A mum who was told by teachers she “wasn’t very bright” has gained a post graduate diploma and become an “accidental influencer” on TikTok where she has 40K followers after being diagnosed with autism and ADHD in her forties.
After decades of people suggesting she could have autism – a neurological difference affecting how people communicate and interact with the world – Rachel Winder, 43, was diagnosed, aged 40, also discovering she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at 41, which can cause restlessness and concentration problems.
Now Rachel, who lives in Derby with her husband and two sons, has made a virtue of her neurological difference, with a TikTok channel devoted to neurodivergence, or variations in the human brain and cognition, such as those seen in people with autism, saying: “I suppose I am an influencer now. I just hope I’m a good influence.
“I just want people to know there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with us. We just have different ways of working.”
With an astonishing near 40K followers devoted to watching her videos, in which she shares her knowledge of neurological differences like autism and ADHD, Rachel, who admits to struggling at school, has proved she is an excellent communicator.
Leaving her own diagnoses very late, she said: “I don’t think you need to be diagnosed as such. It’s not an illness.
“Being autistic and being ADHD doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It’s not necessarily a problem. It’s the inflexibility of the environment that causes issues.
“At school I was told I wasn’t very bright, wouldn’t amount to anything. By my late 30s, I was really struggling.”
She added: “I was posting about things. Just simple things like thinking the world was against me and everything feeling very personal.
“I had many bad years of feeling helpless. I felt like everyone else could function and do things and I was there struggling. Things just got too much for me.
“A friend got in touch and recommended I join an autism support group. I joined the group and it was like, ‘Wow’. People from all over the world were sharing stories similar to mine.
“Up until that point I’d thought I was the only one and I thought there was something wrong with me.
“Suddenly I started to learn more from other people. It gave me all this knowledge and I started researching.”
Finally getting her diagnosis of autism at the age of 40 in 2018, Rachel soon decided to begin a post graduate diploma in autism education at Sheffield Hallam University.
Despite also being diagnosed with dyslexia, a learning difficulty that mainly causes problems with reading, writing and spelling, Rachel completed the course with flying colours.
A year on, she was also diagnosed with ADHD, saying: “The man who diagnosed me said my case was very severe.”
She added: “I just looked at him and cheered. I said, ‘At least I’m good at something!’ He looked at me as if to say this was nothing to be proud of.
“But life is so short and you only get one go. I’m the kind of person who will always make the most of what I’ve got.”
Trained in British sign language, which she began learning in secondary school, Rachel was already running a small TikTok channel, where she signed along to popular songs.
And, after learning so much about autism, she began posting videos about it in late 2020 and quickly gained a huge following.
Now with nearly 40K followers on her page @auticulate, Rachel, whose sons, aged four and eight are neurodivergent, feels proud of her role in dispelling misinformation around autism.
She said: “I always explain autism as being like a person at the checkout with a trolley full of items.
“Someone who is of the predominant neurotype – so is without autism or other diagnosis – may have just a basket of items. You’re both putting the things through at the same speed, but the autistic person will finish later. Not because they are slower. It’s just more to process.”
She added: “I think that’s why it was always assumed I wasn’t very bright, as I couldn’t respond in the moment.
“I now just want to help other people realise there is nothing wrong with them either.
“I’m not interested in fame or fortune from all of this. I just want to help people. I like to problem solve and that’s where I feel comfortable.”
While Rachel has a personal assistant to help her with daily tasks such as sorting washing, as she struggles to focus, she finds great pride in sharing her posts online and in the supportive messages she receives from followers.
She also signs through each of her videos, explaining: “I sign through all my videos because I can. Plus, I’d be excluding a whole community of sign language users otherwise.”
Rachel is a huge advocate for tailoring environments to the neurodivergent brain, favouring a ‘low arousal approach’ of calming anxiety before engaging.
She says implementing this and other strategies in her own life have allowed her to find a happier, more settled place.
She explained: “I was given so many wrong labels over the years and I didn’t know who I was or why I was different.
“Finding the correct labels has saved my life. There are good days and bad days, of course, but things are so much better now I truly understand what is happening and what I need.
“I hope I can help others to feel the same way.”