AUsome Conference Cork: “Coming of Age” by Brian Irwin

Brian Irwin is on the board of directors of the autism charity AsIAm. He talked about his life before and after diagnosis.

As well as being autistic, Brian was diagnosed with dysgraphia, which effects his ability to put the words in his head down on paper. Although I don’t have dysgraphia myself, the hypermobilty in my fingers and wrists leads to pain and illegible handwriting so I have some understanding of how it may have effected his schoolwork. Brian talked about how he always thought he just wasn’t trying hard enough, how he assumed everyone else was staying up till 1am doing their homework, how he had sensory issues such as heat sensitivity, and issues such as perfectionism and anxiety, that effected his days in school.

He gave what I thought was a very good analogy of his life before and after diagnosis. He talked about how it was like digging his way through a mountain. Where everyone around him had the proper tools, such as drills and diggers. And he had….a spoon. No matter how hard he tried, no matter how much effort he put in, he never seemed to make as much progress as the others and got left behind. And instead of blaming his tools, or lack thereof, he blamed himself. Until one day, someone said “psst, you don’t need to tunnel through the mountain, there is another way, you can go around it”. And he finally got to the same destination as everyone else, but in a different way.

It took one teacher to notice that something was up with Brian. He got an autism diagnosis and supports were put in place to help him with his exams. He got access to a scribe, for example, so he could give his answers to the exam questions orally and the scribe could write them down for him. He learnt anxiety management techniques, like remembering to breathe. He managed to go to university and get a degree.

Not bad for someone who feared that he’d end up “living in a hole in the bottom of the garden”!

And all because he got diagnosed as autistic. Again a reminder how, rather than being a hindrance, knowing that you are autistic and not in fact “lazy” or “stupid”, can be life-changing in a positive way.

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