Susan Kayler, aka The Autistic Woman

My audio world


June 11th, 2024


Popular American podcaster, Susan Kayler, received an autism diagnosis later in life, after decades of struggling and feeling like she didn’t fit in. After launching her amazing series ‘Meet My Autistic Brain’ in 2021, she’s gone on to help thousands with her honest personal thoughts and insightful interviews with others within the autistic community. 


This spring, Susan interviewed Flare’s Co-Founders, following her discovery of Calmer and how it helps with noise sensitivities. Here she chats to us about her own journey, and what she hopes to bring to others…

My family moved from Chicago, Illinois to the Phoenix metropolitan area in Arizona when I was a child and I continue to live here in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains. I work as a part-time Pro Tem judge, (which means I fill in, for example when a judge is on holiday or off sick) for three municipalities near Phoenix where I preside over criminal misdemeanour cases, traffic cases, Orders of Protection and city code violations. When I’m not at work, you’ll find me painting, hiking, gardening, appreciating nature or travelling. 


Socialising was always a challenge for me. I hid dozens of books I read about communication and relationships from friends and family so they wouldn’t think there was something “wrong” with me. I learned a lot from the books yet the knowledge failed me when I was in a social situation. At critical moments my brain would shut down and communication became impossible. It was this experience and the fact that I couldn’t change what was happening that led me to look for answers and ultimately to an autism diagnosis, when I was 64 years old.


I clearly remember my reaction to finding out I’m autistic. I excitedly blurted out “There’s nothing wrong with me!” It may sound counterintuitive, yet to an autistic person who felt like she didn’t quite fit in, it was such a relief to know why. 


I felt driven to share that knowledge and as I learned more, I decided that a podcast would be the way to teach my family, friends and others what autism truly is like. There are so many biases and a lot of misinformation about autism. It’s important to see it through the eyes of an autistic person in order to get a true understanding of how autism affects us. 

Sharing Experiences


I didn’t expect so many people who are autistic, or considering that they may be, to listen to the podcast. It’s been rewarding to talk about my life experiences and hear from other autistics who share similar stories. The audience has grown beyond my expectations and continues to attract new listeners. I hear from people daily about the benefits they get from listening and feeling understood.


The most valuable thing about knowing I’m autistic is learning about and understanding myself. I now realise why social communication has been challenging, why I see things so differently than the majority of people and the reason I’m sensitive to how things feel, sound, taste, look and smell.


At the same time, I’ve come to understand my strengths - like pattern recognition, researching, seeing details, developing systems and being creative. I’m not afraid to try new things that interest me. I approach problem-solving from a unique perspective.


I’ve accepted that there are things I cannot change because of autism, no matter how much I learn or practice. It’s been a challenge because the majority of autistics believe there is an answer or solution for everything, that we merely need find it and everything will work out the way we want it to. It’s the way we’re wired that affects how we view everything.


An autistic brain uses tremendous energy to deal with the environment, the sounds, the smells, the temperature in the room, the sights, the tastes. Autistics have processing disorders like sound sensitivity which means that we process what we hear differently.

Musical Outlets 


I started playing the piano at age 7, the violin at age 9, the French horn at age 11. I sang in the school choir and sang solo at school and in college at a local venue. I was the geeky kid in high school who listened to waltzes, classical music and opera. Later I developed an interest in rock, jazz and more popular music and now enjoy nearly all genres.


My father started in radio as an engineer and eventually moved to network television. On occasion I’d tag along to the studio where I felt at home with broadcast communication. Once I learned I am autistic it was a natural step for me to turn to media as a comfortable way to talk about autism. 


As we are people who find social interactions difficult, autistics often use alternative ways of revealing ourselves such as through art, theatre, music, audio, video and social media.

Sound Sensitivities


Autistics are sensitive to sound, meaning that pleasant sounds are ones we want to hear on repeat. Unpleasant sounds or noise is something we run from. I once drowned out the noise of a truck’s engine idling by turning my music up to maximum volume. Not a practical solution, certainly.


I first learned about Flare’s Calmer from a friend who was aware of my sound sensitivity after witnessing the profound negative effects of a leaf blower on my well-being. I had the opportunity to try them and soon felt the benefits. With Calmer my nervous system is no longer “on fire” when I hear disturbing sounds or noises. Autistics are bothered by the suddenness of sound, the pitch, the volume, the frequency or some or all of these. Calmer makes it possible to handle sound that disturbs me for any of these reasons.


I use Calmer when I’m at home, out, or in the courtroom. They’re undetectable so no one can see that I’m wearing them. They’re comfortable so I don’t notice them nor am I bothered by them because of my sensitivity to touch.


I had the pleasure of meeting Davies and Naomi Roberts, the creators of Calmer, and learning about their personal experiences with sound sensitivity when I interviewed them for a recent podcast. It was quite remarkable to hear their story about creating Calmer. They both have a wealth of knowledge about sound and sound sensitivity. 


Because music and sound are so important to me, Calmer has been life-changing. 



What I’d like to pass on


Accepting you’re autistic, particularly late in life, can be challenging - because autism is complex and science is still learning about it. Each autistic person goes through phases like denial, grief, relief and more as they recognise and understand how autism affects them.


There are products and strategies to help an autistic person adapt or tolerate sensitivities. There are resources to help develop skills to handle social communication. 


When you’ve known yourself as non-autistic for a large part of your life, processing that you are autistic takes time and patience. It’s continuous discovery, learning and growth. You’re not alone in these feelings.

MORE FROM SUSAN


To listen to Susan’s podcast, Meet My Autistic Brain, click here


Click on the links below to hear some of her most popular episodes:


 

Self-diagnosis


Autistic Strengths


Sound Sensitivity


Susan’s interview with Flare Founders Davies and Naomi Roberts


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