Life on the Autism spectrum

James - Interview 49

Male
Age at interview: 22
Age at diagnosis: 12

Brief outline: James was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when he was 12 years old. After spending some time in a psychiatric ward, James went to a specialist unit on the site of a mainstream school and is now in his third year studying psychology at university.

Background: James is a university student. Ethnic background/nationality: White Scottish

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James, a psychology student was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when he was 12 years old. When he was very young, his parents were concerned about some of his behaviours; he would always want the same cup, plate and cutlery, play with the same toy constantly and his motor development was different. It wasn’t until he was about ten when James began to get headaches all the time and found being in the classroom very difficult that his parents began to push for a diagnosis. At around the same time, his peers began to start having more formal friendships and it became apparent that there was something different in his development.
 
James was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome during his first year of secondary school and describes how nobody real knew what to do with him. He found the diagnosis “pretty soul destroying” and describes feeling very bad about himself. It looked as though he would end up in residential care because he could not deal with the rigours of everyday life and he spent some time in a children’s psychiatric ward on anti-depressants.
 
His parents found a secondary school in the area which has a support base for children with high functioning autism and Asperger syndrome and James went there feeling ambivalent about it. For the first year at the base, he didn’t attend any mainstream classes and staff worked on his social skills, building his self esteem and enabling him to feel confident enough to enter mainstream classes. While he avoided going to the classes, the staff used the tactic of making life as boring as possible in the base and James eventually began to go back into the classroom.
 
He worked his way up to a 75% timetable over the years and was able to withdraw from classes and use quiet rooms in the base to relax when he became stressed. He made good progress academically but was told by the educational psychologist that he was unrealistic to expect that he could go to university. By the time he got to the fifth form, his confidence was growing and he had made some friends. He was selected to coach basketball and reached a turning point when he stood up in front of his year to explain what it was like to have Asperger syndrome. He went on to get straight ones in his Highers, was voted Prom King and Outstanding Pupil of the Year Award before going to on to university.
 
James is now in his third year of university studying psychology with a focus on autism. He has had financial support to provide him with equipment such as a hand held organiser which is important to help him to manage his problems with organisation. He has had a girlfriend since fresher’s week and describes himself as a ‘middle of the road’ student in terms of academic achievement and social life.

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