James - Interview 49
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James, a psychology student was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when he was 12 years old. When he was very young, his parents were concerned about some of his behaviours; he would always want the same cup, plate and cutlery, play with the same toy constantly and his motor development was different. It wasn’t until he was about ten when James began to get headaches all the time and found being in the classroom very difficult that his parents began to push for a diagnosis. At around the same time, his peers began to start having more formal friendships and it became apparent that there was something different in his development.
James was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome during his first year of secondary school and describes how nobody real knew what to do with him. He found the diagnosis “pretty soul destroying” and describes feeling very bad about himself. It looked as though he would end up in residential care because he could not deal with the rigours of everyday life and he spent some time in a children’s psychiatric ward on anti-depressants.
His parents found a secondary school in the area which has a support base for children with high functioning autism and Asperger syndrome and James went there feeling ambivalent about it. For the first year at the base, he didn’t attend any mainstream classes and staff worked on his social skills, building his self esteem and enabling him to feel confident enough to enter mainstream classes. While he avoided going to the classes, the staff used the tactic of making life as boring as possible in the base and James eventually began to go back into the classroom.
He worked his way up to a 75% timetable over the years and was able to withdraw from classes and use quiet rooms in the base to relax when he became stressed. He made good progress academically but was told by the educational psychologist that he was unrealistic to expect that he could go to university. By the time he got to the fifth form, his confidence was growing and he had made some friends. He was selected to coach basketball and reached a turning point when he stood up in front of his year to explain what it was like to have Asperger syndrome. He went on to get straight ones in his Highers, was voted Prom King and Outstanding Pupil of the Year Award before going to on to university.
James is now in his third year of university studying psychology with a focus on autism. He has had financial support to provide him with equipment such as a hand held organiser which is important to help him to manage his problems with organisation. He has had a girlfriend since fresher’s week and describes himself as a ‘middle of the road’ student in terms of academic achievement and social life.
James felt very bad about himself when he was diagnosed during secondary school. He said it was ...
James was worried about going to university but it has been 'brilliant'.
And all of a sudden, you know, you find, you break the barrier, you start thinking well I quite like these people and you know... and you know I mean just for an example like, I made friends with, well basically I met up with this girl on the Sunday night and it was like Freshers week and I suppose it was one of these things where it is almost meant to be a little bit of a fun week and you go out and have a good time and everyone goes out clubbing and I met this girl and it was all going really, really well and I didn’t really think anything of it, but I am still going out now. So that has been three years since September, so that was sort of like brilliant.
It is like a financial sort of its where you get your student loans and all that. It is a financial support sort of place. They have quite a lot of generous funding actually. I will show you this in a minute because it is just here. [interruption] They gave me this and basically what it does, it allows me to sort of organise myself, organise when I have got meetings and things like that [coughs] and I can write to do lists and they probably do a lot more things and a lot of different fancy things that you probably know what to do but I don’t really know how to [laughs]. And basically it allows me to organise my week you know organise my week and things like that, my week at university and you know they have a disability advisor and basically I thought, I mean basically they will do whatever you need , and provide you funding for whatever you need, they provided funding for, for me for a lap top which is you know, great, a printer, a lot of financial sort of support in terms of things like that. And they were really generous in that sort of aspect.
James became significantly depressed as a child and ended up in a psychiatric ward.
In his last year at school James found that he had made friends without realising it at the time.
James talks about how he felt his life was an absolute nightmare but it turned around and how...
James describes how he gradually weaned himself off support and started university without...
The educational psychologist didn't think James would go to university.
James would like more books that say 'yes, actually, it's okay' and talk about more positive...
James has found self help books more useful than books written about autism.
James describes his schooling at the specialist base.
James summarises the ways in which the base helped him.
Can you sort of sum up what it was about the base that allowed you to obviously make the progress you have made. What was it they actually let you do or …?
I suppose they call it cognitive behavioural therapy. Just sort of stuff like learning social skills, you know, really working, you know really working quite hard on the social skills aspect and the organisation, [5 sec pause] really working on that sort of thing. Self esteem, I would probably say that’s the three things; self esteem, organisation, and social skills. Really, [coughs] making you feel that you could go out and have the [coughs] confidence to speak to people and just providing support day to day. Making like, knowing that some days like if it was too stressful to go to classes then they would understand that and they’ve got quiet rooms, little rooms forr you to go and work basically if you ever get stressed and it becomes a bit too much. You know if the environment gets too much you can go to a quiet room where you can calm down and sort of destress so to speak
And that was massive for you know, for myself and many other people in the base that here we have an opportunity. I look at a lot of people in the base and I look at myself and I know that is a massive factor. Like constantly like, well I know all bases aren’t perfect but I know looking at the place that I went to that they were you know, doubtlessly always looking for things for specific help for people with autism and Asperger's syndrome and ways to improve things, looking at the environment, the classrooms were painted with non-reflective paint, blinds to ensure there was no reflection through the window, not put ticking clocks in, and little things, using carpets so there is no reflection. And now even I came back and visited recently and now there’s things like exercise equipment in the base and they have got a Nintendo wii to help people exercise and keep them moving and improve their coordination.
So just things that are just looking at, I suppose it is just relentless, the base, what they do is just well for me the relevance is they look at every aspect and try to see what there is to improve you know. So I mean those specific things, even things down to looking at diet and I don’t mean that in the gluten free sense, like I drank cans of Iron Bru every lunchtime, you know, sort of looking at every little possibility like what is affecting my behaviour so they made me come off Iron Bru, well it turned out it wasn’t due to the Iron Bru but that’s just an example of, you know, of really looking at everything you know, just addressing your every need and it was just that, you see that compared to the academy, not that the academy is bad, just that they didn’t really have the opportunity or the resources to help in the same way the base did and I think that is probably what made the base so good.