is, which is a very good boundary to set for yourself to always remember that emotional labor is labor and even though you're, you are an advocate, you are not always hired to be one. Sometimes you're just hired to be a speaker or content creator. And on that note, you have been very transparent about your burnout and I hope you feel comfortable talking about this, but as an autistic person going through burnout, I am very curious to hear how you redefine productivity for yourself in that period. Cuz that can also be a very tricky one for someone who is so heavily involved in so much wonderful work.

Ellie: Yeah, I think it's a tough one and I think it also a lot plays into part of it of like having both the ADHD brain and the Autistic brain because it's like, even if I'm feeling burnt out, the ADHD still wants stimulation and still wants stuff to do and can't, I can't just lie in bed all day., I don't work like that. But whereas that's probably what I need at the time, I need to do nothing. Zero. Like my day needs to consist of sleep, eating, getting some sunshine, that's it. That's what like my body needs to recover, but my brain at the same time is like, but I can't just do that. So I think that's how I get myself into these like burnout pools or holes as well because I, I have this tendency to need to be busy all the time, which means that because I love the work that I do, I end up just working all the time and you know, I live alone, I work online, I work for myself so there's no kind of boundaries of when I'm not allowed to work.

You know, it's not like I can't access the office at nighttime because it, it's, it's my laptop, it's with me all the time. And sometimes if I've got the choice of oh well I could sit and watch a movie or I could sit and finish writing this blog about this thing that I'm so excited about that I love and that I care about, that feels more exciting and enriching even though it's work. But I think a lot of the time and, and because I wanted to like to learn to work with myself rather than against myself, I was like, oh well if I'm getting bursts of energy to work then let's, let's go with it. Let's do the work. I thought that that was kind of honoring myself better. Cause I was like, well you know, my brain wants to work at 8:00 PM so I'll work at 8:00 PM but I think you have to kind of over time realize that like that's not, that's not okay to do.

Even if you love the work, it's still work and it's still taking energy. So I think for me a big, a big changing point has been like I know that I'm never gonna be able to do nothing so I need to find ways to fill that brain space and that time with something, but with something that is recharging. So whether that's reading, whether that is just spending time listening to music with my starlight projector on and under my weighted blanket. Whether that's going for a walk, whether that's, I just bought myself a guitar cuz I was like, I want to have a hobby that is, there's no way that I can turn it into work. You know, I want to do something that's gonna fill my time that is just for enjoyment. So I think that was a big one for me of like redefining, yeah like productivity doesn't have to be working all day.

It might be the most productive thing for me to do to go for a two-hour walk. And I think it's, it's finding that thing of, yeah, I don't know, I guess just removing yourself from this trap that we've all been taught of. You have to be doing something all the time and your work defines your worth and you have to be always looking at the next project and doing a hundred things and, and just sitting with that and being like, why, why do I have to, you know, it doesn't like I am still, I still have the same value whether I achieve nothing or achieve nothing today. Cuz even if I've achieved nothing work-wise, I've still, you know, maybe I've been for a walk, maybe I've made a new meal, maybe I've managed to eat three meals in a day, which is kind of achieving something in itself.

And yeah, I think it is just, I think it took me a long time and I think, I think a lot of therapy to realize that I was speaking to somebody yesterday about it, I think at the start when I first, cuz I felt so grateful to kind of come into this world and start doing this work. I was like had all of these goals where I was like, I wanna be on TV, I wanna work with this brand, I want to write a book, I want to start a podcast, I want to do all of these things. But then I was simultaneously having conversations with my therapist of being like, I'm so burnt out, I can't deal with this work. I'm so tired. It's so overwhelming. And it was kind of having that disconnect and sitting down and being like, hang on, if I'm burnt out already now, why do I want all of these extra things that are gonna make me more and more burnt out?

And I think it was kind of re-realizing that instead of, you know, those goals, they sound really exciting and, and they would be amazing things to do but do I want the life that comes with those things? Probably not. Do I, do I want to be getting on the train to London every week? No. Cuz it, it is a lot of energy for me. Do I want to be in busy TV studios where the lights are bright and I've got to make small talk with people and I've got to wear outfits that don't feel comfortable for me and I, you know, I'm working, I'm not getting home till 9:00 PM and I'm just eating something and going to sleep and I can't speak on a weekend cuz I've been so busy through the week. I don't want to feel like that. So I think a lot of the time, we start with the goals and then we just feel like we have to deal with the life that comes with those goals.

Whereas it's kind of reframing that for me of like, okay, what life do I want? I want to have time with my friends, I want to, you know, especially in summer, I want to have time to get out in the sunshine. I want to read, I want to feel rested and relaxed. I want to feel happy and then be like what goals can I fit into that life rather than kind of starting with the goals and dealing with the life that comes with it. Which is I think a really strange thing to do. Cause it's the opposite of what we've been taught, you know, at school. It's not, do you want to be happy when you grow up? It's what job do you want do you want to be successful and do you want to achieve things? And it, it's, I think it's just, it's just not the way for, especially for neurodivergent people that that's not sustainable for us.

And I think I think that's a key word to keep in mind as well like it's not sustainable to keep working. You know, if I'm forcing myself to do stuff when I'm burnt out, then that's what happens in five years. I'm gonna be too ill to do anything ever if I keep burning myself out there. So I should do smaller amounts but I can keep doing the work that I'm doing for 10 years or 20 years or the rest of my career rather than doing all of the work in the next one or two years and then getting myself to a state where I am, I'm hospitalized or I am just too tired to do anything. So thinking about, the longevity of the amount of energy that you are putting out as well, I think.

Natalia: I've been wondering how do you connect with other neurodivergent communities outside of (Un)masked? How do you find these spaces and how do you navigate them?

Ellie: I think online has been a massive part of that and I think I'm very grateful for the online neurodivergent community cuz I know that if it wasn't, for those other creators sharing their experiences, I probably wouldn't have gotten my diagnosis or come to my realization myself. I think when I first kind of discovered that I might be Autistic or might have ADHD, they were kind of like passing comments from a therapist of, you know, has it has ever been looked into and this thing And then when I spoke to, to my GP or someone from the, the psychiatry side of things, they were like, mm, you know maybe, but I think you are kind of being a bit of a perfectionist and maybe a lot of the things don't relate to you. And when I was reading the, the kind of official stuff myself, a lot of it didn't really, it was kind of like, oh maybe, you know, it was like, I think a good example of the kind of things is like one of the main questions on the, the Autism pre-screening is like, do you collect information about categories of things?

For example birds, trains, cars, and planes? And for me, it was like, no, not really. I've never really been into things like that. And then kind of seeing other, you know, female or assigned female at birth content creators or even just people in their twenties that aren't children, right? Sharing their experiences of like, oh this is the way that that shows up for me, you know, my special interest is music or my special interest is whatever hobby it might be and I get hooked on particular artists or films or series or content creators. And then it was like, oh I do that. Like I collected, I don't collect information about birds cars, or trains, but I do obsess over bands I'll listen to the same band a hundred times and I'll go to 10 of their concerts and I'll know every single song and I'll know everything about their lives.

And you know, I think that translation of how things show up cuz the, the diagnostic criteria is still so aimed at young white, cis boys. That translation of, oh that is actually, I do experience that but I just experience that in a different way cuz I'm a 20-something-year-old woman, not an eight-year-old boy. If I hadn't had that, I don't think I would ever have realized myself that I did have those experiences cuz it was a bit like, mm, it kind of fits but not a hundred percent. But then those translations were, what helped me realize myself. So I think, yeah, I'm grateful for the online communities and I think what's important is kind of a combination of the two of those things. So for me, it was really important to seek out other people with similar lived experiences to me.

So people of a similar age to me, people who are femme or like women and people marginalized for their genders and people who have the same hobbies as me and people who, yeah, just people that are similar to me I think was really important in that validation and that understanding of how it might show up for me. But then I think especially now, it's really important that I find people with different lived experiences to me so that I can advocate for the whole, the whole community, or as many people in that community as possible. Cuz I think something that I'm aware of is, is that although, you know, the system did let me down, it is, you know, bad that I didn't get diagnosed till my mid-twenties. Some so many people are so much more let down by the same system, you know, people of color are still not getting diagnosed, trans people are having a really hard time and often can't get diagnosis cuz it'll affect their access to, to gender-affirming medical care and all of, and there's people kind of that can't advocate for themselves in the same way that I can, the people with higher support needs or learning difficulties or, or those that are non-speaking on nonverbal.

And I think that's something that I'm conscious of right now, of making sure that I, I know that I'm in a privileged position to do the work that I do because I'm still quite palatable to other people. So they lie they, they're able to listen to what I have to say more one because I can be able to, to say what I need to say and two. After all, I'm not that difficult for them to deal with because I'm quite similar to what they're used to. I'm very high masking like I can get myself through social situations but I don't want that me to become the face of, you know, this is what an Autistic person looks like because it's, that's not true. It's, it's such a diverse spectrum of people with all neuro divergences. So I think it's important that you know, I need to listen to those people myself to understand their experiences and how I can advocate for that.

But also like to encourage people to be like, okay, it's great that you've started listening to what I have to say, but that's not enough. You need to then carry on and listen to these other folks as well. So I think that's kind of just a case of actively searching out those voices. And, I do think that the Neurodivergent community is good at raising one another's voices generally. I think it's something that we're all aware of that there are so many voices other than maybe the most prominent ones that need to be listened to and heard. So I think it's just a case of, yeah I think online is the main one and just kind of, yeah, taking that time to to raise the voices of those that are multiply marginalized as well as, you know, those of us that have similar experiences to us as well.

I think that's something that I, is a big focus for (Un)masked at the moment. Cuz I think, you know, I do a lot of work obviously and kind of Ellie Middleton has is a, is a person, but I don't want (Un)masked to just become another Ellie Middleton show. I want it to be representative, of the whole community and all different people's life experiences. So for example, like this month for pride where we're kind of, we've worked with 10 different queer neurodivergent people to share their stories and I think that's something that I want to continue throughout the year of working with kind of centering different people's lived experience throughout that. And I guess that's just a case, of people knowing people, knowing people, knowing people, right? And listening to that and thinking, oh okay, I've not come across that person's work before, but I think it deserves a space to be, to be heard and to be raised. So let's be that space for them and let's give them the space to do that and let's amplify that. So yeah, I think it's, it's something that is one of my main, main things I think at the moment of like, how do we make sure that (Un)masked isn't just me shouting about my experience or us shouting about our experiences as high masking lower support needs folks. How do we make sure that we're, we're amplifying the voices of the whole, the whole spectrum I guess.

Natalia: So speaking of the neurodivergent community, I'm really curious to hear if there are any role models that you follow.

Ellie: Yeah, I think so many of the people that I like followed and learned from their content and loved their content when I was going through my journey. Like I'm so lucky that they've become friends now, which is, it's such a nice thing and I think it's like that combination about I will always be so grateful to them for their content of, of giving me this answer that has changed my whole life, but then I now get to be grateful for them as a person personally as well as just for their content. So I would say Ella Willis is an amazing content creator. I feel like their output always astounds me as well, that they, they've always got something to share about what's going on, whereas I think I'm very like peaks and troughs if I'll share loads of stuff and then I'll have quiet times.

Whereas that there's al there's always something every time I check Ella's page they have shared something that I'm like, oh, oh my god, like I do that, I, I experienced that. I can relate to that. Milly Evans is another wonderful creator who is now one of my greatest friends. They are a sex educator as well. So I think that's super important to raise other conversations, as well as sharing the fact that they're neurodivergent. I love working with Paff Evara, they were one of our speakers at our (Un)masked panel event and they kind of talk about again, the intersection of neurodivergence but also of being Black and also of being queer as well. So there's that whole kind of intersecting identity that they have and that they share so openly and I think they are, they're great and just so many others I think it's so hard, like I can go on for lists forever and ever of people that I love.

I love their work. But yeah, I think that that's a main thing for me this year how can I center those voices in the work that I'm doing as well. Yeah and hopefully there's another exciting project that's coming soon that I might mention here and I think it'll be okay cuz yeah, by the time it's edited it'll be fine. So I've also written my book, which is gonna be coming out soon and I was really lucky to get to include some of those voices in there as well, which is nice for me to, yeah, I think I'm so grateful that I have that space to explore the conversation myself, but it was nice for me to have a physical thing that I could share other people's stories and experiences in as well. So yeah, I think that's, that's a big focus for me at the moment of, I think it kind of works in both ways as well because it, it's obviously beneficial for everybody that other voices are raised, but it also then helps me because it's not, I've got to be making 10 videos every week and making 10 posts because it's, you know, it saves my energy if I'm amplifying other voices it means that I can take a step back and I can just be putting out one experience a week and then the rest of them can be other people's experiences. So I think it's a win-win in and I, I get to preserve my energy and work in a more sustainable way like we've spoken about, but also then get to ensure that other people's voices are raised and that the community gets a wider kind of education as to a wider range of experiences.

Natalia: So what is the journey for (Un)masked for the next year? 

Ellie: Yeah, so I think at the moment I'm going through a phase of how do I make this sustainable. I think that's another thing as well that it's because we care so much about the work that we do. It's, I want to do more events and I want people to meet more people and I want to do all this stuff, but also I have to remember that I am a, a neurodivergent person that, you know, the community that I'm trying to help, I, it is no point in helping those if I'm burning myself out in the, in the, in the honor of doing that. So I think a big thing for me is finding a way to make this more sustainable. I think a big part of that is, is raising other voices and making it more of a community collective.

As of now, it is a community but it is more of like, the community and the team, whereas it's like how can we make it so that the community has more ownership of what's going on and they can organize their events and they can put out their content. So I think that kind of sharing the, sharing the mic is a really big part of what I want to do with it. And, the book I think I'd love to do in-person events tied in with that coming out to open up the conversation more and, and, and have panel events with the different people that I've included quotes from and, and just give people a space to talk about that rather than it just being a, okay, you can buy the book, you can read it at home on your own and that's it.

I don't want that to be the case. I want to make spaces where we can, you know, you might have read something that's then inspired something from your story so that can be shared and we can all talk about those experiences together and create more space for talking I'd say is, is a big one as well. And just finding ways, to connect. I think connection is the main thing. I think at the start we may be, we may want to provide loads of resources and do loads of kind of exciting and complicated events, which all of those things have a space, but I think the main reason that anyone joins the community is for, for the community, for the connection. They want to meet people, they want to feel seen and heard. They want, to find like-minded people. So remember that that is, is what we want to help people do.

And it doesn't have to be so complicated all the time, you know, it can just be a coffee morning, it doesn't have to be a fancy workshop and talks and all this stuff. It could be, yeah, it's as simple as a chat or as simple as an online space where, where people can, can drop in in a virtual session and all of that stuff. So I think yeah, putting like sustainability for, for the community and myself and working out how do we make this work in a way that isn't draining us? How do we raise a wider range of voices and how do we keep it simple and just put connection at the forefront of everything that we're doing?

Natalia: Yeah, I think that's a beautiful, beautiful takeaway from this that change can come in all shapes and sizes and it doesn't have to be grand and it doesn't have to come through these very elaborate events, but it can be just as simple as a conversation with someone.

Ellie: Yeah, it was so I think it is so nice to have these just like real conversations. I think so much of like the work that I do, especially like, like going into companies and stuff, it does feel like sometimes I've stopped masking as a neurotypical person, but then I start masking as like, hi, I'm Ellie neurodiversity in the workplace expert. And it is, it becomes like, it's, it is, it's important to work to train companies but it's still not like me. Whereas I think stuff like this is so nice to do of just like, I'm a, I'm a human, I'm not, I'm not this girl boss. Like a machine I think is so nice, to get the chance to have these conversations. I think they're so important for people, to hear as well. I think that that's another thing that we forget of like you think that everything that goes out has to be like a perfected conversation or it's like this perfectly edited video when it's like actually when you're just chatting as two humans, people are probably gonna take more than that cuz it's something that they will relate to and something that, that they can experience rather than this whole like fancy thing. I think it's such a nice space to get to do that.

Natalia: Yeah, it's amazing, to get to be a little bit authentic once in a while. And I'm, I, I'm so happy that we got to have this little space to be authentic and talk about this and I'm, and I'm, and I'm glad you didn't, didn't feel the pressure of all the, all these questions and, and the whole setup. So I'm super happy, with how it turned out. And again, thank you so much for having us.

Ellie: Thank you so much for having me. It's been so nice to chat! 

Natalia: That was the first episode of the Changemaker Series. If you would like to give us some feedback or suggest a new guest, you can find us on Instagram @tiimoapp. We'll be waiting in the DMs but in case you would like to send us an email, you can find us at hello@tiimo.dk. And if you would like to check out more of Ellie's stuff, you can find her at @elliemidds or @weareunmasked both on TikTok and Instagram. And thank you so much for tuning in today and until next time!

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