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With no condescension intended, it was impossible not to admire Londoner Dean Beadle as he stood before members of Autism Argyll at its last AGM.
The reasons behind Autism Argyll’s demise were covered in a previous edition of this newspaper, but there was optimism among the sadness.
Anyone who has stood stand before an audience of strangers to deliver a talk will recognise the knot in the stomach and those nerves. For someone with autism, it must surely engender anxiety beyond anything others could imagine.
Dean’s presentation at Arrochar’s Three Villages Hall was entitled ‘Aspergers, anxiety and me’. And it was all about being positive while living with autism.
He makes a living touring the world talking about and spreading understanding of autism, but opened in Arrochar by making it clear that he does not claim to represent every autistic person.
His attitude is: ‘I’m going to be autistic until my dying breath, so I’m going to be positive.’
Dean went on: ‘We need to identify the challenges and put support in place, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the differences – the skills, the talents and personalities of our fabulous autistic people.’
This year is the 20th anniversary of Dean’s diagnosis of autism and at the beginning, by his own admission, he did not take it well.
‘I thought friendships, a career, relationships were all out of reach for me because I was on the autistic spectrum.’
There followed a gradual acceptance of his condition – helped, he joked, by online dating (‘I thought I had problems…’) and a realisation that autism is something to be celebrated.
Anxiety, though, is an ever-present for Dean. ‘Research tells us that anxiety is much more of an issue for autistics than the general population,’ he said.
Offering some personal tips, he suggested ‘saying less, but with maximum meaning’ to an autistic person experiencing anxiety. And to stay calm.
There are bonuses to being autistic, as Dean outlined. ‘Nobody experiences joy like an autistic. Most people will never get to that level of happiness and wellbeing.’
He ended with a tale from his past. ‘At the age of seven, I was told that by the age of 30 I’d be in prison. I was suspended more times than you could count. I was made to feel I would need to work to overcome autism.
‘In the second half of my life, so far I have done lecturing, spoken all over the world, I’m a singer, I do a lot of things. And I came to realise that this was not despite being autistic – it was because of it.’
He concluded: ‘Autism is not about a list of deficits or deficiencies – it’s a list of differences, and difference is good.’