Life on the Autism spectrum

Neil and Catherine - Interview 55

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Brief outline: Catherine, 27, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when she was 23. She works part time as a volunteer gardener.

Background: Neil and Catherine live together. Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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Catherine was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when she was 23 years old after years of seeing doctors and psychiatrists and being told that she had depression and social phobia. Asperger syndrome was suggested to her while she was on an online forum and after doing a lot of research, she went back to the psychiatrist she had been seeing and presented her case. He referred her to an autism centre where she was diagnosed.
 
Catherine found school difficult. She describes herself as a shy kid without any friends and her mother remembers her walking around with the dinner ladies at lunchtime. She was very bright and loved English although she could not stand having to read aloud in class.
 
When she got to around 14, Catherine became very depressed and spent long periods in her room. She started to see a counsellor when she was 16 and felt suicidal. She was sent for various therapies such as CBT and group therapy but they all made her feel worse. She did an NVQ in administration but found the work placement impossible because she found it so difficult to interact with people and answer phones. After having a few cleaning jobs, she worked at a stately home in the office for six years. This was helped by her being the only person in the office, her mother worked at the same place and the boss was very understanding. She was worked as a volunteer gardener in a wildlife garden for the past three years.  
 
Catherine and Neil were pen pals for a few years before they met up and eventually moved in together. Neil’s brother has AS and Neil was diagnosed with bipolar earlier this year and so he is familiar with some of the characteristics. Neil has helped Catherine to learn to socialise more easily but she still has difficulties in talking to people she does not know. Both Neil and Catherine acknowledge that it is difficult for Catherine to know where to draw the line between trying to be more sociable while also knowing her limits. They have compromised on various aspects of their everyday lives, such as the lighting and noise levels at home and restricting friends from dropping in unexpectedly.
 
They describe themselves as ‘geeky bids’ who enjoy staying at home, knitting, reading and drinking tea. Neil describes how he was drawn to Catherine’s enthusiasm, childlike qualities, honesty and lack of pretensions. Catherine feels that while there are positives to having AS, it is sad that people are unable to get past the disability to be able to appreciate the abilities that many people with AS have.

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