Nova Scotia

Cape Breton filmmaker to share untold stories of Nova Scotians with autism

Taylor Linloff, a filmmaker and autism advocate from Port Hawkesbury, N.S., is documenting the stories of Nova Scotians with autism in her new documentary, A Strong Name, which she hopes to release next spring.

Taylor Linloff hopes to release her documentary next spring

Taylor Linloff, 25, was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum just before her 24th birthday. (Taylor Linloff)

It took Taylor Linloff nearly 24 years to find out why she always felt different, and she doesn't want anyone else to have to wait that long.

Linloff was diagnosed late in life as being on the autism spectrum.

"I felt relieved. I wasn't broken," said the 25-year-old from Port Hawkesbury, N.S. "All those years being told that there's something wrong with me, there really wasn't."

The filmmaker and autism advocate is hoping her story inspires other Nova Scotians with autism living in rural communities to share their experiences as part of her new documentary, A Strong Name.

"I don't want this just to be about me because I know who I am now. But there's a lot of people who are still being cast into the shadows, and as someone who knows what that's like, it's time to shine light on those people," Linloff said.

Why it was hard to get a diagnosis

Linloff was a smart kid who spent her days reading Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe, but never really fit in. She said she had trouble understanding social cues and making eye contact, and was bullied because of it.

It took a mental health crisis just before her 24th birthday for Linloff to see a doctor and get referred to a specialist.

Linloff's mom, Adele Fox, said she knew her child struggled, but never realized it could be autism, and she hopes the documentary helps other parents notice the signs.

Taylor Linloff got the name of her documentary from something her mom always tells her. (Taylor Linloff)

"I don't want anyone to suffer like she did," said Fox.

Linloff and Fox say the criteria that's often used to identify autism in kids, leaves a whole bunch of people out of the equation.

"If you're an oppressed or marginalized person, it's very common to go as a late-in-life diagnosis. For many, many years, the criteria for autism was based on studying only white, cisgender, heterosexual middle-class boys," said Linloff, who identifies as a non-binary/queer femme.

Diagnosis can be costly

Vicki Harvey, chapter co-ordinator with Autism Nova Scotia, said while there have been major strides in identifying autism in kids, some people are still missed.

In order to be assessed and diagnosed after the age of 18, Nova Scotians have to pay to see a private psychologist, said Harvey.

"There isn't a public system easily accessible for them … and that limits a lot of people because a private assessment, you know, is costly," she said.

Vicki Harvey works for Autism Nova Scotia. (Robert Short/CBC)

Harvey wants to see more professionals as part of the publicly-funded health system who are trained to diagnose autism in adults.

After Linloff was diagnosed with autism, the next challenge was accessing support in a small town on a low-income salary.

"There's not a lot of support for adults. It's really unfortunate," Linloff said. "So many programs built for autistic people are for children or for their parents or caregivers."

Autism Nova Scotia now has nine chapters from Yarmouth to Cape Breton, eight of which are in rural communities, and Harvey said work is being done to offer more programs specifically for adults.

She said many chapters now offer employment, recreation and social programs, like chat n' chill nights and games of Dungeons and Dragons.

"It's been very exciting to see that," Harvey said. "We're still growing that. Some regions are farther ahead than others, so it takes time."

The title of Linloff's documentary comes from something her mom says. Whenever she's feeling down, Fox asks her one question, "Why did I name you Taylor?"

"Because it's a strong name for a strong woman," Linloff replies.

Linloff said the film is entirely self-funded — she's filming interviews on her cellphone between shifts at her two jobs — but she's determined to finish it in time for World Autism Awareness Day next April.

"We do need to move past awareness of autism and move to acceptance of autism," Linloff said. "There's a big difference in being aware that someone is autistic and being accepting and embracing of somebody being autistic."