Interview by Jenny Bristol
Illustration by Rebecca Burgess
Christa Holmans is a bold and dynamic advocate for autistic people and neurodiversity. To help accommodate her own needs, she lives in an RV while also working remotely in a full-time leadership position on top of her advocacy work. She’s the pioneer of the important #askingautistics hashtag on Twitter, allowing anyone—whether or not they are autistic themselves—to ask questions of autistic people so they can get an Own Voices perspective.
Christa works long hours but maintains healthy boundaries by unplugging on evenings and weekends to allow time for self-care and to maintain relationships. She loves rules and structure and works hard to master things she’s passionate about. She feels that her gifts come from her neurodiversity just as much as her struggles do, and that the diversity of our population allows us to help each other. This interview includes some great advice for young autistics along with important perspective for parents of autistic kids.
What does a typical work/regular day look like for you (or, if there isn’t a typical day, describe one that is representative of your work/regular life)?
If I’m not traveling/speaking, I wake up most mornings around 5:00am. I am typically on the computer and ready to start my NeuroRebel work by 5:30am. In the mornings I check social media, NeuroRebel emails, and work on writing and other collaborations related to my autism work. If I’m memorizing a speech, I will work on that in the morning too. I normally conclude these tasks by 7am and prepare to log into my full-time job with the Austin Alliance Group by 7:30am.
If it’s a regular work day, I typically work remotely from 7:30am–5:30pm. I can do my “office work” from anywhere as long as I have the internet and a phone signal. I try to schedule any interviews/podcasts for the afternoon (after 2pm, when our 4 dogs are sleeping). Sometimes content creation is tricky in a small space. Then, I normally work on NeuroRebel tasks for at least another hour before logging off for the day between 6:30pm & 7:00pm.
Then I unplug, and shutdown my laptop. I have a policy, to encourage self-care and prevent burnout, that I do not work evenings/weekends. Also, because I tend to be an “all or nothing” type person, this is essential to making sure my personal real-world relationships don’t fall apart. Otherwise I can neglect people.
The travel days look VERY different when I do speaking & presentations.
What hobbies or interests do you have outside of your work?
On weekends, we RV, traveling to nearby destinations—often parking near water (lakes, rivers, the ocean). In the past I’ve had some wild hobbies—from circus arts, fire spinning, and Acrobatic Yoga to animal behavior and human psychology.
Other than my blog—which has been my BIGGEST hobby for the past 3 years—my current hobbies and interests are mostly focused on communication and business psychology, but I also enjoy creative activities, like web and graphic design.
How does being autistic help or hinder your work or hobbies?
I’m either an expert at something or I suck at it. There is no in between. If I love something, eventually I’ll probably master it because I won’t stop until I do. I can’t stop. The desire to have “all the information” available is very strong in me. I need to know how things work, and I love rules & structure.
I work in HR & business consulting. Being someone who can appreciate and memorize all workplace “rules” and procedures, and my extreme dislike of being told what to do (PDA), have led me to office leadership. Also, because I learn topics so deeply, in many cases I enjoy being the person who teaches/trains others within my department.
Now, with my love of all things Neurodiversity—I’m turning that love of knowledge and teaching into something much bigger.
What kinds of changes or accommodations do you make in your life to allow you to be successful?
When I worked in an open office with florescent lighting, my neurological health started to decline, triggering frequent migraines and painful sensory overloads. Now, in my new role with AAG, I work remotely most of the time so that I am rested and can handle intense sensory situations when they do come up. When I DO have to go into situations that are hostile to my senses, I wear sunglasses, hats, headphones, and earplugs as needed.
I also struggle with executive functioning and short-term memory. I depend on my visual schedule to keep me on track. All my tasks for work are placed on my calendar, and as the day goes by, I check them off one by one. It keeps me on track of MANY COMPLEX TASKS and makes sure I don’t forget anything. This is what confuses people the most—I can get MANY complex tasks done, but simple things trip me up sometimes. For example, I use a trick of moving around bottles in the shower to help me remember what step I’m on, because I can’t remember & lose track if I’ve shampooed or conditioned.
Have you experienced discrimination or bullying because of your autism or autistic traits?
I have been bullied by peers, teachers, and even people who were supposed to take care of me. I think the worst was when my teacher would tie my feet to my chair to keep them still or, when I tried to report bullying to the same teacher, she told me “if I acted normal the other kids would leave me alone.” I didn’t know what she meant/how they wanted me to act. I was being “normal” to me.
What advice would you give to a young or teenage autistic person to help them live their best life, or what advice would you give an autistic adult to help them feel supported in their continuing journey?
“I know it’s hard, but find a way to STOP caring so much about what other people think.”
When we care too much about the opinions of others, we put our own needs second. It is a betrayal of self, and that can be devastating. In my life, I’ve struggled with anxiety and maintaining my mental health. I’ve watched the patterns as my anxiety has spiked, and my self-worth has gone down. My happiest moments are when I’m living authentically. My most miserable were when I let the demands and expectations of others crush me.
What advice would you give parents of autistic kids about the best ways to support their kids in becoming their best selves? What advice from the “experts” do you think parents should ignore?
Let’s start with what they need to ignore: Especially in VERY YOUNG CHILDREN, you need to ignore anything that starts with, “Your child may never…” Throw that out the window. It’s true, your autistic child may not be able to do some things that neurotypicals can as adults, or if they can do them it may require extreme amounts of effort, but don’t let shortcomings and missed expectations become all your child hears about. Remember you are trying to build a young person’s self-esteem.
Help your child focus on what they are good at and enjoy doing. Empower them, encourage them, and most importantly don’t give up on them. Remember, there’s not a “normal” kid hiding under the autism; your child is autistic—this is part of who they are, their experience, thinking style, and even their personality.
Start reading to your kids at a young age, running your fingers under the words as you read aloud. If your child is pre-speech or non-speaking, remember that doesn’t mean they cannot understand you.
What was one piece of advice you received that helped you be comfortable with who you are?
Just learning about neurodiversity. I used to be VERY hard on myself for struggling, greatly sometimes, with things other people did easily. Now I know I’m autistic, and I can see how much my gifts are also tied into that as much as every struggle ever was. There is a duality, two sides of the same coin.
Then there is neurodiversity.
“I don’t have to be good at everything, because other people in this world have the skills I lack and desire the skills I have. We can help each other. It’s beautiful.”
How does living on the road fit in well with your neurodivergent traits and how you want to live?
Living in an RV has suited me as an autistic person for a few reasons.
- Roaming sensory bubble with a private bathroom! 😉
- Smaller space easier to keep clean/clean quickly.
- Reduced living costs.
- Traveling is fun and much easier when you take your home with you. No packing, no unpacking, you have everything you need on the bus. It’s your house, ready to move.
What are the best ways for people to connect with you?
I’m everywhere! My website is probably the easiest because it has links to everything else.
- Website: https://neurodivergentrebel.com/
- Facebook: www.Facebook.com/NeurodivergentRebel
- Twitter: @NeuroRebel
- Instagram: @NeurodivergentRebel
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