My life with Asperger's
All us Australians are passionate about our cricket, football and sporting stars. We follow all the foot-steps of a sports star, their medical condition, their behaviour, day-to-day lifestyle, where they live, what they're are up to and, jump for joy when they hit a century and come up winning in the Ashes, or any other game. We sit up all night and watch Hewett, Rafter, and Phillipousis wack in those aces, and feel our blood pumping when they've knocked their opponent out for a set.
For a person suffering Asperger's Syndrome, they are playing a game of cricket or tennis everyday, but rather more then the player, their opponent is the attitude of society. In a nutshell, a person who suffers Asperger's has varying levels of social skills and intuition, ranging from below average to poor. HOWEVER, a large number of these people have either an extraordinary memory or knowledge about a subject or several, which is sadly, always over-looked. In many cases, this can result in isolation, as the condition is still a mystery to the wider community.
Much of society associates an Asperger's person to the main character, played in the 1989 movie "Rain Man". Although the movie does give an accurate impression of what can be expected from a sufferer, the movie on the other hand is na´ve in the context that, much like any condition, it can come in all shapes and forms.
Though I suffer from Asperger's and have experienced some hard knocks, as you'll about to read, it hasn't stopped me from living a fully independent life, and most importantly, a positive attitude. As per the header of this section, I've always strongly believed that the altitude of your happiness (how good you feel), is always based on your attitude, (how you feel about life).
More about the condition can be found at the following web-site.
Dr Tony Attwood - Australian specialist on Autism and Asperger's
My game of cricket started in 1969, when I was born with cataract eyes. Though I was completely blind, I successfully got some of my sight back through several operations in the early 70's. I was diagnosed with Autism in 1973. Doctors noted my behaviour, and at that time expressed concerns in their reports that my future would look very bleak. They had communicated to my parents that my chances of going to a normal school were impossible. Though I initially attended special schooling (in relation to my autism), my parents, and teachers noted that I didn't suffer fully blown autism, as my ability for mathematics was highly above average. My father also found it intriguing how my artistic skills were developing at an early age, and how my school work had rapidly improved by the end of 1976. My last year at a special school in 1977 was way above the expectations of the specialists I saw as a child, and good enough to enroll me into a standard primary school with a vision impaired students unit, which assisted children with partial vision loss. In 1978, it was decided to pursue my vision impairment more, as my Autism had greatly improved. They were still some issues, that teachers and my parent's could not pin-point, as little was known about Asperger's at that time. After some more visits to specialists, it was then in 1980 that I was diagnosed with Asperger's.
It was at this time when I was academically going well at the last years of primary school, but socially found myself at this stage with two distinct camps of kids in my classes. The few that I got on well with, and the ones (majority) that wanted to tease and ridicule. Unfortunately, the teasers and the bullies started growing. By the beginning of high-school in 1983, I found myself in great danger with every recess and lunchtime. These times were emotionally tough, but I took it at that time as a passing phase, and concentrated as much as I could on my studies. It would be easy in retrospect to find blame, but then.... that's not my attitude! By 1985, the teasing, bullying and isolation was over-poweringly horrible, but still managed to carry on, though they were many times when it looked like I was going to leave school early, because of this very reason.
Despite this living hell, I successfully completed my Higher School Certificate in 1988, and immediately got into a Trainee Ship Access Course at the Royal Blind Society. Shortly after, there was a few weeks work experience at WestPac Bank, performing word processing and data entry duties. After a house move to the Blue Mountains in March 1989, I started a music chart project. This project was to compile my own top 20 singles chart, in a similar style to the ARIA and Kent Music Charts. From Sunday 16th April 1989 to Sunday 16 July 2000, I had compiled a top 20 singles chart. This was done every week by using the same compile method, until the projects end in July 2000. Without missing one week, the entire project charted the entire nineties, resulting in nearly 600 individual charts for this one charting project.
Around the same time, I started the "retro chart" project, which was researching 70's 80's music, which also resulted in another 1500 individual music charts. These charts were compiled from such sources like, John Blackmen's Solid Gold Countdown, ABC TV Countdown Charts, ARIA Charts, and Billboard Charts. Computers in these days had very low specs, hence much of this work was done manually by hand, and..... a thing called a type-writer?
After getting my chart project started in April May 1989, A traineeship position came up at Ultimo TAFE. This lasted for twelve months, and resulted in a Certificate in Administration Procedures. The TAFE portion was a success with flying colours, but the work portion at Social Security was hell. It was a trip back to the bad old days of High-School with ridicule and bullying. The people in that section had no idea on what Asperger's was about, but again, determine to finish and get a pass, I never gave up. I felt good that I was able to put my self above those people, and score another "ace" with a Certificate One for Office Administration. That was another "rough" game but I made it through. More determine then ever, I started a course at Computer Power in September 1990, and again finished with good grades and a diploma for Computer Operations in July 1991. This then landed me a work-experience with Coote Computer Company in October 1991. Having difficulties in finding paid employment, I joined up with the Commonwealth Rehabilitation service, from the aspect of my Asperger's. They then referred me to Nova Employment in June 1992. As the CRS and Nova were shuffling papers from office to office, I started a volunteer position at Blacktown radio. My first radio program aired on Tuesday 19th May 1992, under the name of the "70's 80's Memory Mix". June, July and August of 1992, were spent making several trips from Leura to Mt. Druitt, looking for work at the office of Nova Employment. Blacktown radio had another test broadcast set up, as I had produced another two radio programs, and aired them during September 1992. Activity was starting to pick-up, as things were getting busy. A few days after my last radio program, I signed up to Sydney Mission Employment, for their work-place program. I completed a six-week course in Office Procedures and Employment techniques, which then landed me a four week work-experience at Katoomba Police Station. The area commander was so pleased with my work performance that they had negotiated with head office, and extended my placement for another four weeks, which ended in December 1992.
After a short break in January 1993, I commenced a course in Telemarketing, which was operated by the Royal Blind Society and the Hospitality Training Company, which at that time was based at Ashfield. After five weeks of training, I then volunteered my time at 2RPH, a radio station dedicated to reading magazine and newspaper articles. I was responsible for organising analogue cartridge tapes and pre-paring hard copy material, that was going to be read out on air. April and May was spent preparing for more radio shows, as Blacktown radio had organised another test broadcast for June. I was able to get three programs for the June broadcast, which meant organising sponsors, promotional posters, program guides, and the production of taped sponsor announcements and production of pre-taped programs. After my radio stint in June, I was off to a Solicitors office for a temp position in July and early August. This was three weeks of word processing, using a program called; Word Perfect. Does anyone out there still remember that bit of software? The management gave me a good run-down and good references, but for some strange reason cut my position short. Again, It might of been the Asperger's?
At the completion of my solicitors office position, I received note that the ABA had changed it's rules for aspirant broadcasters like Blacktown radio, and that they had an entire month broadcast coming up in September. I was able to secure four "three" hour air slots, and with my chart and music library growing bigger, my so called "amateur" radio program started becoming more professional, with new promos, sweepers, and a new format. The name of the program was changed to "More Great Music", and now had featured the music of the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's. August and September were flat-out months, as each of the programs needed sponsors, promotional work, production, liaising with sponsor providers, researching charts, producing new promos and sweepers, and finally, the production of the actual programs. The transmitter was switched on as my programs went to air, across that month. It was a successful month for me, but politics started eating into the radio station as many members had left, never to be seen again. Staying loyal to the station, I stayed on, and would then come back in 1994.
Around the same time, I started a Desktop Publishing Course at Blacktown TAFE. This was learning Aldus (now Adobe) Pagemaker 4.0. It was an enjoyable experience as I was able to learn new computer software skills, and use my artistic talent. At the completion, I scored another "hot ace" with knocking out a certificate in Desktop Publishing.
In November 1993, I received word that Blacktown radio had just acquired permanent premises at Rooty Hill, and that they were commencing weekend broadcasts from April 1994. After more searching for work in January and February, I decided to do the level 2 course in Telemarketing, as I wanted to get into the customer service (directory assistance) area of Telecom (now Telstra). I successfully completed and passed the second telemarketing course, which led me to apply for position at Telstra, which were unsuccessful.
Soon to follow was a Job-Skills Course at Wesley Mission in Pitt Street Sydney, which was a Certificate Course in the Windows Operating System and Microsoft Word. In June 1994 I took up a volunteer position at Sydney City Missions Head Office doing admin work for a month, when management of Blacktown radio notified me of some vacant program slots in there program schedule in July, and said that they'd be more to come. I drop the Sydney City Mission position, and immediately started preparing for my two programs, that were scheduled at the end of July. The programs aired successfully, with sponsorship from Raine & Horne, who had also sponsored me on previous broadcasts.
At this time, Blacktown radio was broadcasting every weekend. With a large amount of programmers, slots had to be shared. I expressed an interest in the 12-2 afternoon slot, due to better public transport access. As the midday slot was in high demand, I settled for the 8-10 evening slot. This meant that all my programs were taped, dropped off during the day, then aired by someone else at night. It was a somewhat clumsy set-up, but it kind of worked for about twelve months. During this time at Blacktown radio, I started working on the radio stations newsletter, and had successfully negotiated a printer for the station. This was a good end to 1994.
February 1995 saw the start to another very busy year, as I had enrolled into an Art course at Penrith TAFE. It was at this time, or somewhat earlier, that I had my occupational aim in mind, and it was to design CD covers, and to create the audio masters. It was from this point that I would work toward this aim for the next 11 years, as this was my passion. The course rolled on, as at the same time, like the previous six years, I continued my job hunting. Whilst dealing with Katoomba CES, I found a clerical position at Katoomba Neighbourhood Centre. The temp position was a paid job, meaning that I had to drop my art course. Duties performed at Katoomba Neighbourhood Centre included Desktop Publishing, filing, word processing, and data entry. This position lasted for six months.
At the end of 1995, I finally dumped my old 80's IBM XT computer (with much joy). With an updated computer, it was now possible to do my own desktop publishing, which led to me becoming the editor of the radio stations newsletter. This very much was the direction for 1996, as my involvement for Blacktown Radio had greatly increased. As it was a community station, all of it's programmers were volunteers, many of which were young kids, doing their first show as a hobby. This led to programmers not turning up for the Midday to 2pm slot, as many of them didn't take the interest seriously. During this time, I was at the station, socialising, and just getting off the mountains for a day each week. As I was there, some of my friends had asked me to fill in the slots, (hi to David Cunningham and Amanda Ryan). With boxes of old vinyl in the stations store room, wow, I could not decline the offer. From February 1996, I started presenting two to three, sometimes four shows a month, depending on who would and wouldn't turn-up. During March and April, it was obvious that the slot would become mine, as not many of the new programmers turned up. By May I was doing the first, second and fourth Saturday of the month from Midday to 2pm, as my other friends, David Cunningham and Amanda Ryan did the third and fifth. It was from this time that I stopped doing the programs live, and pre-recorded them at home, as I had a much bigger music selection there, and other resources.
Whilst busy programming Blacktown radio, and editing the newsletter, I had found another potential position through my cold-canvassing. I had worked two weeks during July, at Centre Data Parramatta. They were very pleased with my performance, but said that they couldn't offer any paid work. They said if they did give me a position, that it would have to be under sheltered work-shop conditions, which meant that I was only going to be remunerated $20 a fortnight. I kind of cracked up at the manager and asked, "Are you serious, or just trying to be funny?". After a few weeks, it again dawned on me that those "weird vibes" were there again, and that it must of been somewhat due to my Asperger's. I would love to ask any person on the street, if they can possibly live on ten bucks a week? I took it all in good humour, and just moved on with my involvement at Blacktown Radio. It was a busy schedule between producing three two hour programs a month, and a newsletter, that came out every two months. Toward the end of 1996, they were some more "amateur" programmers that "just" didn't turn-up. As another slot became available, my friends moved into that slot, as I then had the permanent slot at midday. I had waited two years, and now I had the slot I wanted. My turn in the queue finally came.
From October 1996 to September 1997, I presented "More Great Music" every week. This gave me an opportunity to present a wide variety of material from 60's, 70's, 80's pop chart music, through to current day charts. I had often counted down the top 20 singles, either off the current chart, or off a chart from a corresponding week in history. They were also "all request" programs, that were presented on a frequent basis. The program was sponsored by Cash Converters at Blacktown from November 1996 to March 1997. At this time, I had build up a good heap of friends, and got comfortable with the "Saturday out at the Radio Station" situation. My friends and I had successfully pulled off an Outside Broadcast at Market-town Blacktown, for the Sat 1st and Sun 2nd March. This included much preparation on my behalf, including the creation of promotional flyers, posters, newsletters, program promos, new sweepers, station IDs, and program schedules. My friends had organised prizes and sponsorship for the weekend broadcast, which in the end was a great success. It had increased the radio stations member base.
By June, there was absolute celebration, as the then federal minister for communications, Mr. Richard Alston, announced that all aspirant community stations, could now broadcast 24 hours a day and seven days a week. This was as long as there was no competing station in the nominated council area. Management of the station were complaining about the lack of money, for operating the station. I had spoken to an old friend, who had many contacts in the Blacktown / St Mary's area. He was one of Sydney's leading country music broadcasters, and was in a position to turn the stations financial position around. Management of the station were happy with my friend joining up, (though he lived in riverwood). After several confirmations from management, my friend was about to do his first program in the last week in July. Unfortunately the "weird vibes" reared it's ugly head again, as a political hell-fire irrupted during an AGM. My friend and I were kicked out of the station. I learned several weeks later, that the ignition to the fire was my opinion on "Programmer Loyalty". I had express my views on how important it was, for the station to have professional programmers, over rubbish that came off the street. I often told management that I turned up for over 80 weeks in a row, and over 200 separate radio shows without fail. My friends and I did not know most of the time, if these amateurs were going to turn-up or not. The episode was a rough emotional kick, but as per usual, my attitude was never to dwell on these things and to move on. I was at a loss, so being the determined person I was, I simply rolled up on the first week of August and did another show. Management then turned the transmitter of in the middle of September. I did a last show in February 1998 to say my farewells, and had left as the politics had ruined the station. Apparently they finally got a license in December 2002, but it wasn't without more human casualties.
During April 1998, I started an employment access program at the Royal Blind Society, which lasted for three months. During this time I had interviews at 2SER FM, Free FM, Mix 106.5, Australian Radio Network, and several clerical and word processing positions. Although the interviews generally went well, I never heard anything back, even after follow up phone calls, and going on follow up visits.
My search for employment continued, but got more intense as the radio station was drifting from my interests in March 1998. From this time I had many, many hand-written music charts, and a reasonably specky machine sitting on a desk in the next room. As the internet and digital age was dawning, I decided to take on my next HUGE project, which was to completely convert all my charts into digital format. This was not just simply scanning them, but the actual retyping of every individual chart, and reprinting of each chart for archiving, both digitally, and for hard-copy, should the digital copies get corrupted. This exercise took me the best part of two and a half years.
TO BE CONTINUED:
Despite the completion of many work experiences, courses, activities, and personal projects, it is incredible that there has never been any job offer or interest. This could be due to my Asperger's spectrum, as it effects my intuition, a persons ability to have initiative in an non-routine environment.
I have made several attempts on getting onto various talk back stations. This was to make people aware that, though Asperger's sufferers may lack or have a low level of intuition and social skill, that they do have high level functional capacities in other areas. These include a good memory in their line of interest, great organisational skills, have good endurance and consistency with routine tasks, and above all, can be very loyal employees. Unfortunately the hottest issue of the day, on the morning I rang in was an angry gentlemen feeling very cheated, because he didn't receive his CD in the weekend newspaper. Obviously the media and society feel these pedantic issues are much more important, then the inclusion of Asperger's people into everyday society. The panel operator at ABC 702 Sydney came back to me, and stated that they ran out of time. This is the VERY thing that an Asperger's person is denied..... time to explain them selves, and how they want to contribute to society.