Virginia Betts, one of the Neurodelicious collective of neurodivergent artists debuting its show in East Anglia this month, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 45. Here, the published author and English tutor explains how the diagnosis has led to a positive change in her life
My life has been a whirlwind of change and opportunities. I have been involved in theatre, I worked as a secondary schoolteacher and then started my own tuition business in 2013. I wrote two books published this Summer and I’m also working as a professional actress and performer. I’m happier as I’ve got older. It’s never too late to change direction. I was diagnosed with autism at age 45. This revelation made a positive change to my life as I felt I could be who I really am. I get support where I need it and I excel in the things I’m good at.
Yes, I am a passionate advocate for neurodiversity as neurodivergent people have a lot to offer. They can be disadvantaged in a neurotypical world and so many people lose confidence. I teach many neurodivergent students so I feel I can connect with them and help them to succeed on their own terms. I have advocated in a court room to help a highly intelligent child with autism gain an appropriate school place.
I taught in schools for 16 years and I have tutored since 2013. It’s been very successful, and I always have around 28 students per week. During the pandemic I simply went online and now I’m half online and half face to face. I now tutor children in other areas and even worldwide.
I wrote a book of short stories called The Camera Obscure during lockdown and put together a book of my poetry called Tourist to the Sun. I’d been getting published since 2019 so decided to get these together and keep going. They were both published in Summer 2022.
The stories are a collection which allude to the Victorian Gothic style. I’m fond of beautiful words. But they are many different settings and eras and even dystopian futures. They are mostly supernatural but deal with dark themes like vanity, psychopathy, addiction, mental health. There is some dry humour in there too: one is set in a Victorian graveyard with a twist. The poetry is also on many subjects but connect with a sense of the passing of time. It possibly taps into very human fears of death and insignificance. Marking our mark is what drives us. Time’s march drives us.
I’m so lucky to have met other creatives and was asked to be part of Hannah Aria’s Neurodelicious, (an all neurodivergent cast) to perform my work. We will be touring in Spring 2023 after Cambridge Junction and Colchester Arts Centre this October. I’m performing two poems from my book and Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights – as Kate. I’m lip syncing while I dance but to my own voice singing it.
I have liked her music since I was a teenager and always told I looked like her. I discovered I could sound like her, and I happened to mention this to Hannah in passing and the whole performance grew from that. Chloe Akasha in our team did my choreography as she’s a professional dancer. Christina, also in our team, is performing with me in Tourist to the Sun and it involves gold wings and glitter that would rival Elton John (whom I love!)
I’m looking forward to more venues and development with Neurodelicious as it has a strong purpose to make theatre more accessible to all and showcase neurodivergent talents. It’s also fun! We have dates for next year in London and Ipswich.
There are more books being written. I’m writing a fantasy novel and have done four chapters. It is perhaps in the Terry Pratchett style genre: funny and serious. I’ve written 12 new poems for the next book and nine stories so far for the next story collection. I’m also still tutoring. If I’m not working all the time I’m lost really. However, I still find time to have downtime with my lovely husband, an NHS nurse practitioner, and my son who is currently a student of literature at university.
Virginia Betts will be performing as part of Neurodelicious Launch Pad at Cambridge Juntion tomorrow night (Friday October 7) and at Colchester Fringe on Sunday October 23. Also, visit virginiabetts.com.