On Sunday I had the honour of chairing Cork Association for Autism’s conference on autism from adolescence to adulthood.
My favourite speaker was Dr Stuart Neilson, a statistician who was diagnosed in his 40s after struggling with mental health issues for years. It was only when he finally met a mental health professional who knew about autistic spectrum disorders that the reason for his difficulties became clear; he has Aspergers. Suddenly the difficulties he had with bright lights, crowded, noisy supermarkets, tying his shoelaces and relating to people emotionally all fit under one umbrella.
It was fascinating listening, because – as he said himself – academia is more tolerant of eccentricity than most areas, so there are probably loads of undiagnosed academics out there. I can think of a few other professions that could apply to!
It does highlight though, the importance of understanding autistic conditions and the incredible differences that can make to people’s lives. His presentation was warm, funny and engaging, and – perhaps it’s part of my ignorance about Aspergers and ASD – I couldn’t believe it was possible that he didn’t recognise these factors in himself or other people’s responses.
There’s a way to cure Aspergers, too. It’s simpler than you might think – go into an empty room with no other people. That’s it; done. Aspergers is something you only suffer from when other people are involved. That’s a fascinating concept.
I was livetweeting during his talk, and quite a number of people asked me if he was on Twitter – he is, at @StuartDNeilson. Follow him.