Podcast Ep 1 - Recognising the signs of Asperger's

Hi there, and welcome to episode 1, the first official episode of the Stephen’s Evolution podcast. I’m Stephen McHugh, your host. I have Asperger’s, a form of autism. In this episode, I’m going to talk about autism, and what it is, and how you can recognise the signs of it in a loved one.

The information contained in this episode is for informational purposes only, and not to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please be aware that the content in this episode may remind you of your own struggles with autism, or those of a loved one.

In addition, there may be words that may evoke painful memories for you or that of a loved one. You can skip these sections, if you wish. Please consult the show notes for further details of these. Take your time and listen to this episode at a rate, and at times that you feel are suitable for you.

To give you some idea about what autism is, I’m going to tell you a little bit of a story about myself. I’m going to take you back in time, to a time when I was young and growing up.

In years gone by, my parents have told me about differences in the way I behaved, when there was relatively little awareness of autism, and what it was. My mum told me about a situation when I was only a few hours old, and in the hospital. I took an interest in a thermometer holder and a light switch. The midwife, amazed at my alertness at the time, called the sister on duty to come over and see this behaviour of mine.

A couple of days later, me and my mum were allowed home. For the first several weeks of my life, my mum and dad would regularly talk to me, but I wouldn’t respond in any definite way. I was more interested in things around me, most notably moving leaves on a tree outside.

It was during my second year that issues with me were becoming increasingly evident. I took an interest in circles, and I would remove books from a bookcase that had circles printed on their covers. I also developed a fear of loud noises, most notably the washing machine and vacuum cleaner. Opportunities to use those were hard to come by.

At the end of the garden where we lived, there was a fence. Beyond this fence were fields with pylons. People would take their dogs walking there, school boys would also play football. Whenever scrambling motorbikes went by behind the fence, or a plane flew overhead in the sky, I’d run quickly back into the house, crying with fright.

There were certain things that would cause me upset, especially during my play. I liked to build stairs and towers with red bricks only. If one brick wasn’t on one precisely, I would get upset there and then.

Another situation when I would get upset was when I was listening to music that I liked, and it ended. There was also a sandpit in the garden, and I would like to build sandcastles. I would always want them to be perfect.

Whenever other members of the family were engaged in their own play or other activities, I wouldn’t be involved in those activities, as I preferred to play on my own.

When it came to car journeys, there was one particular route to a supermarket, and I would get upset if there was a deviation from that particular route. It was surprising that I could actually remember the route, especially as I could only see the tops of street lamps, trees and roofs of buildings. I didn’t like going into certain shops either, most notably shoe shops. And at mealtimes, I had a preference for a certain spoon.

I started to develop another trait. This was being resentful of interference from others. I didn’t want any help from others. I preferred to do things right by myself.

When I was 2 and a half years of age, I was still not talking. By now, health visitors were becoming increasingly concerned about this. I seemed to be going back and forth to the doctors, but no one could seem to get to the problem of what was really wrong at the time.

By the time I was 3 years of age, there had been an improvement in my speech, but there were no complete sentences. My mum and dad were always confident that there was an underlying improvement.

When I went to playgroup, after a rather tearful start, I settled in quite nicely. I would play with a few select toys, most notably a broken toy drum. I’d wear this on my head, and pretend to be a king.

I continued to develop more intense interests, these included clocks, tunnels, numbers and fountains. One day, when my parents got up, they found I made a clock on the landing floor. Not a real one of course, I had the numbers in the right positions. I had used a pencil and wooden sticks for the hands, so yes, I could be full of surprises.

Blu-Tac opened up new horizons for me, especially given its flexibility. You could do lots of things with it, including shaping it, bending it and squashing it.

During some evenings, out in the garden, whenever there were shadows cast on the ground, I’d pretend the shadow was a tunnel. I’d run up and down the garden path. When I disappeared into the shadow on the ground, I would see that as the train going into the tunnel. And when I emerged from the shadow running back towards the house, I would see that as the train emerging from the tunnel.

In the city, close to where we lived, there was a tall fountain in an Arndale there. At the bottom, there were coloured lights, shimmering in the moving water there. I felt rather overwhelmed by the fountain, and would spend long periods of time talking about it.

Fountains would feature quite heavily in my play. I liked to build my own fountains using toy bricks. I could be seen as very imaginative. I liked to listen to music that reminded me of splashing water.

And speaking of listening to music, we had striped settees and coloured striped deck chairs.I would pretend these stripes were keys on a piano. This was likely a sign of musical ability in me. At that point, my parents decided to get me a piano.

As I turned 4, another important matter came up, schooling for me. I was still at playgroup at the time. My mum went to see the playgroup leader and talked to them about her concerns about my lack of language and speech development. At that meeting, the playgroup leader told my mum that if I had been their child, they wouldn’t be sending me to school then.

My mum went to speak to the headteacher of the local primary school, where she told them that I was going to be kept at playgroup for longer due to my language and speech development.

The headteacher urged my mum to think again, by promising there would be no pressure put on my learning, and allowing me plenty of time to play. In addition, they agreed for me to attend half days, until it became evident that I was settling into the school environment.

The playgroup leader was prepared to take me back in the event of me failing to settle into life at school.

And that’s all for now. Thank you for listening if you’ve made it this far. I hope you found the content informative, and now have a better understanding of what autism is. Why not consider sharing this episode with others who you may feel could benefit from it, and subscribing to it on a platform of your choice.

And if you feel in any way affected by something, feel free to talk about it with somebody who you feel you can trust.

Goodbye for now, and I’ll talk to you again soon on the next episode, when I shall be talking about what teachers should be aware of when coming across possible autistic children in the classroom.
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