Liane Holliday Willey, is an author and doctoral professor. Her books, which are often described as, “compelling and witty” include Pretending to be Normal and Safety Skills for Asperger Women. She’s an activist, motivational and educational speaker, and fortunately for us, a member of our Self Advocate Advisory Board. Here are Liane’s answers to a few of our questions relating to her autism diagnosis and Felicity House.
Bio: At 35, Liane was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, and just like that, her life zoomed into focus. Unafraid to tell it like it is, Liane became passionate about refocusing her interests on diversity training. Knowing what it is like to a pretty smart cookie who nonetheless struggles with multi-tasking, organization, social skills, sensory integration, literal thinking, anxiety, & rigid thinking patterns, Liane gives motivational and educational presentations that take her audiences on a whirlwind tour of how challenging it can be to survive and thrive in a society that doesn’t easily accept those who are different. Liane holds a Doctorate of Education with a specialty in psycholinguistics and learning style differences. Liane likes to share her experiences of living with Asperger’s syndrome with audiences worldwide, bringing positive insight along with the real, the fun and the not so happy memories she has gathered over the years during her stints as a university professor, writer, horse barn manager, french fry maker, community volunteer, wife and mother. Whether she is talking to large groups, leading a small group seminar, writing a book or blog, or serving as a board member, Liane’s goal is to help others understand the importance of accepting differences and individuality.
What excites you most about joining the Felicity House Self Advocacy Advisory Board?
So many things! I am humbled and honored to be even a tiny part of a group that understands the right to be oneself is sacred and grand. I love the spirit of Felicity House because it reminds us to stay true to who we are, because that is precisely who we were meant to be. The mission statement of Felicity House will help generations of ASD females find friendships, independence and enlightenment. How cool is that?!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Dear young Liane: You are a cool kid who does not have to try so hard to be good at the things that cause you too much difficulty or remorse. So what if you have a hard time understanding sarcasm? You will get the hang of figurative language as time goes by. Do not try to self-medicate with alcohol, or sugar or too much exercise because in the long run, those things will only make everything more complicated and dangerous. Try not to get so excited over anything. Anxiety will only hurt your stomach and make your heart race faster than a thoroughbred headed for first place. And for Pete’s sake, do not let the land mines that sit ready and able to pop up and scare you, or embarrass you, or exile you, ruin your chance for a good life. No one but you gets to decide your worth. And you are worth a lot. Believe that.
What do you embrace most about your autism diagnosis?
I embrace the detailed and almost forever memories autism has helped me form. Being able to pull from the past like it was today is a wonderful gift. Sure, it is not always easy remembering painful scars as if they were brand new wounds, but it is a gift to think about favorite people, moments and experiences in ways that all of my senses tickle and delight.
Who inspires you and why?
My father. He understood good character, commitment, dependability, honesty and pragmatism were the characteristics a good human strives for. He never tried to “keep up with the neighbors”. He always shared what he had with those who had less. He never forgot those who bullied them, but he got even with their ill will when he turned his autism into the very machine that helped him focus on goals and learn things others that would help him help people, because as he would say, “The best way to beat a bully is to never become one yourself.”
Who is your favorite fictional character?
Lucy from I Love Lucy and The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.
Fun facts about your home state of Michigan:
Michigan was the first state to provide in its Constitution for the establishment of public libraries and the first state to guarantee every child the right to tax-paid high school education.