Aut-Ish Podcast: Episode 3 – Growing Up with Autism

Episode 3 is now live!

Click “Continue Reading” to access transcript provided.

Intro Music [00:00-00:40]

Onikage
Hello! and welcome to the Aut-Ish podcast. My name is Onikage, and this autism podcast, like my blog provides various autistic content. I am autistic myself and I want to promote acceptance and to explore various stories and personalities in the autistic community. This podcast will feature guests that are involved in the autistic community in some way. Today’s topic is “Growing up With Autism”. Autistics have various stories to tell whether it’s from themselves, or on behalf from a parent or carer. Growing up autistic can either be empowering or even extremely difficult. It all depends on the circumstances on each person. Some don’t even know they are autistic, but still have stories to tell. An autistic child becomes an autistic adult. Their stories still have more milestones to come.

Today’s guest is Chris Bonnello, who has a blog called Autistic not Weird. A teacher, author, and speaker. Chris documents both his experiences and other information about autism for both children and adults. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Chris
Hello! I’m Chris Bonnello. I’m a special needs tutor, and a writer for the Internet, and I used to be a primary school teacher, diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 25.

Onikage
That’s great!

Chris
No Problem.

Onikage
The first question is: What were your experiences growing up with autism?

Chris
Well, given that I grew up in the time before also most widely known or recognised at the very least the diagnoses, tended to only go for those with profound disabilities. I always knew I was the weird kid. I was very clearly different to everyone else, and- it wasn’t me who was different to everyone else, it was everyone else that was different to me, because well. In my perspective, I’m completely normal. I mean people ask me what it’s like to be autistic and, I give out dozen different answers to that, but the main one is well, to me it just feels completely normal. Am I supposed to feel weird? Is it just other people who half expecting me or to an extent instructing me to feel weird?
Growing up on the autism spectrum, I’m not going to invent any sob stories about my childhood because generally speaking my childhood was great. The teenage years were a little bit less so because, not going to many details, but it’s largely because teenage bullies don’t need much in the way of ammunition, but I gave them plenty of ammunition. There’s very much a case of knowing that was different, not really having any explanations to why. And only really making peace with that difference in my late twenties within a couple years of me getting the diagnosis.

Onikage
Yeah, it’s funny that you felt normal in your childhood. I actually felt the same thing as well. I knew I had maybe some problems like special needs but never really thought about it, I didn’t think of the additional support I had. I just thought I was normal until I was in my teens, and then I was like “Wait something is wrong here”. Why all of a sudden they’re making a big deal out of this going “oh, you may have that you may have that”. They never specified until I was an adult.

Chris
I remember when I was- when was about 17. That was the first time I started to think- and these are my words at the time “what if there really is something wrong with- not just wrong but diagnosably wrong with me?”. and well, I don’t consider autism something that’s wrong with me, but at the time I was wondering “what is this?”. Well if there is something that is there that needs to be diagnosed here, but at the time I just pointed out to “A Level” exam stress and then just carried on with life. and kept thinking I was just weird and also socially inadequate and not really having a handle on how other people worked.

Onikage
Yeah. It’s like when I was 16 and when all of a sudden I got tossed labels left, right and centre, going “you may have this, you may have that”. and there was no specific answers and I’m like “okay”. It was like an identity crisis in a way. But when I was an adult, [when] I was at university or at college I was very stubborn going “oh, I don’t need help. I’m fine” but I learnt the hard way.
I actually did need that support and when I eventually decided well I’ll give the support a try. I’ll have a look for a diagnosis. It was probably one of the best things that I did *laughs*. Then everything started to make more sense, and someone really close to me was like “you’re a walking textbook maybe you should get a diagnosis I had a diagnosis lately” and I did, and if it wasn’t for that person I wouldn’t be doing this now. *laughs*

Chris
Yeah.

Onikage
Or any autism related projects I’ve done, and those have helped me out as well which is one reason why-

Chris
It’s surprisingly how much better life gets after a diagnosis.

Onikage
It does!

Chris
A lot of people wouldn’t think it’s kind of almost counter-intuitive once you’re diagnosed with something, life is supposed to get worse. But if it helps you to not only learn what your identity is since answer questions about things that in the past you don’t quite understand, and also helps you to put into context to strengths and weaknesses and helps you to build on the person you are.

Onikage
Yep, But the next question is As an autistic person with a late diagnosis, how does the diagnosis impact your life?

Chris
I think it has to be seen in the context of what my life was like at the time I was – I was going through my most difficult years at the time, so after I found out I was autistic, it was about a year and a half before between finding out and getting the diagnosis. When I first found out I saw autism as a synonym or a word that meant everything that is wrong with me. I was well- I was consciously aware the tip gave me my insane mathematical abilities and my incredible memory and so on, but it wasn’t like that was the bit I was concentrating on. I felt very much inclined to define myself by my weaknesses rather than the strengths because of what was going on at the time. A rather negative self perception of I am the person who was supposed to be the failure, I am the person who is supposed to struggle. That’s how I saw himself at the time. So when I thought about autism, I thought “well, yeah it makes me good academically” and obviously it doesn’t for everyone, but it did for me. But, even then that wasn’t focusing on, I was focusing on how autism was affected me negatively and the things were stopping me from doing and how its- how was making me relentlessly offend everyone I talked to because I didn’t understand social boundaries, when really a lot of the time it wasn’t really me being offensive, it was just other people choosing to be offended.
I mean fair enough, we should take responsibility for the things we don’t know don’t get right, but we also shouldn’t unfairly blame ourselves for things that we’re not actually responsible for. After a couple of years, and I think one of the turning moments was when I got a job in a special school. I left primary school teaching, worked in special Ed, and I ended up giving life advice to teenagers who are strikingly similar to me, except some had learning difficulties. Some to be completely frank had just been bullied out of mainstream education but, not only was I doing something but which was good at, I was being seen by the people to be doing something else as a good accident. As if by magic, I was able to see myself by my strengths rather than by my weaknesses. So it took a few years to make peace for myself, but ultimately getting an Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis and coming to terms with it has been one of the most helpful things I’ve done with my adult life.

Onikage
What were the triumphs of growing up with autism?

Chris
That’s a pretty tough question to answer not least because I had no idea I was autistic until I was in my mid-twenties, but like I said right at the beginning, and yours differs somehow. in terms of triumphs. I suppose the best one that would be, ending up being the person who I wanted to be, despite perhaps negative influence of other people. Despite people picking on me for being different. Despite me being the targets of those people don’t like it when people are different.
Not all friendships are created equal, and some of the friends I had were negative influences. But, despite all of that, I was able- at the very least in private I was able to remain the person who I wanted to be, and once adulthood came along and no longer had to spent time of these bad influence people. I was able to become the person I wanted to be in public as well.

Onikage
Yeah. I think for myself when it comes to triumphs of growing up autism. Even though I wasn’t diagnosed either. I think one of the things that I actually think is positive, is my special interests. They kept me going throughout the years, even if they changed. When I was a child one of the biggest ones was Pokemon, or even video games in general but Pokemon was just it was just- just the world, the characters, the game, the music, everything! And it was just one of the things that had a big impact to me.
Any stories that stand out?

Chris
Okay, The one that stands out, the one that I tell most is the best answer I have ever given to any test question ever. Okay so, I use this during my talks as an example of how to be specific- well why to be specific and clear with your expectations if you want autistic people to match them. So at the age of 11, I was given this question
A frog is ten meters away from a pond. Every day, the frog jumps halfway towards the pond, so on day one he jumps five meters towards the pond. second day, two and a half meters, third day, one and the quarter meters and so on. Every day, jumps off half way towards the pond the question was Will the Frog ever reach the pond? and give reasons for your answer.

[Silence for audience to guess the question]

Chris
Got any ideas?

Onikage
*laughs* Nope. I can’t think!

[Another Pause for audience to guess the question]

Chris
Okay, Nice pause there to make sure that your listeners can come up with their own ideas.
And I will now give the answer that the frog will never reach the pond.
The reason being that, if you only ever go halfway to something there is always the other half left. Even if you’re jumping out by subatomic levels. 50% of something is never the whole way. there’s always the other half mainly have a smaller half. There’s the mathematical answer because I later found out that they wanted a mathematical answer to it. The answer I put at the age of 11 well I got the first paper I said the frog will never reach the pond but when they asked me to give reasons for my answer I said because frogs are amphibians and if they go for three days without water their skin will dry up and they will die.

Onikage
Yeah.

Chris
Which to me- in fact not just to me just objectively was a much more accurate answer than the answer they wanted which had a literal million day old frog jumping subatomic distances towards a pond, and somehow not starving to death, but I was told I got that answer wrong.

Onikage
Noo! *Laughs*

Chris
But, yeah, I’d like to think that the moral of that story’s always a bit obvious. The more specific you can be with some on the autism spectrum, the better we will match expectations, and they’re taking things literally the thing is real, and it’s often hilarious as well.

Onikage
Yep, I agree with that. I can’t think of any examples of me taking things literally but I do it quite a bit. *laughs*

Chris
I know plenty of stories of the students of mine, or other teachers students taking things literally. For example, a teacher from a friend of mine who took a class of mainstream children on a field trip. And everyone picked out a clipboard to write on, except for the lad with asperger’s syndrome, and it’s always curious how it’s usually the autistic person who is the last to get a clipboard or being invited- it’s almost like we’re supposed to just magically know these things without being told. But, anyway there this lad went to the teacher and said “I haven’t got a clipboard what should I do?” and the teacher said “Oh, it’s fine just write on someone’s back”.

Onikage
*Laughs*

Chris
So he wrote on someone’s back. I don’t think he should have been told off about it.

Onikage
I Agree!

Chris
Because he did what he was instructed to do but- *laughs*.

Onikage
My brain just done that there! My brain literally thought “someone’s back” there! *laughs*

Chris
Yeah! Why would the teacher ask him to answer that was- OH! He wasn’t saying write on someone’s back. He was saying grab a piece of paper rest it against someone’s back and write on the paper.

Onikage
They could specify!

Chris
There was a teaching assistant friend of mine who were told an autistic girl to just go quickly wash her hands in the toilet.

Onikage
*laughs* There’s always a moment, but they can lead to so many fun stories.

Onikage
What would you advise autistic children with “growing up with autism”?

Chris
I’ve literally written articles about this. Yeah, On Autisticnotweird.com. There’s an article called “Growing up Autistic” which is a 10 tips’ for teenagers and young adults on the autism spectrum, and there’s a much more recent one which is “50 tips specifically written for autistic children” but as far as I can remember like at this moment right now, suppose some of the bits of advice I would give would be:

I’d say just about the first bit of advice that comes to mind is well, if you’re different there’ll be quite a few people who try to make you feel worse for being different. They are wrong. Being different does not automatically make you worse. If there’s a class of a hundred people and 99% of them get a maths question wrong and one person gets it right. Does that make the one person worse than everyone else cuz they’re the only person to get it right? No, the world needs different brains. It needs people who differently. It needs people who think about things differently, and even if school can be quite difficult for those who are different to everyone else, it doesn’t automatically make you worse or not good enough.
If you’re human, you have strengths that’s the rule, that’s what I always say. And make sure that you define yourself by what you’re good at, that you concentrate on what you’re good at, and you get to do what you’re good at. Rather than just think all the time about the things that you’re not so good at. Remember your strengths rather than weaknesses because that’s what people in general should do whether they’re autistic or not.

Onikage
I agree with that, yes. Definitely focusing on the strengths because that’s where autistics really shine, especially those who have like special interests. You’re a prime example as well with your blog and your teaching and your speeches, but you’re a good prime example of how autistics shine they’re with their positives. Society need to see more of autistics being encouraged through the positive things, for me it’s this podcast, blogging, doing photography, making music. Those are considered my strengths, and I feel like they should be encouraged a lot more and continuing. And there’s a lot of autistics out there there a lot of people tend to judge, but if there’s a special interest and there’s something based in their special interest, and it encourages them to work harder than that they should encourage them to do that, it also encourages neurodiversity [to] see a different mindset. And that’s the problem with society, it’s just one rigid mindset but if we focus on different brains we have all sorts. It’ll be a lot more fun. *laughs*

Chris
Yeah, On the photography note. One of the first students worked with this education provider i worked for these days. After I left primary school teaching, I started doing tuition for students who are outside the education system, and one of the very first students worked with- we did a lot of what we very euphemistically call restorative work with her. What restorative work means is basically undoing the damage done to her by her previous school, and she was the most amazing photographer I’ve ever met in my life, and her work with close-up shots of dragonflies and damselfi- it was just eye watering to look, it was incredible and she was extremely good at arts and crafts and so on, and I was the person teaching her English and maths, and I wasn’t trying to teach her to be a mathematical genius, or the next Shakespeare, because well that was interpreting a particular skill set.
I was teaching her how to be good enough at maths to not get ripped off by people, and enough about English to know to be able to communicate using the written word. But the work that we did beyond that was teaching her that she was allowed to have strengths. I mean, she came to us having been pretty much brainwashed by previous schools wherever it’s the staff or the students or a mix of both into thinking that she was supposed to be useless, because she wasn’t clever at the right things. I’ve been very cynically say that if you’re good at English and you’re good at maths, but you’re terrible at everything else you are what’s people call clever. If you’re an amazing musician, artist, photographer, but you struggle with your maths, you struggle your English. you have what people call learning difficulties, and whichever one you’re told you have it sticks with you.
So, we did a lot of work with this student, teaching her that actually, yes. Photography is an extremely valid skill and there’s quite a demand for photographers, you arts and crafts stuff you could absolutely make launch a small business out of that, and I’m now at the stage where I don’t have to worry about her future because

  • A she knows what her strengths are,
  • B she knows that she is allowed to have strengths,
  • and C she does have the adult support around her for the things that she does  struggle with.

Onikage
That’s great, that’s great to hear! because that’s what we all need in the end is support. Without support, we wouldn’t go nowhere.

Chris
And a positive self perception which we don’t always get automatically.

Onikage
Of course! Yeah. That is definitely important, but I’m like that girl and I’m good at all creative things but with Maths I’m absolutely garbage! *laughs* English I like, I’ve always liked writing. I’ve always liked art, graphic design, photography, music, everything creative I love. Maths, I don’t mind doing basics and that, but it just, overloads my brain.

Onikage
Finally. Any other comments?

Chris
No, I think you just info-dumped about pretty much everything else. I was thinking about that particular topic.

Onikage
Yeah! That’s okay *laughs*
But yeah, thanks very much for participating. I will make sure to link the children autism links from your site below, and so people can read it and have more information, and I’ll also link your actual blog as well. I’ll make sure I’ll do that, so everyone can look at your website. Thanks again for joining the podcast it was nice having you!

Chris
Yeah, thanks for inviting me!

[Outro and Music]

Onikage
Thank you for listening to the Aut-ish podcast! if you like more blog information, please access autish.wordpress.com
Thank you for listening, and stay tuned for future episodes.
This is Onikage from Aut-ish signing out!

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