Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Asperger syndrome and definition from an aspie

The following article givens a feeling of what it is like from an Aspie's point of view.

Ever since the MMR jab was linked by some to autism we have become increasingly aware of the disorder and its prevalence in children. But what happens when those children grow up into adults? Health Editor Madeleine Brindley meets the undiscovered workforce
THE walls of Mark Annis's home are covered in brightly coloured canvases depicting everyday objects in extraordinary settings.
The bold splashes of the three primary colours reveal a Dali-esque influence which runs through many of the massive works of art.
In every square foot of whitewashed wall there hangs one of his masterpieces, with more stacked carefully against the wall and behind the sofa in his modest sitting room.
At 43, Mark is a professional artist hoping to win fans with his bright creations, pouring out his thoughts on large slabs of canvas; interpreting the world around him in oils.
Mark, who lives in Penarth, turned professional in the late 1990s, finally realising his dream after working a nine-to-five job in which he found few people who had the time to understand him.
He says simply, "I have found seeking and keeping employment the single most difficult thing to achieve in my life."
Now, he uses his art as a means of expression - a way of communicating his thoughts and feelings without the constraints of words and the social nuances the vast majority of us rely on to convey our point.
Mark has Asperger syndrome - one of the more commonly known autism spectrum disorders.
"Asperger syndrome for me means that I have serious difficulties in communicating," he says, "even though my language is good and I speak really good English and a smattering of other languages.
"But when it comes to social interactions I can't read the social cues, the non-verbal communication. I've had to train myself to have empathy.
"I now try to put myself in their shoes. I have to try to fit in but I feel isolated and excluded.
"It is difficult and increasingly people with autism are taking their lives because they are being told that their behaviour is inappropriate."
Before he decided to pursue his dream of working full-time as an artist, he held many jobs, including his last at the BBC.
Mark, who has won an Art Council grant to help develop his career as an artist, says, "I could do the job fantastically well but when it came to interacting with people, it was the social cues that I struggled with.
"Throughout my life I have applied for various jobs and found the process extremely difficult.
"As a person with Asperger syndrome, if you do manage to get an interview, it can be very challenging. The concept of selling yourself is very confusing for a person with Asperger syndrome. I explain myself as honestly as possible, in a very direct way, and this is not always suitable in an interview situation.
"When I did get a job I found it hard as people did not understand my disability and I felt quite a lot of hostility from them.
"I think this was simply because they did not know what having Asperger syndrome involves, and didn't know how to support me.
"I take my art seriously, it gives me a sense of creativity but it is also a representation of what I have to offer. It also gives me self-esteem as well as being my profession and talent."
IT IS estimated that more than 26,000 people in Wales have autism and yet just 6% of adults with an autistic spectrum disorder are currently in full-time employment.
Some of the most common reasons why people with autism find it hard to get a job include the fact that employers believe that there are no suitable vacancies.
But the whole process of getting a job, from application to interview can be stacked against people with autism.
The National Autistic Society Cymru, which is launching a campaign to help get more people with autism into employment, said other possible barriers include difficulty in communication and even managing breaks and lunchtime, because of the social interaction with other colleagues.
And because some people with autism can be very honest with their views and opinions, the society suggests that employers train staff about autistic spectrum disorders as well as giving an employees with autism guidelines about inappropriate topics of information.
Chris Peach, national director of the National Autistic Society Cymru, said, "The number of adults with autism in full-time employment is appallingly low, given the skills they can bring to the workplace, such as attention to detail, accuracy, focus, reliance and motivation.
"It is crucial that we educate employers on the benefits of employing a person with autism, and demonstrate how reasonable adjustments can be implemented in a simple and straightforward way to ensure people with autism are able to take advantage of work opportunities."

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