12th anniversary of autism diagnosis.

Dear all,

Personal statement: Aspergers Syndrome.

This week marked the 12th anniversary since I got my formal diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. I want to thank the staff at Plockton High School for giving me the opportunity to get a formal diagnosis. To the hostel staff for their support and to and everyone at Plockton Music School for all the encouragement they gave me. To the autism assessment team in Inverness for their advice. Getting a formal diagnosis will be up there as the most emotional moments that I’ve had in my life. A big thanks also to my parents for the stable, loving and protective upbringing that they gave me. Their support for me getting a diagnosis was solid and in no doubt whatsoever.

From then to now a lot has happened. I was the first in my family to go to University, got a 2:1 Honours degree in Law and Politics, worked in the UK Parliament, stayed in London, spoke at various autism conferences, joined the Fife Strathspey and Reel Society and the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra. I’ve attended a few Young Farmers events, rejoined Largo Curling Club and been active politically.

A lot has been achieved over these past 12 years and I think and hope I have developed into a more confident individual than what I was in 2008.

There have, however, been challenges. As I have come to understand my condition and how impacts upon me that has meant that I have become more aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I am not scared to admit that I have many flaws. Social media has been a nightmare for me to navigate and a lot of my “social blunders” have come from Facebook and twitter. I have overshared, been very open, too trusting and made myself very vulnerable at times. Social media has made me arrive at decisions which were wrong and which went against my gut instinct. I still get anxious when meeting new people and going to social events. However, it is not as bad as when I was younger. I still come down very hard on myself when I make mistakes or have perceived to have made mistakes. That stems from my perfectionism and perhaps a fear of failure and rejection too. One of the biggest weaknesses has not been having the confidence to be true to myself, to mask my real self and to try and change who I am in order to fit in with society and make friends. I’ve felt huge pressure to conform to how others lead their lives. That, above all else, has been the biggest challenge I have faced and is, in part, a legacy of my experiences in my younger years where I felt socially isolated and did not feel accepted nor part of the community where I come from. That has also had a very serious impact upon my mental health and has been the source of my bouts of anxiety and severe loss of confidence and self-esteem. It has exhausted me at times. I also know I’ve caused confusion, frustrated people and some people have left my life. As I have tried to find myself I sincerely apologise for having everyone on what seems to have been a very bumpy rollercoaster ride. I also apologise to everyone for all the shit I’ve said and the many mistakes I’ve made socially. I’ve grown up and I’ve learned a lot.

As far as my strengths go then I am aspirational, very driven and focused, a disciplinarian, a perfectionist, sets extremely high standards (particularly in music), a hard worker and loyal to those I care about most and what I am most passionate about in life. I’m also what one may call “fastidious”. One strength that I have had the confidence in developing is public speaking. This has been strange one because when I was younger I felt a huge amount of shame for the way I spoke. I spoke differently to how others spoke. As my diagnosis letter states “David has well developed speech and language skills and uses complex language in a formal, adult style”. I think I did and still do speak in a very mature style. That has helped me when it comes to public speaking and I now have the confidence to not feel shame when I speak although the nerves can still show at times particularly when I’m in the local community.

Looking ahead, and it is vitally important to look forwards, I want to push on, embrace my strengths and above all else to be true to myself regardless of what anybody else thinks. I want to continue to show that being autistic is no barrier to me achieving everything that I want to achieve in my life. Above all else I want to be true to my self. Who is my true self? am David. I am a country boy, smallholder, a fiddle player and musician, an autism and political activist, an amateur curler, a Conservative, an intellectual (a geek as others might say), an eccentric at times, loves steam locomotives, stamps, vintage tractors, malt whisky, a fighter who gets back up when he’s knocked down, who has a cheeky but dry sense of humour, who likes to socialise and have fun when I’m comfortable and who has Aspergers Syndrome. These all make me who I am and I have no doubt there is a place for individuals like me in society and who can go on and succeed.

I have made some decisions over the past few weeks which I will not discussing here. These will remain private. However the decisions I have made and those I still need to make will enable me to refocus and will make me more determined to fight for what I really want in life. I’d be damned if I’m going to let Aspergers Syndrome stop me from aiming high and working hard to achieve my dreams. I may be different but that’s something to celebrate.

D.M.N

22nd of May 2020.

Authenticity and being true to myself

Over the past few days I have been doing a lot of reading and looking through old family photographs. It has made me think about my roots and who I truly am as an individual. This has been very important as one of the biggest challenges that Aspergers Syndrome has brought to me has been on the issue of authenticity.

For a long period of my life from my late teenage years to now I have felt different and behaved differently. I have often felt isolated particularly during my school years and in the community I come from in Fife. Why was that? In large part because I lacked the social skills and because I acted differently. In order to combat that I have tried to fit in with people and with society. That has often meant changing who I am and masking who my true authentic self is. That is ok to a point but can never work in the long term. It is exhausting and also very damaging.  Social media has also not helped with me hiding my true self in order to try and appear more confident and to try and do what everyone else is doing. Social media, sometimes appears, to be like a competition where you have to keep up with everyone else.  Ever since the Co-Vid19 pandemic hit the country and the lockdown started my mental health has been a bit unsettled. That has been the cue for me to start to change things and move my life in the direction I truly want it to go in. It has meant me looking back at the mistakes, regrets and finding the energy to start afresh and to have the absolute confidence to be myself.

As Sir Alex Ferguson states in his book “Leading”:

“Most people don’t have inner conviction. Their confidence is easily shaken, they blow with the wind and can be plagued with doubt”. 

That quote can quite easily describe me over the past decade or so. Struggling with self doubt and lacking the confidence to truly unleash my potential.

He also goes on to say:

“When I did waiver, or at least was not being true to myself, it sometimes took another person to shake me out of my stupor.” 

I have been very lucky that over the past few years I have had new people come into my life and those, alongside some of my closest friends have, helped to give me a good shake when I have dithered and not been myself.

Now is the time to have the courage to show some conviction and  leadership. A chance now to be my authentic self. So who is the authentic me?

Well, I am David. I am a 30 year old young man with Aspergers Syndrome. I am autistic. I am different but there is no shame in that at all.  I am a country boy and smallholder who has a passion for the rural way of life, for vintage tractors and Clydesdale horses. I am a member of the Countryside Alliance and will resolutely defend the countryside.  I am a musician and a fiddle player with a love and deep interest of the Capebreton and West Highland style of fiddle playing. I am an amateur curler with my local curling club. I am a perfectionist and am driven by the highest standards possible. I am aspirational and want to do as well as I can in life. I am a disciplinarian. I am also someone who can, when the occasion demands it, have enormous fun, show off my cheeky smile and say a few jokes. That is a side of me that not many people have seen over the years. I am also a Conservative which goes against the grain of the politics of where I come from in Fife which is largely Labour/SNP dominated. I am a Conservative (One Nation Tory) because of my love of the countryside, its way of life, its traditions, of the monarchy, of the United Kingdom, of the military and armed forces, of fairness and tolerance, of sound money and so on. I believe in politics of pragmatism and realism. Politics based on respect and tolerance. Politics of hope over hatred. I am a supporter of the John Smith Centre for Public Service and the Big Tent Ideas Festival. I value, where possible, of building relationships with people from across the political spectrum where possible.  I am also a Christian and my faith has been a guiding force in helping me through some challenging times.

All of that makes up my authentic self. I have been too ashamed to share all of that because of fear of rejection. A legacy of what happened in my younger years.  I now have the confidence to say no to fear and let the full authentic me come to the fore. That is absolutely critical in order for me to move on and have a successful life going forwards. Having that sense of conviction and fighting spirit will help with my mental health and start to really enjoy life again and especially so when this Co-Vid19 pandemic is over with. I think is vitally important that we all look at ourselves and be true to ourselves. Don’t take any shame in who you truly are.

I finish by using my favourite quote from the former US President Theodore Roosevelt. it comes his “Citizenship in a Republic” (Man in the Arena) speech which he delivered in Paris in 1910:

“”It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 

 

Autism, authenticity and masking

Dear all,
 
Autism, authenticity and masking.
 
Firstly,I want to take this opportunity to thank my good friend and fellow autism campaigner Catriona Anne Stewart for all her advice, encouragement and support. In particular I am very grateful to her for making me realise, 12 years after I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, that I am better being my authentic self and to stop masking who I truly am.
 
Masking has been an enormously challenging issue for me to deal with. In fact it is a problem that many of my autistic peers face. For me, over the past several years I have tried to hide my autistic self and to try and hide my weaknesses. That has contributed to a huge amount of anxiety, to loss of direction in life and it has also resulted in me making too many mistakes. Social media has not helped with this. It has been a genuine nightmare at times. Facebook especially has been hard going for me and I know that others who are autistic feel the same. I also think that the legacy of growing up in a hard working class community where I was teased and not understood when I was younger has also contributed to me trying hide my authentic self. The pressure to fit in and try and be like everyone else has been extremely painful at times. To be a real lad who have to be this, that and the other. That has fuelled mental health challenges for me. I offer a sincere and heartfelt apology to everyone I know for my antics and for me being a pain in the arse at times with all the shit I’ve said and the confusion I have caused sometimes. It has been hard and there’s been times when I have wished that I did not have Aspergers Syndrome. I am, however, continuing to fight, to grow, to learn and to keep positive.
 
On another, deeply personal level, does autism and does being my authentic self make me undateable and unable to have relationships and find love? Issues around dating and love have made me extremely vulnerable at times and I know damn well that I’ve made an arse of myself on this. I have pulled myself in various directions causing myself much anxiety and distress and that has been very challenging. I remain hopeful, that if I believe in myself, then what I truly want when it comes to love will be found….at somepoint.
 
At the age of 30 it is time for me to cast off the various masks that I have had over the past several years and to allow the authentic David Nicholson to come to the fore.
 
Music and my fiddle playing has helped me to pull me back and to help me realise what direction I truly want to take in life. When I take to that stage at the Piping Centre on Thursday night with the band and special guests then that is the authentic me there. The autistic, reserved yet thoroughly passionate West-Coast fiddle player. Music is core to who I am and I am excited for it be a major part of my life over the coming years.
 
I am also determined to embrace my other passions in life: curling, stamp collecting, steam locomotives, reading, the countryside and politics. Some of these interests may make me eccentric in the eyes of some but again they form a huge part of who I am. I cannot and will not apologise for that.
 
In terms of politics, then standing for Parliament remains a dream for now. For someone who is politically moderate and who values aspiration, compassion, the countryside, excellence in education, fairness, traditional and modernity, respect, tolerance of differing opinions I don’t think the time is right for me to go and stand as a candidate. I will continue to fight passionately for what I believe is right for now. I remain of the opinion that being autistic and being authentic should be no barrier to me and others with autism from standing for political office.
 
I am determined to move forward by being a country gentleman and staying close to my value, to my interests, embracing my autism and to allowing the authentic me to come out and shine.
 
Thank you.
 
David

Newcastle Autism Speech November 2019

Newcastle Autism Speech

 

November 2019

 

“Breaking free: Being true to my autistic self”

 

Introduction

 

My thanks to Richard Ibbotson for inviting me down to Newcastle today to talk about some of my experiences of being autistic. Over the years I have done a few speeches and whilst they are never easy to do, I do them out of a sense of a duty to share my experiences so that people from all backgrounds can learn more about what it is like to be autistic and so that my autistic peers can get the support they need to lead happy and successful lives. In today’s speech I shall be talking about some of the challenges that I have faced as well as some of the positives of being an autistic young man since I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome 11 years ago.

 

Challenges

 

The biggest challenges that have confronted me as an autistic individual have been: masking my true self, anxiety, social media and relationships.  For a long time I have found myself trying to fit in to my local community and to society in general. At school in Fife, university and beyond I often struggled with the sense that I was inadequate and different to everyone around  me because of the way that I way I spoke, dressed and behaved. I was never asked out to parties or social events especially during my school years. People teased me and judged me and in some cases they still do in my local community which is on the outskirts of a deprived area of Fife.That made me anxious and sad. It made me think that I was a loner, undateable and someone who would struggle. That done a lot to damage my confidence.  To address that I tried to copy how others spoke and tried to take an interest in what they were interested in. In other words masking. I tried to push myself in several different directions. That may have helped me to become more accepted and feel more like everyone else but over time it had a detrimental impact upon my mental health and it did put me into vulnerable situations. With that came bouts of anxiety and  low-self-esteem. I was constantly asking myself the question of who am I. It felt as though my head was spinning at times and as a result I have broken down on several occasions this year. How does that feel like? Well screaming, crying and feeling a sense of not having control is how it feels like to me. I came down very hard on myself. I made so many mistakes and I felt absolutely miserable. That has all been challenging but all that has helped me to become much more resilient and a stronger individual. Sometimes we have to go through the tough times to find out who we truly are. According to the charity “Autistica” autistic people who do not have a learning disability are nine times more likely to commit suicide. That is scandalous and makes me very angry and sad. We have got to get a grip.We are losing too many talented people because they feel as though they don’t belong. I have been lucky in that my family, friends and my inner resilience have kept me going but it has not been easy. 

 

Social media has also been a tool which has helped me to communicate but that has had it challenges too. Facebook, in particular, has pushed and pulled me  in different directions. Seeing people posting up about holidays, relationships, nights out and so on has made me feel as though I am not doing well enough in life. It makes me feel as though I’m missing out and not doing things the right way. That causes moments of depression and a loss of confidence. Twitter has also impacted upon me. The confrontational and often tribalistic approach to political debate on twitter does make me go into myself a bit and sometimes find myself not knowing how to react if someone has a go at me personally. I am someone who does not take kindly to confrontation. That is because I cannot see the other person and that is difficult.  I detest this “I’m right, you are wrong” approach on twitter. It is toxic. I am passionate but I place huge importance on respect and tolerance of the viewpoints of other people. I sometimes feel isolated on twitter with my more courteous and respectful way of communicating. That makes me sad and I have often wondered what is the point of it all but I will carry on. I also want to add as well that social media can make me vulnerable and can be open to manipulation and I am now trying to approach things with more caution.

 

When it comes to communicating and socialising with people (face to face) then that can still be a challenge. I can still get very anxious  when I go to events where I don’t know a lot of people and that can frustrate me because I want to network and speak with people but it seems like my brain does not want to play ball. That can make me feel very inadequate as an individual.  I can also say some silly things when I am socialising and when my confidence is high and sometimes I might not recognise people’s personal space. I apologise to my friends who have had to put up with some “social blunders” or “Nicholson gaffes as I like to call them” over the years. I know that they have probably wanted to give me a good kick up the backside at times and wanted to strangle me!!!!! I can sometimes, when I am feeling very comfortable, overshare and talk too much about personal matters. That has caused issues to which, I again, apologise to people for putting up with some of my excruciating and immature conversations. I sometimes find it hard to tell when I can be open and when I need to be a bit more reserved. There have been many times when I have said too much and went away feeling upset with myself for being too open.  However, I am beginning to get a bit better at how to approach conversations and sharing things. 

 

One final challenge that I want to talk briefly about is around love and relationships. This has been an issue that has frightened me and, in some cases, has made me think I am a coward who lacks courage.  For far too long I have struggled with the concept of love and relationships. I know in my head what I truly want but have struggled to fight for it. I think my social skills are still not where they should be when it comes to this and that makes me very sad. I have also made mistakes and made some wrong choices along the way. That has meant that I have become vulnerable and that has not been good. I have always had the impression, thanks to social media and programmes such as Love Island,  that to succeed in finding love a boy has to be bad, arrogant, have tattoos and have money. That has put me, a country gent with autism and admiration for traditional values, under huge pressure. Do I need to change myself in order to get lucky? I have often wondered whether my autism has affected things negatively? Perhaps it has. How does it feel like when you see someone you like, have spoken to someone you like and you cannot find the courage to ask them out. What is that like? To me it is an agonising experience and I’ve had a few of these over the past few years. It is deeply frustrating being too paralysed by fear to express how I truly feel to someone I like. There have been times when I have wanted to scream and yell to the high heavens out of sheer distress. I have felt like a coward and not a real man. That is heartbreaking.  It is one area of life that I desperately want to succeed in but I must try and be patient.  I must remember that good things happen to those who wait as they say. What I do want to see is more support for autistic people when it comes to issues around love and romance and ensure that autistic people are safe when it comes to dating and relationships. We are more than capable of finding love and holding relationships. We are not “undateable” but more support would not go amiss.

 

Positives

 

Despite the challenges that I have had with being autistic, fitting into society, with mental health and dealing with social media I am more determined than ever to focus on the positives and to be my own man. My special interests in life: music, the countryside and politics have all helped me to cope with the challenges that I have faced.

 

Music in particular has been very helpful to me. I started to learn the fiddle in 2000 and over the course of that time I have been able to develop my communication skills, to socialise and to make friends with some absolutely wonderful musicians and people. Without music in my life I doubt as to whether I would have the same communication and social skills that I have today. 

My fiddle playing has also helped me when I have felt anxious and overwhelmed. A few tunes on my instrument will usually help to settle me if I am feeling overwhelmed or stressed. That was really useful during my school years where I would be able to play my instrument to de-stress if things got too much.  It has been a privilege to be a member of the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra over the past two years. It is like a family to me and being amongst people who encourage and support me is just fantastic. I am looking forward to going on tour to America and Canada with the orchestra next March/April and that will be a great experience. No doubt there will be challenges but I am confident that my orchestral colleagues and friends will be there to support me if needed. I am also in the middle of doing a music project which will hopefully see me do my debut album and form a band. I want to showcase how being autistic should be no barrier to actively participating in traditional music world. I want to break down barriers so that future generations of autistic musicians can have the chance to showcase their musical talents whether that be in the folk music world or in another musical genre.I also want to take this opportunity to thank all my wonderful friends in the music world for their friendship and support. It is and always will be much appreciated.  Music is such a powerful tool that unites people from all backgrounds and helps people to express themselves. We must champion that and make sure music has a bright future in our country. We must do all we can to help protect music education in our schools too. Music helped me through some tough periods in my school years and I know how important it would be for others who are autistic or have other disabilities to communicate and develop very important life skills. 

 

Besides music I am also passionate about the countryside. I will always regard myself as a country boy. No ifs. No buts. I am lucky that the family has a smallholding and I have been there for a lot of my time since I was born. At the smallholding I have been able to learn the importance of communication, teamwork and to be aware of danger especially around the tractor and implements. Thats been invaluable. I also love being out in the fresh country air. That enables me to get away from the stresses and strains of life. Having a simple walk in the country has done wonders for me when I have felt very anxious and stressed. It is like I can transport myself away from everything and clear my mind. I enjoy going to agricultural shows, catching up with folk and feeling a sense of belonging to a special community. It is magical. I also want to thanks my local young farmers club and to the chairperson Annabel for helping me to become a more confident individual. I will always remember the time I participated in a huge dance in the main show ring with fellow club members at this years Royal Highland Show. The sense of joy and freedom that I felt during that time was immense and very special. I do think my dancing skills need more practising though!! My deep regret is that I have not been to as many club activities as I would have wanted to. When I look to the future then it is my intention to never walk away from my rural roots. Moving to Benbecula and getting a croft there or potentially taking my passion for smallholdings up a few levels in Fife or elsewhere is being given consideration.

 

I am also passionate about politics. I’ve had a keen interest in politics since my teenage years and sometimes I wish for these days when things were much calmer and more tolerant!! I’m driven by a need to play my part in making sure this country of ours, the United Kingdom, is a place where everyone who is autistic has the chance to lead their lives in a way which is supportive and makes them happy. I’ve had a bad summer politically and I allowed myself to be bounced about and make some  wrong decisions. I was very emotional and upset. Watching the news on the TV and online was difficult. Being autistic means I do not like a lot of chaos. I like order and structure so it was understandable that I was finding it tough going through some very volatile times. However, these challenges have made me think that it is very important that regardless of events or what other people say that I stay close to what I believe in and stick closely to how I conduct my politics. By doing that I appreciate that I will attract criticism and in some cases personal abuse but I will keep strong. Do I intend on standing for Parliament one day? That is my ambition. I think Parliament would benefit from having more  autistic people like me and other disabled people within its ranks. However, I have a lot to learn and need to focus on achieving what I want to do with my music and autism activism first before I even consider standing to be a candidate. I do want to thank some fabulous political friends who are very much like role models to me and keep my inspired to keep going. Thanks to Councillor Gail MacGregor, Rachael Hamilton MSP and others for their advice, encouragement and support. If we want to see more disabled people stand for elected office then it is important that there’s people out there who can give advice and support to those who may have political aspirations. 

 

Before I conclude I want to say two things. Firstly that since being diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome in 2008, I have been on a journey. There’s been highs and lows as I’ve mentioned in the speech. I’ve had to battle and fight through some tough times.  In September this year I turned 30 (yes, I know I am getting older) and I made a pledge to myself to fight against the temptation to turn myself into someone I wasn’t. It’s time to be true to myself. No more nonsense. No more apologising for being who I am despite my flaws and all the mistakes I have made.  Time to be the autistic young man who is ambitious, caring, compassionate, driven, disciplined, mature, who has a sense of fun, who is good looking, proud to be a country lad, a musician, a disciplinarian, who likes tradition, who is principled yet pragmatic, who is respectful and who can be, at times, difficult. Yes I can be awkward and bloody difficult when circumstances demand it. I can be maddening.  All of that represents my true self. A bit of a complex character yes, but that represents the authentic David Nicholson. It is time to open a new chapter and be the confident, independently minded young man I know I can be regardless of what others think. 

 

As the US Republican President Theodore Roosevelt said in his Man in the arena speech in Paris, France in 1902:

 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 

That is a quote that I have understandably kept close to in the time gone past and will keep seeking inspiration from it in the months and years ahead. 

 

It also is time to celebrate and embrace being different. Different is good. If everyone was the same then the world would be a very boring place. I think some people have forgotten that. I take pride in being openly autistic alongside the likes of Greta Thunberg and others. However, being openly autistic and championing what I believe in does make me and others vulnerable to personal attacks and criticism. As Lizzie Huxley Jones said in a recent article in the Prospects magazine about Greta Thunberg and autism:

 

Being publicly autistic is somewhat permissible in 2019, but it is always punished—you only have to look at criticisms of Hannah Gadsby and Chris Packham to see the same patterns arise. Bullies will always zero in on a person’s difference, even if you’re a sixteen-year-old girl clearly trying to make the world a better place.” 

 

I want to say that  we will not let the naysayers stop us from fighting for what we believe in, for being true to ourselves and for being ambassadors for the autism community. I will keep moving forwards and will fight with everything that I have to achieve all that I want to do in my life. To all those who have bullied me, who misunderstand me  and who want to see me fail you will not succeed in seeing me being knocked down and never getting back up again. I will keep going. My message to other autistic people is to always be true to yourselves, embrace yourselves and don’t let any negative individual tell you that you are not talented or that you are not going to succeed. Ignore that and march onwards towards the stars. 

 

Secondly, we must continue to work towards building a society where the aspirations of those with autism can be fully met and where everyone on the spectrum has the chance to lead their lives in a way that makes them feel supported and happy. I want to see my autistic peers be liberated and have the freedom to be themselves and to be happy. We must ensure that all areas of our country are autism aware and autism accepting. From our towns and cities to rural villages  and from the poorest areas to the richests areas every community should be aiming to be autism aware with a good knowledge of what autism is. That is so important if we are to become a country which is truly autism friendly and where we can have a society where autistic people can thrive and be themselves. We must also ensure that opportunities are available for autistic people in all fields of employment not just the technological sphere. I think some people forget that not all autistic people are geniuses when it comes to computers. I’m certainly not!!! We have varying interests which could lead to employment in areas such as law, the creative industries, farming and dare I say it politics. We have to do much more in that area. We cannot accept that around 16% of autistic people are in full time employment. If we are a county that champions aspiration then we need to ensure that that figure improves.  We must also do much more to ensure that mental health provision is available for those on the autism spectrum if they need it. That is vital to ensure that autistic people don’t fall into a spiral which could lead to serious consequences if not dealt with.  It is also important that the voices of those on the autism spectrum are heard. Autistic people must be given the chance to speak out and to be of influence. Be in no doubt the likes of Greta Thunberg and others are showing those in the non-autistic community that we can and we will push for change. We will not give up and it is important that those in positions of authority take us seriously. There is  no point in folk trying to speak down to us or patronise. Those times are being left behind. It is also important that the talents of autistic people are celebrated and that the positives of being autistic are really emphasised more over the negatives. 

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion, I hope you have found my speech to be informative and of use. I hope that speaking about some of the challenges that I have faced and the positives I have had has given you an insight into what it is like to be on the autism spectrum. It is important that we all leave this conference with a renewed determination to do all that we can to make this country of ours work for every single autistic individual regardless of how much support they may need.

 

Thank you.

 

Scottish Autism Autism Speech June the 10th 2019

Scottish Autism

 

Speech

 

June the 10th 2018

 

I want to thank Charlene Tait for inviting me along to Scottish Autism today to speak about my

experiences of being autistic and to perform a few tunes on my fiddle after the presentation.

 

Given that this year marks my 30th birthday I want to use today’s speech to reflect on life as a young man with Aspergers Syndrome. I want talk about some of the challenges that I’ve faced as an autistic individual and also talk about some of the positives.

 

For me, I have been autistic all of my life but I was only diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome at the age of 18.  Being on the autism spectrum has meant that I have been through many challenges in my life. These include: being misunderstood, communication difficulties, social isolation and mental health issues.

 

For me, being misunderstood and being treated like I was a freak by some people during the course of my life has been hugely difficult to deal with. From the local community to school and from school to university and beyond I have encountered people who have teased me and not accepted me being different to them. I speak differently, behave slightly differently at times, wear smart  clothes and was brought up to be disciplined and respectable. There’s nothing wrong with that in my eyes but what has saddened me is that to be seen to be different and standing outside of the crowd can, in some instances, lead to intolerance and being left out which makes me sad and brings about mental health challenges.

 

Being misunderstood has not been helped by the fact that I have problems with socialising and communicating. I was, and still am in many ways, a reserved and shy individual. I had poor communication and social skills during my school years and in the early part of my university career. I struggled to make friendships and liked my own company which puzzled some people and made me vulnerable to bullying and teasing. In particular student accommodation was a nightmare for me as I preferred my own company to hanging out with my flatmates who, unlike me, enjoyed the social life that student life brought to them. That meant late night parties and bringing people back to the flat after a night out clubbing. That meant that my sleep was often disturbed and that led to various meltdowns and moments of distress. Indeed I remember in second year having to leave the flat in my pyjamas at 4am in the morning and breaking down in tears in the pouring rain because the situation became too much for me. I did not have the courage to confront my flatmates and tell them that their behaviour was unacceptable and that made me feel totally inadequate as an individual. It made me feel bad that I could not communicate with them. Soon, after that though I was moved to better acoomodation you will be glad to hear.

 

Equally, I also have problems with communicating on social media. Facebook, in particular, has been a cause of various issues over the past several years. This is because I can appear to be more confident then what I actually am and also that I can take on a different persona online that can cause difficulties and misunderstandings. Facebook does make communicating easier but I have lost friends because I have been too intense in wanting to talk to them and that has saddened me. That intenseness stems from the sense of loneliness and wanting to interact with people. Social media can make people, like myself who are autistic, very vulnerable and whilst Facebook and other social media outlets have their uses I am a bit more cautious with how I use them now.

 

Another challenge that I have encountered has been to do with social isolation and mental health.

Being socially isolated where I come from in Fife, a legacy of my childhood years and time in school, has had a big impact upon my mental health. The sense of not fitting in, not being understood by people in the local community and so on has made me have high anxiety and depressive moments. There are times that I do feel bad about who I truly am as an individual and that has meant that I have tried to change who I am in order to fit in and to make friends.  That has caused huge damage to my mental health and confidence. Masking my true self in order to try and be “more normal” may have impressed some people but it only brought anxiety and insecurity which made me feel totally and utterly inadequate. It also made me lose confidence as an individual and that resulted in moments of crippling self-doubt. That is when these depressive moments creep in and they can absolutely knock you down and take away all motivation and positivity. It takes away the motivation to get up and achieve things.  It can take some time to recover and bring back my mojo. I was watching the brilliant documentary by Alastair Campbell called “Depression and me” and I found it overwhelming as he explained how mental health has impacted him. It is good to know that I’m not the only one out there who has periods of struggle and that it is ok to be open and talk to people if we are finding things challenging. That is an important, indeed it is a vital message, to give out to people on the autism spectrum and the wider country.

 

Positives

 

These challenges have brought about some low points in my life as an autistic young man but as I have grown up I am beginning to appreciate and celebrate the many positives that having Aspergers Syndrome brings to my life and how important it is to embrace my condition.

 

I do not and never will regret having Aspergers Syndrome. It is a huge part of who I am as an individual. For me, being autistic means that I am a very resilient individual.  I have taken a lot in my life which has enabled me to to be get back up quickly when I have been knocked down. Having that strong resilience has enabled me to get to where I am today and it is one quality that I am lucky to have. I take inspiration from others who have faced adversity including the cyclist Victoria Pendleton who underwent an ill-fated attempt to climb Mount Everest only to be stopped by an onset of extreme hypoxia. In an interview in the GQ magazine she said that that experience damaged her mentally and she carefully planned out her own suicide. Thankfully she never gave in, talked to her friends and as a result of the extremely strong resilience she discovered once again who she was. For me, on the spectrum, that inspires me to never give up no matter the circumstances. Being resilient is a quality I am privileged to have . As the footballing coach Vincent Lombardi said “It’s not whether you got knocked down, its whether you get back up.” That is important.

 

I am also an individual who can be awkward and difficult at times. Oh yes, I can be a bit of a pain in the backside when I put my foot down and that can cause people to get a bit frustrated. However I am also someone who is also caring, loyal, hardworking, principled yet pragmatic and who likes to have fun with friends. Who knew people on the autism spectrum could have fun?? We need to challenge this notion that people on the autism spectrum are “cold” people who cannot tolerate letting their hair down. We can have fun when the circumstances are right and we are in the right situation. As you can see I have a variety of qualities that make me who I am. Some say that these make me a complex character to read and if that is the case then so be it. I am proud to be who I am.

 

Being autistic also enables me to focus on what I am most passionate about in life. These passions of mine centre around: music, politics, the countryside and steam locomotives.

 

For me, music has been a powerful gift which I am privileged to have in my life. My fiddle and my musical talent have helped to see me through some very challenging times including when I was at school. Music helped me to take my mind of the social isolation and bullying. My music has helped me to communicate my emotions and to socialise and make friends with some incredible people and musicians. People who truly accept me for who I am. I feel privileged to be part of community of people who all love traditional music and who are accepting of diversity. Being part of a musical family has hugely helped me with my anxiety and has helped me to view myself in a much more positive light. In these times where individualism has been given more importance, the sense of belonging to a community of like minded individuals and friends has lifted my spirits. I look forward to taking forward my music and  to performing with the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra in the months and years ahead. I am also delighted to say that I have received funding from Creative Scotland’s new “Create: Inclusion” fund for me to undergo a period of development as fiddle player with Aspergers Syndrome. This will give me a chance to attend events, meet some of Scotlands top fiddle players and get lessons. I am also in the planning stages of starting my own band which I hope will showcase that being autistic is no barrier to fully participating in the traditional music world. I hope that this fantastic opportunity which has opened itself up to me can help me to break down barriers, show leadership and open doors for other autistic musicians to get out and showcase their wonderful musical talents. I may also in the years ahead do a HNC music course up in Benbecula if things go well. I take inspiration from Elisabeth Wiklander who is an autistic cello player wirh the London Philharmonic Orchestra. If she can do it then so can I and many others with autism and other disabilities. It is crucial that we open up the creative arts world to those with autism and other disabilties

 

Aside from music I am also passionate about politics. Now people will wonder why I am so keen on politics given all that is going on.  Well I have a duty, and I have felt this ever since I was identified as being on the spectrum, to help other people with autism get the support that they need to lead as happy and successful lives  as possible. That was what drove into politics and what is still the main driver for my politics now. To me politics is not a game. It’s about creating positive change and it is about service to people and the country.. That is what drives me.   For me I want to see a  country that is both autism friendly and one which is compassionate, open, forward looking, pragmatic, moderate in its politics,optimistic and tolerant. The current situation makes me very angry and very sad indeed. I hate confrontation and intolerance. As an autistic young man too much aggression makes me incredibly anxious and nervous. Does that affect my mental health? Of course it does and I bet I’m not the only one that has suffered anxiety because of political events. To see Parliament paralysed with indecision and political debate descending into the gutter of personal abuse, division and downright nastiness threatens to put good people like me off from participating in the political process. Politics can be better than what it is now. If we want more disabled people, women and other minority groups into parliament then the tone of political discourse and the way we do politics has to change. We need more consenus, more compromise and less of this aggression and confrontation. All that does is bring the county to a standstill and results in issues such as autism being left behind and neglected. Perhaps if we had more politicians who were autistic or neurodiverse we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in now.

 

Some people have asked the question as to when I will stand for parliament. I have much to focus on with my music at the minute so I have no plans to stand for elected office but it remains an ambition. I want to gain more life experience before even attempting to stand to be a parliamentary candidate. It would, however, be good to see more autistic political activists getting involved in politics and getting the support to stand for elected office. Politics and parliament would be enriched if it had more autistic and more disabled people in the House of Commons and in the Scottish Parliament. It would also be good to see autistic people taking up leadership roles in charities businesses and across all areas of society.

 

I take great inspiration from the young Swedish Climate change activist Greta Thunberg who has Aspergers Syndrome. She has shown that people on the spectrum do have the potential and power to push for positive action and to keep on fighting for change. Politicians take note: autistic people like Greta and myself and others besides, have voices and we will fight for what we believe in. We may have our vulnerabilities but don’t underestimate our resolve to keep on going. We can and we will be bloody difficult. We are resilient and we are fighters. We will not accept being patronised or made to feel little.  We want to lead on issues that affect us. We want to be the ones that take forward the agenda for positive change on the issues that we feel most passionate about. We want our voices to be heard and acted upon by policy makers.

 

Aside from music and politics, my other passion is the countryside and rural way of life. I was lucky to grow up on a smallholding in Fife. That  taught me so much which has helped me get to where I am tonight. Things such as discipline, communication and teamwork. Being out in the countryside also helps me to relax when I have had a stressful time and I absolutely love the West Highlands and the Outer Hebrides for places to go on holiday to and get away from it all.

 

These interests have all contributed to me becoming a more confident and positive young man. They shape who my authentic self is and in particular music and the countryside have helped me greatly when my mental health has not been good. I would say to people that the special interests that autistic people can be used in challenging situations. Teachers and other people can use the passions that autistic people have to de-stress the individual and potentially avoid a serious meltdown. I know from personal experience that that has helped me greatly.

 

As I look ahead, I want to say this. I do not and never will regret being on autism spectrum. Never. I will not apologise for being who I am. I have the same ambitions and hopes as many of my non-autistic peers right across the country. I want to succeed at what I love the most: music. I want to marry, have children, go travelling and have many adventures. I want to contribute to the life of the countryside and to politics. I want to move away from Fife.  Being autistic will not be a barrier to me achieving all of what I want to achieve. That I am quite sure of. I want to move forward by celebrating being different and being positive about my condition. The time has come for me to be the young man I know I can be and to exercise the freedom that I have to lead the life that I want to. I want to take this opportunity to thank my parents and the good supportive friends that I have in my life for all their encouragement and support. It is and always will be much appreciated.

 

Before I conclude I want to say two things.  People on the autism spectrum, such as myself, may be deemed by some as being loners, freaks and all out weird but that is negative rubbish. I’ve had all that flung at me at points during my life.  These people are not only plain ignorant but wrong. We are different but difference is good. We won’t allow others to try and dictate how we should lead our lives. In a world where division and intolerance is rife, we need to do everything possible to highlight and,in some cases,  fight for diversity and to embrace it. We need to champion compassion and tolerance in all walks of life. We need people in all areas of society to support us, to view our condition in a more positive light and help us to reach for the stars which takes me to my second point.

 

I want to see a country where everyone on the autism spectrum has the opportunities and support to be who they want to be, that they can see their dreams realised, that they can be happy and that society changes to fit their needs. I want to see schools, colleges, communities, universities and businesses become places where the talents of autistic people are recognised and promoted and where they feel truly included. I want to see people on the autism spectrum get the chance to have role models and mentors who can help them to succeed. I want to see diagnosis waiting times cut and intervention starting as quickly as possible in all areas of Scotland and the UK. I want to see more action to help women on the autism spectrum get the support that they need to get on with their lives and to build upon the excellent work that Catriona Stewart and SWAN are doing on this issue. The voices of women on the spectrum need to be heard, they need to be supported and they need to be treated equally and with respect.  I want to see more action on mental health and how it impacts those on the autism spectrum. I find it abhorrent that too many people on the spectrum are put into mental health institutions miles away from home and suffering. That situation is not acceptable for a modern country like ours. If we lived in a society that put compassion, decency and humanity first then this appalling situation would not be as bad as it is/. We really do need to look again at how we treat our most vulnerable in society. All of the actions that I have stated here may seem overly ambitious and radical but I make no apology for that. I call on politicians to take autism far more seriously and to up their game. We need to see more investment in areas such as autism to truly make the United Kingdom a truly autism accepting country. My peers and I will not tolerate gameman ship or lack of action from those in elected office. We want to see positive and strong action as quickly as possible. For too many it is easy to talk the talk instead of walking the walk. That can not last when it comes to issues around autism.   It is intolerable that too many young people on the autism spectrum are excluded from school, are left waiting a long period of time for a diagnosis, are bullied and are left struggling to see their dreams come true. Too much talent is being left behind and left unfulfilled. That is scandalous. Things must and will change for the better. My peers and I want the freedom and the support to fly high in life.

 

In conclusion I thank Charlene again for inviting me along today and I hope you have found my presentation to be informative.

 

I finish by quoting Greta Thunberg from an interview she gave in the Time magazine and it is something that will drive me forward:

 

“To be different is not a weakness. It’s a strength in many ways because you stand out of the crowd”

 

Thank you.

 

Drake Music Scotland 20th Anniversary Symposium Speech

Drake Music Scotland

 

20th Anniversary Symposium

 

Speech

 

4th of May 2018

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Before I start I want to wish Drake Music Scotland a very happy 20th anniversary. What a milestone  that is and I absolutely commend them for all that they have achieved over the past 20years. They have helped so many disabled people enjoy music and to perform music on stages in Scotland and beyond! Long may that continue.
It is a real privilege to have been invited here today to speak about my experiences of being a musician with Aspergers Syndrome. I have been playing the fiddle for the last 18 years and it has been an integral part of my life. Therefore  I want to use this opportunity to talk about some of the challenges that I have faced with being an autistic musician as well as some of the positives too.
The Challenges.

 

I will start by talking about some of things that have caused me great difficultly over the years I think the biggest challenge to me developing as a musician has been social isolation and lone-liness with where I stay in Fife. Being in a community where you don’t have many friends,where you feel completely rejected,  feel completely inadequate is not only very frustrating butit also  causes problems with mental health. Not having people who you can play music with has caused me to lose confidence in my musical ability.  Being lonely has also brought about an anxiety which, at times, has been very challenging to deal with. This has held me back over the years from taking my music forward and that has upset  me greatly.
What has helped me to overcome this problem? I think that by getting out and joining the Fife Strathspey and Reel Society that that  has helped me to feel less lonely and meet like minded people who enjoy Scottish fiddle music. That has enabled me to become more positive as an individual.
Another problem that I have had with being an autistic musician has been around confidence. I tend to underestimate myself and because I am a perfectionist I can come down very hard on myself and my music. I am also very bad at comparing myself to other musicians and putting myself down as a result.  That has had a detrimental impact upon my confidence levels around my music. In 2014/15 I was at a bad time with my music and was not sure whether I would continue with it. Thanks to hearing Blazin Fiddles perform at a concert in Edinburgh in late 2015 I felt inspired enough to take my fiddle out of its case and start playing it on a more frequent Basis. Since then things have move in a more positive direction which has delighted me.
The positives.

 

I have been very lucky over the years to have been encouraged by my family and others to keep up my music. I am also very grateful to all those who have taught me music and fiddle over the years. In particular I’d like to thank Christine Webster who taught me music in S1 and S2 at High School for all the advice, encouragement and support she gave me back then. Her passion for music and her sense of discipline had a profoundly positive affect in how I approach music in general. When it comes to fiddle playing I’d like to thank Marie Fielding who taught me whilst I was at university. She has undoubtedly been a great influence on my fiddle playing.
Having positive musical role models has been absolutely crucial in helping me to keep going forward in the music sense. I take inspiration from Elisabeth Wiklander, an autistic cellist in the London Philharmonic Orchestra who has clearly demonstrated that being autistic is absolutely no barrier to being successful in the music world. Having people like that to look up to makes me determined to ensure that having Aspergers Syndrome will never stand in the way of what I want to achieve with my music.
Through music I have also made friends with some of most brilliant people imaginable. These people who I am privileged to have in my life, value me for who I am. They understand my autism but recognise that there is so much more to me than simply being autistic. They recognised that I’m a good fiddle player and not a rubbish one. How they have put up with me over the years I do not know but their encouragement and support has been and always will be very much appreciated by myself.
Over the past year I feel that my music has come on a lot. This has been helped by the fact that I successfully auditioned for a place in the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra in June 2017.  Since joining the SFO I have performed in Glasgow, Belfast, Edinburgh, Perth and Aberdeen. I have made friends with some incredible people and have developed my skills in playing in a national orchestra. This has really boosted my confidence in myself as an individual and as a musician. I feel truly accepted and welcome within the SFO which, for someone on the autism spectrum, is absolutely brilliant. For me the orchestra is like a big family to me and I have been able to meet and talk with many people who come from all different backgrounds.

 

The future.

 

The future of my music looks brighter than what it did back in 2014.I look forward to continuing to perform with the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra and l’m excited about going on tour with them to Orkney and Shetland in July. That should be fun and will be a new experience for me.
It is also my firm intention to develop my solo playing and group work skills. I am starting a new project which, I hope, will see me start my own ensemble, record a CD and do a tour. I want to use my music to showcase that autism is no barrier to being a successful musician.
I also want to keep pushing on with making the music world, in particular the trad music world, a place which is far more accessible to disabled musicians to perform and take part in. We need to see more opportunities and more disability awareness across all parts of Scotland. I think we need to look at how we can help musicians who are experiencing social isolation, especially those on the autism spectrum. Loneliness is one of the most pressing problems of our age and far too much talent is, I fear, being left behind because people feel left out and forgotten about. I think that that is a problem of rampant individualism and the state of society today. The most vulnerable or those who are different are left behind. I have no problem with people forging ahead and achieving brilliant success on individual endeavour but we cannot and must not forget that we are a community. We have a duty to look out for and look after each other if that is needed. We,as a society and as a musical community, have a duty and a responsibility  to do more to encourage and help those who need support and help them to get out of the prison that is loneliness.
I also want to take this opportunity to say this. As a young disabled musician who has benefited from music in the state education sector it absolutely appalls me that local authorities throughout Scotland are cutting back on music tuition and or increasing charges. It is nothing short of shameful cultural vandalism. It is shambolic. Music, it seems, is a soft target for politicians and that makes me extremely angry. I have a message to those who advocate cutting music education and increasing financial charges to access instrumental tuition. You clearly do not understand the positive and powerful impact that music has on disabled people and the importance of music being accessible to everyone.   If cuts continue to music education then it is very clear that disabled people who love music may not get a chance to learn a musical instrument and develop their musical talent. That would be a highly regressive step. Music helped me during the tough times I experienced at school and it helped me to express myself and communicate. Take that away from the up and coming generations of budding disabled musicians then we will face a truly shameful and troubling situation. I am sure that we can and we will continue to fight very hard and ensure that music in Scotland has a strong future ahead of it and that despite the challenges we face that disabled musicians can get a chance to take forward their music. That is the very least that my disabled peers and myself deserve.

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion I want to say that I hope you have enjoyed my presentation and how I have explained some of the challenges and the positives that I have faced as an autistic musician.Here’s hoping to another 20 successful years for Drake Music Scotland and for us all to keep fighting for a musical community which allows  disabled musicians to actively participate within it and celebrates the rich musical talents that disabled people have.

Thank you.