World Autism Awareness Week runs from 26th March to 2nd April 2018 raising awareness to improve our understanding of Autism.
Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people and according to the National Autistic Society, 700,000 people in the UK are on the Autism spectrum. Whilst all autistic people share certain difficulties, some also have learning difficulties, mental health issues or other conditions, meaning that people will need different levels of support. The National Autistic Society defines Autism as a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.
The National Autistic Society states that people with Asperger Syndrome (also known as Asperger’s) are of average or above average intelligence and do not usually have the learning disabilities that many autistic people have, but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.
Robin Shaw, 42 from Cheltenham, was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome in 2011 and is on a mission to raise awareness of Autism. He set up his business ‘Aspiregers’ with the primary intention to deliver entertaining and creative presentations raising awareness of Autism after being inspired by a dynamic lecturer whilst on a writing and performing comedy course at Southampton Solent University. Robin believes that if delivery of information is captivating, you are more likely to remember the content and learn from it which I wholeheartedly agree with.
Robin has performed at The Reading Fringe Festival in 2017 as well as the Wychwood festival in Cheltenham and Lechlade Festival to promote Aspiregers and raise awareness of Autism, you can check out his videos on the @Aspiregers Facebook page.
Light comedy is a key feature of Robin’s material and he explained that he incorporates ‘Dad jokes’ in order to lighten the mood within his presentations. Robin is also proud to call himself a Spoken Word Artist as writing and performing poetry is a particular passion of his. During our interview, Robin demonstrated his exceptional talent, confidently performing his poem titled ‘Bill Gates’ which you can view @CotswoldAllure.
Robin has written a collection of poetry about the planets and solar system after developing a deep love for the universe which he accredits to Stephen Hawking. I was aware that people with Autism have difficulty with verbal and non verbal language and some people struggle with tone of voice and understanding jokes. Clearly Robin loves comedy, telling jokes all over the country so I knew this didn’t apply to him and I was curious to know how living with Aspergers Syndrome has affected him.
“I was diagnosed late in 2011 at the age of 35. The tell tale signs were there from the beginning as my first word was carrot which was an impressive two syllable word, but unfortunately this was the only word I said until the age of 5 so I was relatively non verbal for an extensive period of time.”
I was blown away by this information as it highlights just how significant Robin’s achievements have been, becoming a spoken word artist and speaking on festival stages around the UK. I hope this inspires young people who are living with Autism and demonstrates that if you set your heart on something, anything is possible.
As our conversation evolved, it was clear that Robin was eager to share his struggles as a young boy in the hope of encouraging others who may be experiencing similar situations,
“I always struggled understanding human behaviour and struggled fitting in the classroom at school and eventually integrating in society. I reflected on my own behaviour at university and noticed that I wasn’t listening well to others and had a tendency to speak over people .Without realising it, I was being rude. After my diagnosis, I took it upon myself to improve my listening skills and in order to maintain eye contact, I focus on peoples noses which gives the illusion of eye contact.”
I know that autistic people find it difficult to maintain eye contact and I explained to Robin that I wouldn’t have noticed this fact had he not explained it as eye contact hadn’t faltered throughout the entire conversation. Robin told me about a book he had read by Luke Jackson, ‘Freaks, Geeks and Aspergers Syndrome’ where he learned the nose trick which clearly works extremely well. Robin expressed that it was important to him to continue to learn more about himself in order to grow. I asked Robin how his life has been impact since his diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome.
“When I found out about Asperger’s, I didn’t know what it was and had to research it extensively and found out that Mozart, Einstein, Beethoven, Jim Henson, Charles Dawin and Jane Austen were on the spectrum. These are public figures who have in their own ways, revolutionised the world which made me think that I was part of such an incredibly inspiring group of people. Knowing this helped shape my positive outlook. I have only ever acknowledged myself to be different from other people rather than considering myself to have a ‘disability’. I find listening and eye contact difficult but have learned to overcome them in order to maintain social norms and levels of respect.”
I was impressed by Robin’s outlook and asked if mental health issues affected him in the past.
“A lot of people with Autism have depression which I certainly do and because I don’t want to be ill, I want to remain as positive as possible.”
Robin explained that the brain is naturally defaulted to survive and ask questions and it can be easy for people to spiral negatively by feeding the brain with negative responses so he shared with me that since 2016, he incorporates a daily meditative practice, actively seeking positivity which helps him overcome depressing thoughts. He says that this practice has laid positive foundations to live a more positive life. As there are a lack of positive stories in the media about Autism, Robin is committed to challenging this with his positive outlook.
I acknowledged that a positive mindset is so important to enable us to see our differences as opportunities to help others who are living with Autism and raise much needed awareness for important causes. Robin is excited about what the future holds and wants to find the next Bill Gates, the next revolutionary person. Robin never see’s things as impossible, he values himself and lives by the philosophy that ‘I’m Possible.
Robin was keen to recognise Cindy Davis, ‘The Feel Good Coach’ who is based here in Cheltenham and told me that she gave ‘Aspiregers’ their first endorsement and has supported Robin since day one. Robin advocates Cindy’s positive mindfulness techniques including meditative routines, ‘Happy Tapping’ and journaling and promotes them as great strategies that can help other people.
I asked if Robin was referring to Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) when he mentioned ‘The Happy Tapping’ as this was something I include within my coaching practice,
“Yes it’s so beneficial and its free!”
I couldn’t agree more, I find tapping to be a very calming experience and wondered how often Robin did these things,
“I do them every day”
I asked what impact Robin feels adopting a positive mindfulness routine has had since 2016?
“It’s helped me through some very dark times. I’ve been through a lot and the depression can get hold of you like a vice which is not very nice. I have to be courageous and face depression by continuing the positive practices every day which I take pride in and which give me a sense of achievement.”
I was blown away by Robin’s commitment to self development as I believe strongly that this is something we could all benefit from.
What would you like people to know about Austism and Asperger Syndrome?
“I would like to fight the stigma of Austism being negative, I want to fight this and share positive experiences of celebrating our differences. One autistic person to the next is very different and the spectrum is very wide.”
What would you like to change?
“I would like people to understand Autism and Asperger Syndrome and I would to change the mindset to be positive.
I am on the spectrum and I am proud of who I am. I am on the spectrum and I have so many abilities that outshine others. I can revolutionise and change the world.”
I was inspired by Robin’s positive outlook and confident vision for himself and for others living with Autism. As we came to the end of our discussion.
Are there any other challenges he would like to talk about?
“Funny you should say that, one of my struggles is noises and sensory challenges as I can be over sensitive, for example, I am very ticklish. Background noises which are far away, can be deafening to me. I can hear certain sounds in the background which overtake normal process of hearing.”
How does this make you feel?
“The loud banging from the coffee machine in the background makes me feel on edge and interferes with my concentration. Due to the Attention Deficit Disorder attached to my Aspergers, I cherish my concentration so noises in the background can be frustrating as its very distracting from my thoughts.”
Robin explained that he puts his hands over his ears as a way of coping in the moment – he described it like a hedgehog curling up in a ball and then returning to normal once the noise is over. One of his helpful strategies is using headphones particularly whilst on public transport so that he is not disturbed with loud noises such as children screaming which is a useful tip for anyone dealing with noise sensitivity.
Have you experienced any prejudice or ignorance and how did you overcome this?
“People used to make fun of me because of how I was at school. I would answer things in my own time. I was perceived as someone who was ‘stupid’ at school and not very intelligent and this is something I want to help change.”
What would your advice be for those who are currently at school living with Autism?
“My advice would be to get support that I never had. I want to help kids that need support.”
As well as finding you for support, are there any other organisations that you would like to mention as a good source of support?
“I would like to mention the Cotswold Aspies and Friends Adult Social Group set up by Stephen Spalding who we unfortunately lost this year. David now runs this group at the ‘Sup and Chow’ once a month in Cheltenham. There are people from all ranges of the spectrum at this group which has been great. I’ve got to know lots of wonderful people, I really like this group and this is where Aspiregers started.”
Thanks so much to Robin for sharing his story with Cotswold Allure Magazine readers to raise awareness and increase understanding of Autism. I feel privileged to have spent valuable time with Robin and have gained a deeper insight into life with Asperger Syndrome. I am now much more aware of how people have to adopt strategies in order to overcome daily challenges and am so grateful to Robin for sharing his tips as well as his inspiring poetry.
For anyone living with Autism or who is curious to know more, connect with Robin at Aspiregers. Robin delivers a fortnightly video show (5-10 mins) posted every other Sunday on his Facebook page, @Aspiregers which has reached hundreds of people. Check out The Easter Special this coming weekend and remember Robin’s motto, ‘I’m Possible’!
For more information about Autism, please visit The National Autistic Society website, http://www.autism.org.uk/
To find out more about Tapping and to get free tapping meditations, visit www.thetappingsolution.com