She’s a comic fan, wants to be more like Beast Boy and would love to be the first character on Supernatural with autism.

But these are just some of the reasons why we love the stereotype-smashing Lily Manning and we know you will too.

Host of a new YouTube channel designed to shed light on autism in girls and young people, Lily has taken time out of her summer holidays to chat to us here at the North East Autism Society.

Lily we love your videos – tell us a bit about why you started your channel LilBlueRobin?

“Aww thank you! I'm glad you like them. Well I wanted to start them mainly to create something for others that I wish had been there for me. I think it would have helped a lot, especially when I didn't really know what was going on, to have someone talk about it in their own words and from their own perspective.

“It's so hard- in my experience anyway, but I've heard this from others too- to find information about Autism Spectrum Conditions (and ADHD, but ASC especially) in girls and in young people.

“A lot of the information you find is aimed at parents of very young children, or is relevant only to boys. Even just general online posts and perceptions of what autism is, in general and in the media, seem to centre around boys. So how are girls and parents of girls supposed to know what's going on with them? Or what to do to help support them when they get diagnosed?

“Most of the online tests that you take seem to be aimed at boys, and more stereotypical symptoms. In fact, when I was first tested for autism, they actually missed it because the psychiatrist who oversaw it was using out of date diagnostic criteria aimed at boys! So I'm hopefully kind of breaking a stereotype a bit too.”

So you are standing in the gap to help others like yourself?

“Yeah, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I felt there was, and is, a gap that I myself fell into, that needs to be filled not just by professionals and those who've 'studied' it, but by the people who experience it every day.

“I wanted other people like me to know that they're not alone, because it's so lonely when you don't know what's going on and you feel no-one can understand, and mental illness is so lonely.

“I also wanted to share information my mum and I have gathered over the last couple of years, from appointments, diagnosis and information books... basically just two years of trial and error.”

Lily, can you tell us some of the things you’ve had to work through during these two years?

“I've battled with insomnia, eating issues, medication problems; so much stuff that I wish someone would have told me about. And so many of the things I struggled with, it was so hard to find any help or advice. So now that I know all these things, I want to share them, so that others don't have to go through what I did to find out for themselves.

“Phew, that was a lot of words. I didn't know I had so many feelings about this!”

You’ve only recently received your diagnosis. How old are you now?

“I'm 18. Well, 18 chronologically but I feel a lot younger. I think that's a part of both autism and ADHD; your brain's a bit behind in development in some ways and you can be emotionally a little less mature. But I think I'm mature in others ways. Who knows, I'm still learning about all this. In a lot of ways I feel like I stopped ageing when I hit 14!”

Tell us about life at the moment…

“I'm not 'doing' anything at the moment as such but I'm preparing to go to college in September. It's been a while since I've been in school but I'll have an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP) this time so hopefully it will go well. I'm going to study Art and Film.

“As a family we're mainly just all focused on trying to move house at the moment. Lots of cleaning and hiding everything for house viewings then trying to find everything again. I know I struggle with change so I've kind of been hyper-focusing on the move and planning everything from the packing to what my room will look like.

“Other than that, I'm just trying to get back into doing stuff before I go to college. When I left college my mum and I planned all sorts of things to do together with all the time we thought we were going to have, and it was really exciting, but then I got ill and it just didn't work out.

“It's sad that we haven't been able to spend time together in that way but I needed the time to heal, and now I have from now up until September to do stuff with her and the rest of my family and just try to get back into life again. Even just going out for a dog walk is good. I'd quite like to go to a farm. Or a zoo. Or both. Anywhere I can hang out with animals and or that maybe has a petting zoo or an interactive bit. I like those.”

In your videos we can tell how much you love of comic art, tell us more…

“COMICS. I'll have to restrain myself here! Yes, I love comics. For a lot of reasons, probably more than I can actually name.
“Well I love art, and I love stories, so I guess the combination was just too amazing to resist. And even if I go a while without reading one, I still like to collect them. I find it kind of comforting to know I have a set, or that I've got the next few in a story lined up for when I do read them again. Even just looking at the cover art is enough sometimes, or drawing the characters and trying to learn from the artists and their different styles.”

What about the characters?

“The characters mean a lot to me, too. I really like finding out about them, and the dynamics between them.

“My favourite publisher is DC, and they have a lot of teams and 'families', so when a big event happens it kind of ripples through and you can see how their brother or mentor or whoever felt about it.

“I like to think about small things like whose room is next to whose, or what's their favourite thing to do together, or what do they have for dinner on their days off. Maybe it's because I struggle sometimes in real life with understanding emotions, but I really like how clear it is in comics. You can see just from their faces or their body language or even the way they use their powers. It's not cryptic. It's angry? Knock down a wall. Sad? Turn into a puppy and curl up in a blanket. And even when it's not so obvious, it gets me thinking about it, like, ‘Oh, this has just happened- I wonder if so and so is sad about it?

“It's good to have characters I can relate to, too. Even if what they're dealing with isn't exactly the same, it still helps to see how they deal with it.

“One of my favourite characters is Beast Boy. He's different, too. And it's pretty obvious (he's bright green). But I don't think I've ever seen him say that he wishes he wasn't. Or that he didn't have his powers, as much pain as they've caused him. He just takes it in his stride and has fun with it, and I really like that.

“I guess I hope I can be more like that. I’d love to enjoy it [autism] instead of seeing it as something to be ashamed of. And just to be super cheesy, here’s a quote…

"No one gets it, do they? Everyone assumes I'm unhappy because I haven't been 'normal' since I was a kid. They feel sorry for me...
...Yeah, life has been hard. It's sucked sometimes. But that doesn't mean I don't like it. And being 'normal' is overrated anyway" -Garfield Logan (Beast Boy)

“It’s as if they know how I feel better than I do.”

Lily had you heard of autism before you were diagnosed?

“Yes, I had heard of autism, but I don't think I really knew what it was. When he was four, and I was probably about six, my brother was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. So growing up, 'autism' was a word I was pretty used to. It was surprising as I got older to find out that not everyone had heard of Asperger’s. But, being six, I didn't study it or anything. It was just a part of my life.

“I learnt some of the attributes just by being around him, and could spot it in other people, but only in boys. That was the thing, for all everyone in my house knew about autism, it was all about boys. And even though I always had problems, I presented so differently to my brother that it was impossible to put us both under the same umbrella. I just did what girls with autism do: I hid it.

“I didn't run away, and I wasn't ‘badly behaved’ at school. Just a bit different. The more I learn about autism in girls, the more it makes sense, but it comes across so differently to my brother. That's why it's so important to make these videos; I had a brother with autism the whole time, and we still all missed it because it's so different in girls. It's so different in everyone, too, no one is exactly the same.”

Was having a name for your symptoms helpful?

It did help to have a word. People say 'don't label yourself' and it frustrates me because that's not how it is at all. They think I use it as an excuse, but it's just an explanation. You wouldn't tell someone with diabetes to ignore their diagnosis. They're not using it as an excuse to eat that, they're eating that because they have diabetes.

“I'm not using my autism as an excuse not to talk to you, I'm not talking to you because I'm autistic and so I'm a bit overwhelmed at the moment, try talking to me later.

“I like knowing what's going on now. I like being able to plan for things and understand what I need to do to cope because I know what upsets me and why.”

Was it difficult then before the diagnosis?

“Not knowing was horrible. I think anything is better than that. It's just so confusing and lonely. It helps my family to understand, too. For years they probably thought I was just being grumpy and withdrawn, but now they know that I'm just overwhelmed and I need time to reset. It helps there to be more understanding between us, and we can work together to figure things out.

“Even just today my mum told me that she'd read something in a book about ASC teens that made a lot of sense, and she now understood why I'd got so upset the other day. She can spot things in me and go 'ok, she's doing that because teens with autism experience this, so the way to help her is to do this'.

One of your videos on YouTube talks about handling the times when you’re struggling…

“That video was the result of many, many down days that weren't handled quite so well. But over the last while, we've tried different things and worked out what helps and what doesn't.

“My technique for dealing with it isn't perfect yet, but I've definitely learnt a lot about how to deal with it and come a long way from where I was a year or two years ago. Hopefully one day I'll be able to make a revised video, with some new techniques and better tips. I hope to be able to do one, one day, about how to make a down day into a good day, not just survive it, but I don't think I'm quite there yet.”

Lily we think you’re an incredible young woman, what are your hopes for the future?

“I don't know really to be honest, at the moment my main focuses are the new college and the new house. Just getting settled there would be nice. But I don't know, it would be pretty cool to be the first autistic character on Supernatural- they had a really good deaf character recently, so why not someone with an ASC?

“I would like to keep trying to spread awareness though, however I end up doing it. Even if it's just keeping going with my videos and getting into some kind of routine with them. I struggle a lot with keeping projects going, so I hope this will be different. Whatever I end up doing job-wise, I hope it's something creative. Making comics would be amazing. But at the moment I don't have any real plans. I'd just like to get a big dog at some point in the future! It's the important things, right? No life plan but at least I'll have a good cuddle buddy! Until then I think my only real plan is to see Justice League when it comes out in October. Life goals.”

Thanks Lily – you’ve been amazing.

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