Last year I was interviewed by Marie Walsh for a special issue of the journal Lacunae, the International Journal for Lacanian Psychoanalysis. Issue 16 of Lacunae had a special theme of autism reflected in Jean-Claude Maleval and Michel Grollier “Mottron’s Happy Autist is Not Kanner’s,” and Rob Weatherill, in “Being (Not) in the World Without a Father” in addition to this interview. (You can read the full table of contents or buy a copy from Karnac Books).
The full text of the interview is reproduced below with permission. Marie Walsh did an excellent job of shepherding my rambling thoughts into a cohesive narrative.
You can cite this interview as: Walsh, Marie. (2018). “Interview with Stuart Neilson, on the Lived Experience of Asperger’s Syndrome”. Lacunae, 16, 54-63.
Urban space is changing fast and despite the potential to increase urban space through growth, technology and social progress, the reality is often increasing exclusion and isolation. My own experience is one of a city increasingly paved over, squared off, noisier and lacking in calm spaces. Traffic, busy people and blank commercial facades have replaced more welcoming districts, because accessibility and family-friendly features are not a developer priority – they maximise borrowings, ramp up local property prices, take the increase in plot value and move on. Sustainable community is not a short-term money-spinner.
My perspective is very much the social exclusion and sensory impact of unsympathetic development. This post includes some images of Cork City and data maps of changing city demographics, at the level of the 74 electoral districts, to outline how the city is changing.
This is the full text of my chapter on sensory issues in public spaces, in the anthology “Knowing Why: Adult-Diagnosed Autistic People on Life and Autism”. The anthology presents contributions from a diverse group of people who were diagnosed autistic in adulthood. The book explores what it is like to feel so different, in so many ways, from other people without having known why; and then discovering that autism is not merely an explanation, but also an experience and identity shared by many others. Learning that your differences are autistic, even late in adulthood, is a positive event and useful knowledge for these writers.
The book contents are: Emerging From Burnout – Erin Human; Being the Dictionary: On Passions, Diagnosis, and Integration – A.J. Odasso; Sensory Issues and Social Inclusion – Stuart Neilson; Working While Autistic – Kelly Bron Johnson; All of Me: How Do I Know Where Blackness Ends and Neurodivergence Begins? – Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu; Using Intersecting Identities and Radically Accepting Communities to Increase Coping Skills – Samantha Hack; Autistic Navigation of Chronic Illness, Mental Illness, and Healthcare – Amythest Schaber; The Spectrum and Depression: Four Stories – M. Kelter; Cyborgs, Luddites, and To-Do List Apps: An Autistic Use of Technology – A.C. Buchanan.
I have a chapter in a new anthology of experiences written by a diverse group of people who were diagnosed autistic in adulthood. The book explores what it is like to feel so different, in so many ways, from other people without having known why; and then discovering that autism is not merely an explanation, but also an experience and identity shared by many others. Learning that your differences are autistic, even late in adulthood, is a positive event and useful knowledge for these writers.
The anthology is available in paperback (£19.05) or as a Kindle eBook (£9.99) from Amazon or from Barnes & Noble.
In a few months (the whole of February 2019) I will be exhibiting data visualization, digital images and photographs related to the portrayal of autism in St Peter’s Gallery on North Main Street in Cork. The exhibition will be accompanied by presentations and a panel discussion open to the public. These include:
“Working with autistic people to make art”, “Special needs education and the formation of personal identity”, “An Autism-Friendly space initiative”, and “How disability and difference find spatial signatures”
and A panel discussion featuring all speakers, open to questions
Fertility, sexuality and pregnancy are issues that are far more likely to affect autistic, disabled or mentally ill people. I am in favour of replacing the Eighth Amendment with sound legislation. It is really important for all affected groups exercise their own choices and vote, whichever way, for the outcome to reflect their views.
As someone with both an autism spectrum diagnosis and a history of mental illness, I fall into that intersectionality politely called ’dual diagnosis’, although it often feels more like ’falling between two stools’ than eligibility for duplicated supports. I am lucky to have won the postcode lottery and live in Cork City, the base of the only HSE-funded community support service in the country for adults with Asperger syndrome, where I get excellent social and other supports from Aspect, part of the Cork Association for Autism. I am unlucky to live in a country that otherwise has no services whatsoever for autistic adults (post 18 years) and where ’dual diagnosis’ means being shuffled between mental health services (as and when mental health is impacted) and social or disability support services. About 70-80% of people with Asperger syndrome also experience depression, anxiety and emotional difficulties. Suicidal thoughts are common and often difficult to identify. I want to share a particularly difficult recent encounter with psychiatric care that others in a similar position may find helpful to talk about.
In each of the last two years I have been involved in a film discussion group run by and for people with an Asperger syndrome or autism spectrum diagnosis. The group has fluctuated in membership between four and twelve people, with a core of continuous members. We have watched predominantly feature films and documentaries in which at least one principal character is explicitly identified as ’autistic’ within the film, in publicity material or according to audiences. Our group has displayed a phenomenal knowledge of cinema, television and relevant links to other art forms such as fiction, graphic novels and computer games with the same characters. The film discussion group has been a positive experience with a good reception.
The enthusiasm of the group and the incredible depth and breadth of knowledge about cinema and media shows a huge wealth of systematic learning while viewing, perhaps at a level that family and others are not aware. Reading ’comics’, playing console games and watching ’kid’s TV’ can have undiscovered depths of meaning for people who have limited opportunities to discuss their particular interests.
I hope this blog post might encourage you to start discussion groups of film, fiction or whatever areas interest you, and I would be pleased offer advice or attend further sessions. I would be especially interested in any public screenings of autism-themed films — the Cork Film Festival screening of “Life, Animated” (http://corkfilmfest.org/events/life-animated/) and panel discussion (which I was thrilled to be part of) was packed, and all the feedback that reached me was incredibly positive.
I have written before about the major topics that appear in newspaper articles that are “about autism”*, with their bias towards articles that mention boys, children, mothering and negative words. Autism is more often written about as a disorder, of a child, in the context of a parent (usually the mother) and as a sufferer, victim or burden. In this post I am looking at how newspapers write about autism itself, the choice of wording and phrasing that surround the words ‘autism’, ‘autistic’ or ‘Asperger’. Trying to visualise the use of words, in large volumes of text, is a very exciting topic and the results here are well worth studying in detail.
My own position on the use of words is to try to accurately reflect the terms that people choose themselves, or in the sources that I am referencing. The images here are convincing evidence that some word choices have a significant effect on positive reporting. In particular, the (identity-first language) adjective ‘autistic’ favours thoughts about personhood and the (person-first language) noun ‘autism’ is associated with negative, dehumanised phrasing. This is consistent with the findings of the survey “Which terms should be used to describe autism? Perspectives from the UK autism community”.
There are some technical notes at the end for anyone interested in the computer methods used to produce the images.
I have been spending a little more time than I would like investigating health clinics, diagnostic procedures and hospital. A recurring theme for me is inadequate, conflicting or confusing communication of potentially important medical information. My own position is that I have a wide vocabulary and good verbal fluency, but my listening comprehension is sometimes over-ridden by my own preconceptions or overwhelmed by sensory and emotional overload. At my worst I babble very fast, repetitively ask for confirmation of the same answer or simply become mute. This confuses people.
I am currently in-between two abdominal surgeries, the first involving 3 nights recovery in Intensive Care and a further 4 in a ward; the second will follow 6 weeks of recuperation at home (in which I am barred from lifting anything heavier than a jug of water). Needless to say the delivery of a diagnosis of major surgery at 53 requires some emotional processing (which I don’t think I have really started) and a great deal of exposure to beeping monitors, machinery and over-lapping conversation.
The staff have been absolutely fantastic and extremely accommodating. There are some areas of procedure and infrastructure that I found confusing.