Recently our Fundraising Officer, Paige, met with Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Tony Rudd to talk about his experiences. Tony was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism.
Tony was diagnosed later in life at the age of 55, and he says, “Everything seemed to fall into place after I was diagnosed. I was so fascinated by Asperger’s and how having the diagnosis had managed to shed a new light on various aspects of my life.” Tony has completely embraced his diagnosis. His positivity was infectious during the meeting.
Tony is an Impressionist, Voice Actor and Comedian, a career he has had for over 25 years. When he’s not busy on stage he manages Vibe Radio, a radio station at a specialist school for children with disabilities. He teaches the students the art of radio presenting, audio editing, and voice-over work, which they can then broadcast across the school intranet.
It was during his work on the radio station that Tony began to notice traits of himself in some of the students who have autism. He discussed this with a colleague, who agreed with him. This was the first step in seeking a diagnosis.
“At school, I was seen as shy, or socially awkward. I would keep myself to myself. I struggled to understand other people’s sarcasm. I often thought if someone was sarcastic to me then it meant they didn’t like me.
Before my diagnosis, I knew very little about autism, only things I had learnt from the students I teach at the radio station. I had always believed that everyone was the same as me, so after being diagnosed I began to question things a bit more. I wondered why I was different.
In terms of how Asperger’s affects me, I can sometimes struggle with co-ordination and simple tasks. Often I am thinking outside the box, which means I can miss obvious solutions to problems; however it also means that I can solve problems other people can’t, as I think of solutions they haven’t thought of! Another way Asperger’s affects me is my hearing. I can’t always hear low frequency sounds, and higher frequency sounds such as an ambulance can cause me physical pain and discomfort.
There are certain things that I know can trigger me, which will sometimes lead to a meltdown, in particular, traffic jams, queues, and buffering computers. I have always had these triggers even before being diagnosed, but at the time, I wasn’t aware that what I was experiencing was a meltdown. My wife would often get quite angry with me, as she couldn’t understand why I had gotten into such a state over a computer loading, or a traffic jam. But, we now understand that this is a meltdown, and that meltdowns are common for people with ASD. Since diagnosis, I have had varying degrees of success in planning to avoid my potential triggers. For example, if I’m travelling to do a performance, I’ll travel very early in the morning, or very late at night, to avoid the risk of being stuck in traffic.
Even though I was considered shy at school, I pursued a career on stage. I loved making people laugh and I enjoyed learning to impersonate people. I think being on stage helped me to become more socially aware. I began mimicking people, and learning social skills so that people wouldn’t know I didn’t naturally have these.
This year I made it to the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent, with a crazy idea of using household items to enhance the voices I was impersonating. My hero is Robin Williams, so I base a lot of my humour on his work. Performing at the London Palladium has always been a lifelong dream for me, so this was probably the most nerve-wracking part of the experience! I prepared for my performance in the same way I would for any other show, but I was still nervous. As soon as the audience and judges laughed at my first impression, I felt at ease and I knew it was going to be fine. To get the comments and reactions I received from Amanda and the other judges was incredible, they were so positive and loved the routine. I didn’t get to the final but I’m proud to have got to the semis with a truly bonkers idea.
Asperger’s has brought me great positivity; having that diagnosis really did make everything fall into place for me. I honestly don’t believe I could have created the routine I performed on Britain’s Got Talent if it weren’t for my Asperger’s. I also believe that having Asperger’s has made me more child-like, I’ve not really grown up! I loved science at school, and I still do now. I recently visited the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, which was an incredible experience for me. I also love Disney, so much so that I married my wife at Disney World, and we go back to visit regularly. I embraced the diagnosis as soon as I received it, and I want to help raise awareness of autism and show that it doesn’t need to be a bad thing.
If I could say anything to someone who is seeking a diagnosis, or has recently been diagnosed, it would be this… people with autism are still people. Even though you have this diagnosis, don’t be afraid. Keep focusing on what you are good at, and embrace the creativeness that autism brings out in you!”