Video: Dean Beadle, living with Aspergers

Dean Beadle


At the vast majority of conferences and events I speak at, there is a scheduled question and answer session, in which members of the audience can ask me whatever they want: “What is your sleep pattern like?”, “Are you concerned about looking for a relationship?”, “Do you have any friends?” etc. The list is endless. But there is one question that crops up quite a lot, a query that all people affected by Asperger’s Syndrome ponder the world over. “If you could stop having Asperger’s, would you?” It’s a question that is always fairly difficult to answer, and it requires a lot of inward thinking to provide an honest response …

At the age of eleven, I remember looking around the playground at secondary school and thinking that I was an outcast: I was the only person with Asperger’s. This feeling cut me like a knife. I was certain that I’d never fit in. I’d look at the thousands of kids who were coping with life brilliantly and I’d envy them. I won’t lie; I looked at them and wondered if the grass was greener on the other side. Perhaps if I was neurotypical life would be easier? Perhaps if I was like everyone else I wouldn’t find socialising so challenging? Perhaps if I didn’t have Asperger’s all of my problems would miraculously disappear? I was wrong.

Just this week I was out with two friends and, just for a moment, I watched them talking to each other. They were effortlessly socialising in a way that I can only dream of. I, on the other hand, am always panicking under the surface that I will make a mistake. Social blunders are my forte. I always manage to say the wrong thing, and I am my own worst critic, and I spend eons assessing my social performance: “Did I dominate the conversation?”, “Did I say the wrong thing?” This can make socialising incredibly stressful. Some would say I wouldn’t have to endure all of this if I didn’t have Asperger’s. They’d probably be right, but that still doesn’t make me want to change it and it certainly doesn’t make me hopeful for some mystical miracle cure.

I sometimes envy my friends, as they talk about who they fancy or who they have feelings for. I listen to them and I hope some of it will rub off on me. I’m not jealous of their ability to have feelings for people, as I have no problem in that area, I am jealous of the fact that they are so secure in their sexuality. It’s set in stone for them, they know what they like and they are confident in that. That isn’t so easy for me; I easily muddle my emotions and in moments of confusion, I find it incredibly difficult to know who I fancy. I am an expert in whipping myself up into a frenzied state over minimal issues that most people would overlook. In those moments I wish I was more like neurotypical people. I wish that things were simpler. But I never wish that I wasn’t on the autism spectrum.

Therefore you can imagine my annoyance when I read headlines like “Let’s beat autism” and “We can defeat Asperger’s”. These conditions aren’t terminal diseases. Autism isn’t the enemy. It irritates me when I hear people talking about Asperger’s and autism as though they are some sort of epidemic that pills can cure. Asperger’s and autism are an intrinsic part of the person that has them. Yes, they can make life difficult. And, as I have said, they have made life an uphill struggle for me. But that does not mean that I wish to be anything else: I am well aware that Asperger’s is a huge part of who I am, and I wouldn’t be me without it. It’s an incredibly important part of my individuality.

I fully empathise with parents who wonder “Why me?” on the fateful day that they discover their child is on the spectrum, because I felt the same myself for a time. But I quickly snapped out of it, when I realised that nobody in the world was ‘normal’. It’s important that we remember that it’s our differences that give us our unique personalities. The world would be a grey and dull place if it wasn’t for those eccentricities and idiosyncrasies.

We should endeavour to work with autism, not against it. Together, we should persevere to develop the strategies and techniques that will make the world a more positive and manageable place for people on the spectrum. I am not saying that life will be a bed of roses; I know that there will always be issues and problems that will make my life a struggle, but I take courage in the knowledge that I will get through them by formulating strategies and coping mechanisms.

It concerns me that, by focussing on the negatives of ASD so intensely, we are overlooking all of the wonderful, positive aspects that the condition brings. In my opinion, there is a multitude of strengths that come with the condition that could be an asset to the individual if they were developed and accentuated. The more we obsess about a cure for ASD, the more we make people with autism feel like they are the proverbial ‘alien in the playground’. By fixating on eradicating the condition, the more we make those who have it feel abnormal and undervalued. How can we encourage people with autism to think of themselves in a positive way, if we are constantly talking down their condition? My life turned around the very day that I started to view my condition in a positive way.

So, when I am standing at the conference lectern, with the audience member awaiting the answer to their question, I bear all of this in mind, smile, and I say what I truly feel: “Yes, I have my difficult days, and yes, having this condition has made my life much harder. But even in light of that, I wouldn’t change it for the world …”


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