Think about how awful it would be if you were defined by your difficulties – if all of the things you could do were eclipsed by those things you couldn’t. Imagine if your individuality was subsumed beneath a label, a label people used to make judgements about your capabilities. If you can do that, you know what it’s like to be on the autism spectrum.
All the time we’re told what we’re not able to do, or what we shouldn’t be able to do because of our diagnosis. It’s true that we have challenges; it’s true that many of us suffer from anxiety; but that does not mean we need to be wrapped in cotton wool and prevented from experiencing both the highs and lows that life has to offer.
When I was invited to speak at the Inservice Autisme conference in Belgium, it seemed like something I wouldn’t be able to do. My previous speech had been to fifteen Aspies in a café in Dorchester, and that was hard enough – going abroad to speak at a conference to more than two-hundred experts was an order of magnitude beyond what I thought I’d be capable of.
Adding to my worries was the fact that also on the bill were Autism Wessex Ambassador and international opera star Sophia Grech, and bestselling author of Freaks, Geeks and Asperger’s Syndrome Luke Jackson. I’m just a little-known househusband from Dorset. How could I possibly have anything to offer among such august company?
But I decided to do it anyway.
Without the assistance of my father, who drove me through the busiest and most confusing road system I’ve ever seen – Antwerp – I would never have made it. Before my speech, I was really panicking. I struggled to breathe, and my heart felt as though it would beat clean out of my chest. But I took a deep breath, forced it all inwards, and stepped up to the podium.
After I started, everything seemed to click into place. The audience was very attentive, laughing in the right places and nodding enthusiastically as I spoke, and I really felt as though I made a difference to how people see autism. Afterwards, several people came up to me and told me that my speech had struck a chord with them. A therapist even said he would use one of the models I came up with in his teaching, and it’s wonderful to know that I might have been able to help some people.
And Luke and Sophia turned out to be two of the nicest, most welcoming and down-to-earth people I’ve ever met.
Wrapping us in cotton wool keeps us safe, but it also prevents us from growing as people. Though it was a struggle to get there and I was terrified beforehand, speaking at the conference was such a positive experience that I feel privileged to have been involved. It just goes to show what those of us on the spectrum can achieve if we refuse to let our difficulties define us.
Published author and blogger Gillan shares his experiences of being a dad and living with Asperger’s Syndrome in his book and on his popular blog. Gillan is a guest speaker for us and has featured in our My Life with Autism event series.
We have asked our guest bloggers for their opinions. This blog represents Gillan’s own views.