Autism Interview #107: Andy Burns on Autistic Identity

Andy is an autistic content creator from the United Kingdom, publishing content for the National Autistic Society and hosting his own YouTube channel, IndieAndy that raises autism awareness and promotes acceptance by showing the world that it’s okay to be different and okay to be your true “indie-self.” This week Andy shared some of his advocacy work and how he has developed a positive autistic identity.

When did you receive your autism diagnosis? How was it received by you and your family (with relief, confusion, disappointment, praise, neutrality, etc.)?

I received my diagnosis at age 5 in 1997. By the time I got my diagnosis, I already had the provisions in place for me going into Primary school. Now I don’t remember the process at all; however, for my parents, I feel that the news of my diagnosis was relief mixed in with uncertainly. Of course, no one knows what the future holds, which for me is my worst nightmare. To be given this diagnosis and not know how it would impact my own life must have made my parents worry.

But I didn’t learn of my diagnosis myself until I was around 10.

I started to feel like I was different from my peers that I was in school with. This was mainly due to interactions with others and the fact that I was partly in mainstream classes and special education classes. I recently talked about this in a video, but at that time, I didn’t see my autism in a positive way compared to now. I thought that because of my autism, it would hold me back or it would limit me going forward. But if this is something that you or someone you know is finding difficult, just give yourself or the person time. It took me a long time to accept myself, and it wasn’t easy, but having the time to think things through does help. Also having the right people around you helps with this too

What are some of your personal strengths and challenges?

I would say that behind the camera and the online persona, I am an anxious being, especially when it comes to social situations. I often just don’t know how to start a conversation and worry that I’ll say the wrong thing. But despite that, I think one of my strengths is my work ethic. I have grown up with the idea that if you work hard and try your best, then anything is possible. I really take pride in my work to ensure that I’m doing the best that I can, which I feel is important.

Another challenge would have to be around changes & routines. If I’m being truthful with you, it is something that has become a lot more apparent to me as I have gotten older. I am a creature of habit and when things change or I’m doing something different than what I would normally do, it throws me off completely. For example, on the weekdays and weekends, I am normally working on content for YouTube for a few hours per day. But a few weeks ago, I went away with my fiancé and her family for three nights. I didn’t take my laptop or anything like that. Though it was nice getting away from YouTube work, I found it very hard at the same time. Also, there was the fact that I was spending time with a lot of people all under one roof for a few days as well. Basically, I struggle with changes and messing with my routines, but because of my routines, I find that I am very productive.

I guess it’s about trying to find a balance that works for me, which I’m still trying to figure out.

What inspired you to start your YouTube Channel? What kind of preparation goes into each video creation?

Surprisingly I didn’t start my YouTube channel with the intention of talking about my autism. I started the channel in June 2016 as a creative outlet and to try something new. I literally didn’t have a plan for what I wanted to do with my channel, so I started uploading whatever I wanted for the first two years.

But slowly over time, I started opening up about the fact that I am autistic because I said to myself from the start that I couldn’t make video if I wasn’t being my true, authentic self. My autism is a part of me that I wanted to finally share with people, and slowly it became my focus and what I talk about today.

But I also started making videos to really improve my own confidence and self-esteem because I was in quite a bad place when I started in June 2016. I was unemployed and had been looking for work for over 12 months. I didn’t have any financial stability, so I turned to YouTube as an escape, and I wanted to help others with what I created online. After three years, it’s now gotten to a point where my audience has said that I help them, which is strange for me, but I’m also happy that my rambles help others.

When it comes to preparing videos, it takes a long time to get a video ready to show people. For the initial ideas, I will go online and see what people in the community are discussing. I look at what other channels like mine are talking about, and, of course, think about what will help other autistic people, parents, etc. Once I have an idea, I need to bullet point or lightly script my videos out so I know exactly what the finished video will be. One video can take 20-30 minutes to film as I may get stuck on a sentence or make a mistake, etc. Often I will bulk record if I have a spare hour or two. Once it is filmed, I will edit the video down, taking away all of the bloopers and mistakes and making it into what you see on my channel.

Over the past few months, I have been trying to find “my style” of video creation, which involves a lot of images and videos to portray what I am talking about. Now, a single video can take 4-6 hours in its entirely to edit. Then it’s the case of designing the thumbnail (The image you see covering the video) and do all the admin to get the video ready. There is a lot more to making videos than just filming and uploading to YouTube. You need to learn a lot of different skills in a lot of different areas. But I love the whole process and love making videos. If I didn’t enjoy it, I can’t do it, as it is a lot of work.

What are the primary factors that helped you develop a positive autistic identity?

What helped me find my own identity in our community is really the principle learned from my childhood to really try to treat people the way I would want to be treated. I was teased a lot as a kid, but it also helped me learn that I didn’t want to be like those people who bullied me. I wanted to do better, and really being kind to others is something that I think is important to my identity both online and offline. Now I still have my moments where I don’t feel positive, just like anyone. However, I think that kindness is the best kind of positivity you can find.

Another factor would be taking the time to find myself. Growing up, I did not really know how to be proud of my autism since it was generally seen negatively in society. But once I discovered the autism community online, it truly opened my eyes. So, I guess finding a community that you feel you can relate to and just taking the time to discover who you truly are is important.

Is there anything people around you can do to help reduce your anxiety in social situations? Explain.

Something I can find tricky is having conversations in a group as there are multiple voices that speak in a group, which I find hard to follow. But also, when the attention is on me to speak, I do find it stressful and overwhelming.

What really helps me is having someone I know there that I can bounce a conversation off from and give me better confidence and also help guide me through the conversation, if needed. Also just giving me time to process does help as I have a tendency when answering questions in person to go off on a tangent and go into a lot of detail without really having a need to. Just anything to help me feel less nervous will help.

Name something people might be surprised to find out about you.

One secret that I haven’t really talked about online is the fact that I used to be quite sporty. I loved playing football and basketball as a kid and played on a disability football team for a while. But my interest in this slowly faded as a grew up, and now I don’t do anything that sporty anymore.

However, the one sport that I love to watch is the darts. I can’t play darts to save my life, but I love how you have to be accurate and be able to count how far you are away from completing a set. I know it is a cliché that autistic people are good at math, but this is something that enhances my love for numbers in a good way.

Who is your best ally and why?

This is slightly bias, but my best ally in my life would have to be my fiancé Nicola. Now I have been with her for nearly six years and planning to get married in April 2020. She just understands me and supports me in everything I’ve ever done when I feel others might have either walked away or thought I had lost the plot. She just accepts me for me and I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Also, as I was answering these questions, we were talking about how we balance each other out very well, as she is also not socially extroverted. So we bounce off each other for confidence, but we are also there for each other, and all I can really say is that I’m lucky to have her in my life. As I have explored my own autistic identity online, she’s been there to guide me and has really been my rock. 

In addition to his YouTube channel, you can also reach Andy via any of his social media pages below:




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