Edinburgh Napier University Autism Speech (2nd of April 2019)

Edinburgh Napier University

 

Autism Speech

 

April the 2nd 2019

 

Firstly, a big congratulations to you all on gaining your autism certificate today. It is a great

achievement. It reminds me of when I graduated from university in 2012. I hope that you have

learned a huge amount about autism during your time on the course and that what you have

learned will help you in the future.

 

I’m here today, at the kind invitation of The Richmond Fellowship Scotland, to talk to you about my experiences of being autistic. I will talk about some of the challenges that I have faced with

being autistic and will then focus on what I feel are the positives that I find with having

Asperger’s Syndrome (autism spectrum disorder)

 

For me, being autistic has been a real adventure of ups and downs. There have been many

challenges over the years and I want to pick out two particular challenges that have caused me

problems over the years.

 

  1. Communication and socialising: as you are no doubt aware people on the autism

spectrum have challenges in relation to how they communicate and socialise. For me I struggled to make friendships when I was younger. I suffered from social isolation in my local community and during my time at school. I did not get invited out to parties and had very little or no peer support.  Why was that? I think it was because I did not fit in with the crowd and I did not have the skills to communicate and express myself. I was also aware that I spoke differently to my peers and that made me ashamed. As a result I rarely spoke out in class and I found doing presentations in front of my peers a nightmare. Even today, whilst I have made friends from my interests, I still find communicating and getting on with people in the area where I come from quite difficult.It is bit easier due to the fact that more people know about my autism which is good but I always think that that will always be a problem albeit more of a minor one than what it was when I was younger. I also have some problems with expressing emotions. I can get too passionate and too wound up about things especially politics and I can hit out at myself quite hard. I can also be quite intense towards people at times and that has caused me to lose friends as well. Thats down to me feeling lonely and having a desire to try and socialise (but doing so in such a bad way). When it comes to love and romance then  my communication skills can let me down. I do not know how to read if someone is interested in me and my confidence from being bullied in the past has led to me having several severe meltdowns on this issue. I have had to try and support myself in the best possible way on this issue but that has meant many mistakes have been made and many rejections endured. I must also be the world expert in being rejected for the purposes of romance!! However, these mistakes and these rejections have made me stronger and I must keep hopeful for the future.

 

  • Authenticity: Another challenge that I have faced since I was diagnosed with ASD 11 years ago has been around authenticity and who my true self is. I felt different at school and in my community and that has grown as I have developed and, dare I say it, grown older. I do not fit in well to the working class culture of where I come from. It does not help me that I do not speak with a broad Fife accent. Instead I speak with a broad and refined Scottish accent and that created challenges. For me the sense of not fitting in to where I came from has placed huge pressure on me to change who I am. Indeed I have tried to change my persona and who I am as an individual in order to please people and to try and make friends. This has been apparent on social media. Facebook, in particular, has caused immense difficulties.  Seeing people get into relationships, going on holidays, having lovely meals and whatever else can make me and others on the spectrum feel totally inadequate. Also these reality TV shows such as “Love Island” and so on can also add to the feeling of inadequacy. I have seen clips from the programmes and I have asked myself the question of “is this how one has to behave to get on in life?” The answer to that is: of course not. This “masking” of my true self has caused numerous episodes of anxiety and mental health challenges. I have had various “depressive” episodes where my head feels like a huge black cloud has moved over it. It creates a hellish situation and that has allowed me to become too ashamed to allow myself the freedom to be true to who I truly am because of the hassle I may get from people. That in turn has also meant that I have not been able to showcase my potential and talents in the way that I have wanted to. I deeply regret that.

 

 

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.

 

As I approach my 30th birthday, the time has come for me to celebrate who my true self is with all the good and bad points mixed in and to release my potential. I am still finding myself but I feel more positive for the future. It is time for the real me to come out of his shell.

 

For me being autistic means that I am: awkward at times, caring,  courageous, bloody difficult, eccentric at times, driven, fun, good humoured, loyal, passionate, sets exceptionally high standards for himself, old school and traditionalist,  pragmatic, serious and reserved.No wonder some people struggle to understand me and think I am a complex character! Indeed I probably drive my friends bloody mad at some of my  antics. They’ve probably held their heads in their hands at times as I persist with a perfectionist attitude and not doing some things in a more fun and relaxed attitude.  However, all of these traits do make me individual that I am and they have all helped me to get to where I am in life now and I need to celebrate that fact. Some of them, like being difficult can be a weakness at times but that can be balanced out by the good traits such as being loyal and pragmatic. They all form my true self.

 

Being autistic also means that I have an intense focus on subjects which really interest me. These include music, politics and the countryside.

 

Music, in particular, has been hugely influential in helping me to cope  with having Aspergers Syndrome. I have been playing the fiddle (of which I will be performing after this speech) for 19 years. The relationship I have with my instrument is special and lifelong.  It has helped me to communicate my emotions, to express myself and to make friends with some wonderful people. Friends who like me for who I am. That is just brilliant. I want to thank them for putting up with me and for helping me to find my confidence when it comes to my musical talent. Whenever I feel anxious or frustrated a few tunes on my instrument usually helps to settle me down. When I was doing my final year of school up in the West Highlands I was allowed to take time out of class for 15-20 minutes to play some tunes on my instrument and that helped hugely. The staff recognised that what I was passionate about was also a tool in helping me to de-stress. For the school staff to recognise that was a positive step indeed. I would hope that up and down Scotland school staff and those working with people on the autism spectrum appreciate and indeed recognise, that what people with autism are interested in and passionate about can be used as tools to navigate challenging situations.

 

I look forward to taking my music forwards. I want to develop my music, create a sound that I am happy with and work in the music community with a respect for tradition, a respect for my instrument and the music that I play,  a sense of quiet determination and a deep sense of humility. I’m busy working on establishing my own band and hope to do my debut album next year so that is exciting. I have chosen exceptionally good people and all round great friends to be part of this journey with me. As an autistic musician it is important to have people who understand me well to be around me on this exciting adventure.I also look forward to performing with the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra which is like a big family to me.I want to demonstrate that having Aspergers Syndrome should be no barrier to fully participating in the world of traditional music. It will be good to spend more time with my musical friends and performing with them.

 

I am also passionate about politics. People may wonder why the hell I’m interested in politics  giving all the chaos that is going on. The answer to that is I want to contribute positively to the country and help ensure that every single person on the autism spectrum gets access to the support that they need and that they have the opportunities available to them to lead happy and successful lives.That is what drives me. A duty to help other people and to help the country progress. To me politics is not a game. It’s about creating positive change.  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,

 

One question that people have often asked is: “do I have ambitions to stand for parliament?”Now what is the answer to that? Yes is the answer but for the time being my priority is on my music. I want to gain more life experience before even attempting to stand to be a parliamentary candidate. It would 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 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.

 

My other passion involves the countryside. I was lucky enough to be brought up on a smallholding in central Fife. It has been a place where I learned a lot about communication, discipline and teamwork. Being in the countryside also enables me to relax and de-stress which is always good. We have a Clydesdale horse and the horse always makes me smile (unless he misbehaves himself). I always think that animals can have a really positive impact on those on the autism spectrum and especially with those on the lower end of the spectrum. They can help them to express themselves and communicate. It would be great if more people on the autism spectrum could have access to the countryside, learn about what goes on there and have the opportunity to meet and interact with animals. That would be good. I also hope that this year I can meet other young people who come from a rural background. That would help to enhance my social skills, build up my confidence and enhance my strong rural roots and my pride in being a country boy.

 

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.

 

As I look ahead, I want to say this. I do not and never will regret being on autism spectrum. Never. I will never 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 also want to say this. 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. It is important for you to go out there, after finishing the course that you have done, and do what you can to  make Scotland and the wider United Kingdom much more autism friendly. Work with people on the autism spectrum, embrace the potential that they have  and to showcase the talents that they all have.

 

In conclusion I hope you have all found my presentation to be informative and once again I thank The Richard Fellowship Scotland for inviting me along today. I has been a real pleasure speaking to you all.  I now look forward to giving you a few tunes on my fiddle. Thank you.

 

Being my authentic self

The big question I have been asking myself recently  has been around authenticity. Who is the real David Nicholson? Who is the real me? I think, in the era of social media and celebrity “TV shows”, peer pressure and so on it is a question that many people may well be asking alongside myself.

I think the key to living a happy and successful life is to be true to ones authentic self regardless of what others may think. That is hard and for me personally, I feel like I have been in a washing washing being spun back and forth over the past several years. Social media has been a nightmare in this regard. I have often felt that I need to keep up with people from what I see on facebook. You’ve got to have this haircut to look cool or wear this type of clothing to look sexy. That has been extremely damaging to me.  A result of that has been an insecurity as too who I truly am and has caused mental health challenges. Also the sense of social isolation and loneliness in the community where I come from in Fife has not helped either and has made me question myself and doubt myself. I have hit out at myself with some heavy self-hatred because of the isolation I have felt.   Well, since this year marks my 30th birthday it is time to step up to the plate as it were and be true to my self.  We should be a bit more wary of social media and the damage it cause to people and their mental well-being. 

For me that means taking pride in, and not being ashamed of, being autistic and having Aspergers Syndrome. My condition may make me a complex character, awkward, anxious, and bloody difficult at times but that’s all part of my true self. I’ve tested people and their patience. People have walked away because they don’t truly understand me or my condition but that’s fine. That is their problem. Those who have stayed with me are truly genuine, lifelong friends. Also I can be painfully shy at times despite me being outgoing during certain periods. My shyness can hold me back from saying what I truly think or what I want to say.  Equally I am a reserved and serious young man who has exceptionally high standards, exceptions and is fiercely driven and disciplined. I do not suffer fools gladly. Having said that, when the circumstances are right, I do like to have fun and have a dry sense of humour and wit. I think that that was well on display during the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra tour to Orkney and Shetland last year. 

I am a country boy at heart and I am passionate about the family smallholding, the rural way of life, countryside sports and traditions, vintage tractors, Clydesdale horses, equestrian sports and a soft spot for the country/rural ladies.  The countryside offers me the space to de-stress, get away from it all and think. I will always champion the countryside and will always take pride in eating good quality British red meat. I have also enjoyed getting back and playing the sport of curling over the past few months. That has brought me much joy too. 

I am also a musician with a deep passion for music and the fiddle. I am serious about taking forward my music and to taking it in an exciting direction. I am a firm believer in tradition and in playing the tunes in the way they were meant to be played.  That forms a huge part of my musical philosophy alongside a good beat/good timing etc. Music is where I feel truly accepted and can be true to myself. It is like a home to me, a refuge from all the madness going on in todays world. Music is where I have made friends with some truly wonderful people and talented musicians. 

Politically I am a One Nation Conservative who believes in a compassionate, principled yet pragmatic, respectful and tolerant approach to politics. I am a moderate.  I do not believe in class warfare  or politics which brings about division and hatred. That is not me. I believe in discipline, excellence and in people having a duty and responsibility to look out for and help those in need. I believe in individualism but also that sense of community too. A sense of duty and obligation to help those who need that bit support to get on in life. I believe in the monarchy, in the union, in the armed forces, in the church and in a fair and flexible market economy.

I also value cross party work especially on issues around autism, mental health and music. I also place a huge value in having friends right across the political spectrum.

It saddens me that there’s much anger, division and intolerance in today’s political world. Being autistic all this hatred and anger bewilders me and does, admittedly, make me anxious.  Things need to change so that politics can regain respectability again and be a place where political debate can be done in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for each others point of view Yes, be passionate but keep it tempered. As Her Majesty the Queen said in a recent speech to the WRI in Sandringham: 

““Of course, every generation faces fresh challenges and opportunities. As we look for new answers in the modern age, I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes, like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view; coming together to seek out the common ground; and never losing sight of the bigger picture. To me, these approaches are timeless, and I commend them to everyone.”

““Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding.”

I certainly agree with these sentiments from our sovereign. I will for one will never ever allow myself to push my politics into ultra-tribalism or into the gutter. 

 I admire the positive energy that the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern brings to politics. That gets approval from me. Politics needs to be about hope for the future and positivity. Scaremongering and negativity tires a country and its populace and only helps the extreme forces at both ends of the political spectrum. 

On a final point, I’d like to thank my family and  good friends for putting up with me over the course of the years. I’ve been a pain in the backside at times but I am moving forward and I am positive about future. I just need to embrace my authentic self, move on from negative and untrue friends and embrace my family, good friends and what I love in life especially music and the countryside. I also have to perceive myself in a better light too. Instead of viewing myself as an ugly, undateable young man I need to be confident, positive and recognise too that I am an attractive and charming man. 

2019 and a fresh start

Over the Christmas Period I have been re-reading two outstanding books by Norman Drummond: “Spirit of Success” and “Stepback”. Both books have made me sit back and reflect. The books have helped me to make a few decisions and for 2019 to be the year where the authentic David Nicholson comes out of his shell and starts to shine. 

The biggest mistake I have made over the past several years has been allowing social media to drag me in all directions which has led to anxiety, confusion and insecurity. It took me away from my true self in some regards. As a result people haven’t seen me consistently firing on all cylinders and being on top form.  The energy and potential has been there but I’ve not been able to use it to the fullest. That has not been right. Social media may have its positives but I’ve felt its destructiveness to the full. Never again. 

Equally, as I have grown older the more I have realised that I have outgrown the community where I grew up in.That sense of social isolation and rejection which I have faced with being in Levenmouth for most of my 29 years has had a huge impact upon my mental well-being. I do not fit in to the tough working class culture hence the hassle I got at school and after my school years. It has profoundly hurt me how I was treated when I was younger, not being invited out to parties and so forth. It got very very lonely I assure you but it made me resilient and as a positive growing up in Levenmouth taught me to the importance of having a strong fighting spirit. 

 However, I cannot let that frustration hold me back but the time has come to take a different direction and loosen links.  My heart lies in two places: the borders of Scotland and in the West/coast of Scotland/the Outer Hebrides. I retain hope that perhaps one day I may be able to move to either area, start a small farm/croft and truly relax. 

My New Years Resolution is to lessen the influence that social media has on my life and to start taking pride in my real self. That way I can be the happy young chap I know I can be. That means:

  1. Never apologising for being autistic. I know that the condition makes socialising and communicating difficult at times both on social media and in the real world. As a result I have been foolish at times, made too many mistakes and made myself vulnerable. That has led to people misunderstanding me, testing peoples patience and so forth.  For that I do apologise and do so with the fullest sincerity. I will always humbly apologise if I’ve made an idiot of myself and made mistakes. Sometimes it’s hard for me to process what is happening in the world, how to socialise etc.  However, being autistic has its advantages too: being focused and disciplined on the things I love in life, being a tad eccentric, being geeky (or as I prefer to say intellectual)
  2. Keeping close to being an old school, traditional country gentleman who values discipline (along with some fun and laughter), high standards, politeness and good manners. The pressure that I have felt to try and be one of the lads has caused enormous strain so all that now goes out the window. Do you actually need to be a lad to attract the ladies? Do you? Well thanks to shows like “Love Island” that has been the impression that I stupidly made over the last few years. That blew away my confidence, I tried to take a new direction and all hell broke loose with anguish and tears to boot.  I know if I stick to being the gentleman I know that I am then good things will…….happen. Nothing beats being a man who treats women with charm, courtesy, respect and also with a bit of old fashioned wit. 
  3. Keeping close to my country roots and my passion for the countryside and its way of life. Also keeping close to my passions: of curling (the sport), of my music, of steam locomotives, of walking and of reading. I will also keep close to my beliefs including my faith and my One Nation, Pragmatic Conservatism and love of the Royal Family, of the church and armed forces.
  4. Continuing to strive for excellence, high standards and success but within the boundaries that perfectionism does not exist. 
  5. Leading my life in such a way that makes me happy and not leading it how others want me to lead it. 

DMN.

Having Aspergers Syndrome

Many people have asked me whether I regret having Aspergers Syndrome. The answer to that is a complicated one and I will answer it in this blog.

For me and many others with Aspergers Syndrome one of the detrimental impacts of the condition is communication and socialising. We do not do socialising very well. We can be seen as being socially awkward and eccentric. To be frank I was plainly rubbish at making friends when I was younger. I was a loner. People with the condition can be viewed as “different” by people due to how they behave and the lack of socialising. That can result in bullying. I experienced that. I was viewed as different by many of the people in my age group in Fife. They lacked understanding and were ignorant. They viewed difference in a negative way. If you weren’t drinking buckfast (or as some people say “Buckie”), partying, having sex, playing football etc then you were seen as an outcast. I felt that. When I was younger I did not have many friends. All I had were my family, the smallholding, my music, politics and books. I wasn’t a party goer. That sense of being different did make things hard for me. I felt the odd one out. Even today in Fife there’s still that feeling of not belonging in the community where I come from. That sense of loneliness has impacted on my mental health and it can cause problems for many other people on the autism spectrum. The pressure to try and conform to how others behave and the desire to try and be “normal” does cause autistic people like me huge problems. We can become very vulnerable trying to be someone we are not in order to impress people. I’ve been there and got the t-shirt. It ain’t fun. It brings Insecurity and unhappiness. I’ve felt like screaming (in fact I have screamed my head off) at the efforts I have went to to try and be seen to be normal in eyes of people in Fife. That is why I want to move to London by 2017 and be in a place where I can be true to myself and be my most relaxed.

I wish people of all ages can take notice that behind the social awkwardness lie individuals on the spectrum who have a lot of potential and talent to do well. I truly wish people would educate themselves and see autistic people not as loners but as people who can succeed in fields such as science, mathematics, music and sport amongst others.

For me being autistic has brought dark times. There’s been times when I’ve been in tears, when I’ve felt lonely, when I’ve been bullied amongst other things. I do suffer still from anxiety. What has stopped me from going off the rails has been a huge determination and fighting spirit within me to show all these negative people out there that people like me who are autistic can do well. We might be seen as being “geeks” “aliens” etc but I’m bloody determined to show these nasty people that they are wrong. That’s why I do not regret having Aspergers Syndrome. It’s part of who I am and nobody can or will ever change that.

I’m very lucky that over the past few years I have made friends with some of most outstanding and most caring people imaginable. They have helped me adapt a more positive attitude in my life and to be happier with the real me. I don’t have hundreds of friends but the friends that I do have in a Edinburgh, London and elsewhere throughout the UK are the best friends I could ever wish for. Genuine Friends and companions can bring autistic people real pleasure that is for sure.

At the age of 26 I have had my battles with socialising but now I’m now more comfortable networking etc. I’m at an age where I want to put past struggles behind me and move forward. I move forward with the determination to be true to myself and to do want I want to do regardless of what others think. I’m not going to apologise for being a geek, a musician, a stamp collector, a Christian, a Conservative, a small holder, a countryside lover, a train lover amongst other things. These all make me who I am. I will not change these for anyone. I also do not apologise to anyone for being straight (yes, I thought I was gay because I thought no girl would go out with me. That was bad), aspirational and fiercely driven. I would urge everyone on the spectrum to celebrate being different and to be happy with the gifts and talents that they have. Do NOT try and be someone you are not.

I do want to say that one of the huge benefits of having Aspergers Syndrome has been the ability to focus intently on three key interests that I have: music, politics and rural affairs. Music in particular has hugely helped me through the good and bad times. Playing my fiddle/violin has brought me real joy and has allowed me to communicate my real emotions at their rawest. Music is a lifelong companion to me and I will never ever neglect it. Music can be a great tool to those with autism and special needs and I sincerely wish music could be seen in a more positive light by some in society for the the great things that it can do to bring joy to those most vulnerable in society.

I finish by saying that in the question people have put to me about regretting having Aspergers Syndrome then no I do not regret it. Yes, there have been challenges but these have made me stronger and more resolute. Having the condition has also enabled to enjoy some wonderfully joyful moments especially on the musical scene. I may be a loner to some but to me and to my family and friends I’m simply David. Long may that continue.