World Autism Awareness Day – Brogan Evans’ story

Today we celebrate World Autism Awareness Day by talking to Wales Women’s international player Brogan Evans, who is openly autistic – she has Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and also Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). WRL’s head of media, Ian Golden, who is also autistic, performed the interview.

“I talk quite openly about my autism and am proud to be a role model and work in mentoring other young neurodiverse people,” she says. “It sounds cliché but rugby really has changed my life. Team sport gave me confidence, helped improve my social skills and through it, I found a bunch of incredible patient and understanding friends.”

When someone plays sport, they often have to learn to adapt and change their methods when either a new coach comes into a club, if they get selected for an international side or move clubs. Brogan was one of the Women’s Super League’s most successful players last year topping the charts for tackles (499) and carries (287), playing for Salford Red Devils. She was selected for Wales for the first time last year, playing against England, and this year has signed for Wigan Warriors.

As autistic people often find change difficult as they have “rigid thinking” or “black and white thinking” and value consistency and predictability (and the world around us is often the complete opposite of this), how has Brogan coped with change in routine?

“The managers at my rugby team are really supportive,” she says. “For example before our first away game this season, I messaged them and asked a series of questions about the volume and atmosphere on the coach and I could then judge what I needed to pack, like earplugs, headphones and stim toys, and if I could arrange a lift home if I needed to have more quiet time. I have a fear of being trapped and not being able to get away if I needed to, so away games and especially international away games with Wales cause a lot of anxiety for me.

“The biggest challenge for me in rugby is the social aspect. I’ve always struggled with fitting in and making friends. So when I was invited to join the Welsh squad, and also to leave my team at Salford and sign for Wigan, a whirlwind of emotions hit me. I wanted to play for Wigan, they’re a phenomenal team with an England legend in Denis Betts coaching them, who could really develop my playing ability. But it was also a new training schedule and most terrifyingly, new players to get to know.

“Walking into a new team, where everyone else knows each other and you don’t know anyone is scary for most people. For me, it involved sleepless nights and sitting in my car shaking for 20 minutes before walking in for the first time. I’ve been with Wigan for a few months now and am just starting to find my confidence, which was been massively helped by how nice and non-judgemental the girls are.”

Many players have their pre-match routines, that isn’t confined to neurodiverse people, but luckily for Brogan, she actually isn’t as regimented in routine as a lot of people in ASD are. Every neurodivergent person is different, there are no rules.

“I don’t have specific prematch rituals I have to perform that would affect my game if were disrupted,” she admits. “But I do struggle with last-minute changes or disruptions, for example, if training is cancelled or kick-off is delayed.

“It’s helpful to visualise my daily tolerance level as a bottle of Coke – every little disruption to my day, every behaviour I mask, every social interaction I come across, every new unfamiliar environment, it all makes that bottle shake a little bit more until eventually the Coke explodes and I’d have a meltdown. I spend every day of my life trying to juggle and preempt things that might drain me and find ways to balance that with time to relax to prevent a blow-out.”

These days, with far more education about ASD, more and more parents and guardians are able to diagnose their child earlier – it’s a long waiting list these days. But Brogan was an adult before she received any kind of diagnosis.

“My older brother and I are both neurodiverse,” she says. “This is quite common in siblings. He has ASD and is academically a genius, but struggles more socially. 

“Growing up it was more apparent to our family that my brother was on the spectrum, his struggles were more visibly apparent than mine, potentially due to girl’s ability to mask. Masking in autism is where a person with ASD learns to appear non-autistic by imitating behaviours of neurotypicals to meet social expectations. This is typically more common in girls. My parents only had two children and I guess compared to my brother I seemed to be doing really well, so for this reason my autism and difficulties went unnoticed and unsupported until my late teenage years when I had a breakdown and was hospitalised.

“Masking is often subconscious, so I don’t even think I realised I was doing it, but it is also exhausting. It led to regular burn-outs and the eventual deterioration to my mental health. For me, masking behaviours included things like forcing myself to maintain eye contact, something I actually find quite difficult but I know is a social expectation – you are often viewed as rude if you don’t look at someone when they’re speaking to you.

“It’s hard to say exactly when I realised I might be neurodiverse, but I worked a lot in Special Educational Needs and the more young people with ASD I met, the more I realised a lot of their feelings and behaviours were mirrored in myself.

“Issues around food and eating was one of the many traits I had in common with the young people I worked with and so I started to question if I had ASD too. So, I wasn’t actually diagnosed until I was a young adult.

“Getting a diagnosis was like all the pieces of a jigsaw being put into place and finally making sense. All the things I’d silently battled and struggled with for years, which made me believe that there was something wrong with me finally made sense. I’m not broken, my brain just works a little differently to other people’s. I’ve since been able to do work on understanding myself, learning to recognise my triggers and ways in which I can support myself and ask for what I need from the people around me to support me too. It’s made my world a much nicer place to be.”

So how does it feel to be just two games away from playing in the 2026 Women’s Rugby League World Cup, which will be played in the southern hemisphere in a country or countries still to be confirmed?

“If someone turned round and told the 15 year old me that one day they’d be representing their country in sport, I would have laughed in their face,” she says. “But here we are, a few weeks away from our first World Cup qualifier. Watch this space.”

Wales take on Ireland in the first Women’s Rugby League World Cup qualifying match on Saturday 27 April at Cardiff University Sports Park in Llanrumney, Cardiff. Kick-off 2.45pm.


Reaction below from Ian Golden…

I’m not going to type too much here as this is Brogan’s piece, you can check out my post on my Facebook page from today, which will say a lot more about me and my autism. But I’d like to thank Brogan for speaking to me about her story. It’s meant a lot to me and there are traits I can see in myself there. Brogan is a youngster of 28 years, I’m 52 and I was only diagnosed last year, after a year on the waiting list and two or three years of just wondering. “I’m not broken, my brain just works a little differently to other people’s.” is the quote from Brogan that stands out for me.

If you think you or anyone else in your family is autistic, get yourself diagnosed. Go to your for more information. For your local contacts in Wales, go to