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Lee Willis is inspired to and enhance the psychological, spiritual, social, emotional and physical wellbeing of individuals who are on the spectrum, diagnosed or not. Image: Contributed

Managing life on the spectrum

“I always thought I was a bit eccentric,” says Lee Willis, who, after self-diagnosing as “being on the spectrum”, subsequently confirmed her suspicion, clinically, “later in life”.

However, after that diagnosis she discovered there was “absolutely no support available for people on the spectrum in rural Australia”; so, Lee, who lived remotely, decided to do something about it.

“For over 30 years I have taught Qigong, Tai Chi Chuan, numerous types of meditation and Chinese brush painting,” she says.

“As an advocate for Asperger’s [syndrome] and autism spectrum disorder, I feel it is essential individuals on the spectrum have access to mental health care for general well-being.”

It was about 10 years after she self-diagnosed that Lee sought a professional diagnosis. “I denied it for quite a while because there can be a bit of stigma with it.

“I decided to get it done because I recognised it in my dad … and his siblings … my mother used to talk about it as being the ‘Willis disease’.”

According to a May 2021 article, ‘Autism genetics, explained’, which discusses genetic factors at length at, “Researchers have known that genes contribute to autism since the 1970s, when a team found that identical twins often share the condition.”

Meanwhile, Lee has taught specialised Tai Chi classes for disability groups. “My community work with these groups earned me admittance to Charles Sturt University to study ‘diversional therapy’.”

Diversional therapy practitioners work with people of all ages and abilities to design and facilitate leisure and recreation programs … to support, challenge and enhance the psychological, spiritual, social, emotional and physical wellbeing of individuals.

“At one of the classes I had in a nursing home,” says Lee, “there was a client who’d had a stroke and her right arm [was paralysed] … 18 months after doing my classes she could actually put her arm up in the air.”

Lee says it is essential to develop therapies to suit the client, diagnosed or not. “These therapies,” she says, “can include cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling, various meditations and breathing techniques – whatever the client feels will benefit and assist them to improve their quality of life.”