TY Student Deasun Kelly gives talk to TY Classes on Autism

The school had a unique experience last week when TY student Deasun Kelly gave a talk to his own peers on what it is like to be a student in school who has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Deasun as part of his TY year has put together a talk on living with Autism and how schools and students can help students who have Autism firstly by understanding it.

Deasun held his peers attention for almost an hour as he told his story. The school are so proud that Deasun can tell his story in such an interesting way and it teaches all of the school community such a valuable lesson in appreciating how difficult school life can be for students with Autism yet it also gives us an understanding of the potential and unique skills that students with Autism possess.

The talk was one of the highlights of TY so far this year and Deasun will tell his story many more times in St Mel’s in the weeks and months ahead. The school would like to congratulate and thank Deasun for his unique insight on the topic of Autism and we would also like to thank his mother Siobhan for aiding Deasun in his presentation.

As part of his TY programme Deasun has been going to schools all around the county delivering his presentation.

 

 

The full script of the presentation is attached below for those who are unable to access one of Deasuns presentations. Its hoped to be able to upload a video of the presentation in the coming weeks.

 

Autism Talk

Hello, my name is Deasun and I’m here today to talk to you about autism. More specifically, my experience living with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder or, as it’s commonly referred to, ASD. My goal with this talk is to inform you about ASD, its strengths and its challenges, using my experiences to help explain how these strengths and challenges may manifest and how people with ASD can be of benefit to society. I also hope to explain how we can help those on the spectrum (such as myself) when they encounter challenges and how we can be more compassionate towards them through a deeper understanding of what autism is.

          So, what is ASD? Well the dictionary definition is that ASD is a developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterised by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restrictive or repetitive patterns of thought or behaviour. That’s all well and good but it doesn’t explain what autism, you know, how it manifests itself in children with a diagnosis. That, of course, is what I’m here to explain. I’ll be looking at the 3 main deficits of autism, social communication, social understanding and imagination, as well as sensory processing difficulties, which almost everyone diagnosed with ASD has.

Social Communication

          Social Communication difficulties are not only difficulties with basic communication such as letting people know what you’re thinking and feeling. Rather, they’re related to the social aspects of communication such as talking to others and expressing interest or disinterest.

Examples:

  • I had to be taught not to always speak my mind. To be nice/courteous to people even if I didn’t like them. I sent a party invitation to one of my neighbours once who I didn’t like at the time because I thought they were weird. On the invitation I wrote “You’re invited to my Halloween party but please don’t come I don’t like you. I only invited you because my daddy made me”. Needless to say, I learned a valuable lesson that day.
  • I had to be taught how to make eye contact. I used to be looking in a different direction to someone while they were talking to me while still paying attention to what they were saying. People saw this as rude and I just couldn’t understand why. The way I saw it, what did it matter what way I was looking? As long as I was paying attention! It was a learning process once I started though. I came to the realisation that there were different types of eye contact and there were all these rules you were supposed to follow – you were supposed to break eye contact every once in a while. Doesn’t that go against the very fundamentals of eye contact?? Anyway, I got it eventually
  • I had to be taught that I couldn’t always just talk about what I was interested in – dinosaurs at the time. I’m still having trouble coming to grips with that one.
  • I had to be taught proper etiquette. This one came easily as the rules for pleases and thank yous are a lot more ‘set in stone’ than those for eye contact.

For people with ASD, I think learning social cues and how to socially interact is most akin to learning a foreign language. It doesn’t come naturally for us as it does for neurotypical people but through repeated social interactions and many social failures along with learning etiquette and proper conversational technique, we can become fluent.

Social Understanding

         Social understanding difficulties are exactly what they sound like – difficulties understanding what is appropriate in social situations and appropriate social cues.

Examples:

  • When I was younger, I had trouble understanding sarcasm, double meanings, figures of speech etc. Basically, I took everything people said very literally. Very few sayings made sense to me. For example, when people would say “I could eat a horse” that was just beyond me. If you could eat a whole horse, I don’t want to be friends with you. I learned eventually but some bridges were definitely burned by people who used that saying.
  • I had to learn facial expressions using special cards showing people expressing certain emotions. I would identify the emotion that the person on the card may be feeling at that time. I also had to learn which tones of voice were associated with which emotions. This was an area I had a lot of trouble in understanding due to all the subtleties of facial expression and body language. It wasn’t in picking up on the subtle body language and facial expressions that I had trouble with, rather it was understanding what this body language and facial expressions meant.
  • I had to learn what types of touch were socially appropriate. I used to hug every old person I met regardless of whether I knew them or not. I eventually learned, albeit begrudgingly, that this wasn’t appropriate (it took a while). Nowadays, although I don’t always act on it, the urge is still there.

 Imagination

           Imagination difficulties are not difficulties in relation to creativity – people with ASD can be great writers, artists, musicians, etc… Imagination difficulties relate to a lack of flexibility of thought, difficulty imagining what will happen next and difficulty coping with change.

Examples:

  • I used to be absolutely OBSESSED with dinosaurs when I was quite young. I’d only ever think or talk about dinosaurs and I’d only ever play with dinosaur toys. I used to wreck my cousins’ heads talking about triceratops and diplodocus and god knows whatever other ones with names too long to fit on one page.
  • When I moved school from Sligo to Drumlish I would go in every day and scream bloody murder and quickly have to be taken back home. This was because my routine was changed and I was finding it extremely hard to adjust to the new one. It took months before I began to finally settle in – maybe I just got sick of doing the whole song and dance everyday of going in, crying and then being taken home – I know my mammy was!!!
  • For years my mammy had to set out a daily schedule regarding what would transpire each day of the week. At the start of each day I’d receive a “mission briefing” as to what would happen that day. This helped to reduce anxiety and provide stability as I could “steel my soul” for the coming events, bringing my necessary “field supplies” of my DS, a book and a fidget toy. Of course, as is the nature of life, sometimes things didn’t go exactly as planned. I found this extremely irritating if I felt that the schedule was broken where it wasn’t necessary so please, if you’re dealing with someone with ASD and you set out a plan or schedule, try to stick to it. Otherwise, what’s the point.
  • When I was younger my mammy used to set out a chore chart in which I would receive stickers for doing chores and if I collected enough stickers in a given period, Id receive a reward of some kind. Rewards varied from toys to cinema trips to holidays abroad. This helped to provide stability and provided motivation to get into a healthy routine via a reward system.

Sensory Processing Difficulties

Sensory processing difficulties are difficulties relating to your brain’s ability to process information received through the senses. While sensory processing difficulties are extremely common in those with ASD, they are not guaranteed. Sensory processing difficulties can cause common sounds to be overwhelming, certain materials to feel extremely uncomfortable, etc.. This can cause people to go into a state commonly referred to as “sensory overload” when they’re overstimulated. Sensory overload is quite scary in my experience. It makes you feel extremely dizzy, disorientated, irritable and all your mind can think is “get me out of here!!!” People often lash out when in sensory overload so it’s best to recognise the signs that someone’s in sensory overload and give them some alone time so they can regulate themselves. Signs of sensory overload include:

  • Crying
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Excessive fidgeting
  • Loss of coordination
  • Flushed face

Example:

  • Places such as a noisy classroom or a party can be very hard to cope with for me, There are too many voices and noise sources that it can be quite overwhelming. I was at Hype this year and it was an interesting experience, to say the least. There were so many noises, vibrations, the feeling of people’s clothes rubbing against me. While I was able to cope with it, as I’m older now, it felt extremely overwhelming and uncomfortable at times.
  • At first when I went to secondary school in Mels, the jumper really irritated me due to the material it was made from. Through most of first year, I was wearing just a shirt even in winter when it was 5 degrees outside!!!
  • I crack my fingers as a way of managing sensory stimulation. At home when my brothers are being noisy, I go to my room and play piano or use some of my fidget toys. Good noise cancelling headphones are vital for family life. Mine are never more than 1 meter from me at any time. My brothers’ way of coping with sensory stimulation is shouting and running around the place or hitting people so, needless to say, I spend a lot of time in my room. If my mammy were to have another son, Id be a concert pianist in no time.

Anxiety and Depression

Now it’s time for the most fun topic – depression. All joking aside, depression is very common in those with ASD, including myself. ASD causes social anxiety as it can be hard to regulate yourself while talking to people, to know what to say, to make proper eye contact and to know what is proper body language, etc., and that’s extremely stressful. This causes people with ASD to shut themselves in and become lonely, anxious and depressed.

        I became depressed during 5th class and 6th class. It all started in my class called me “chubbychobs” and I know, looking back on it, it does sound really stupid and maybe it was, but at the time, I was really hurt by it. At the time, I had extremely low self esteem as I was still coming to terms with the fact that I had ASD and I felt different and isolated from the other children. I made a fool of myself in order to fit in with the other children and pretended to find the same things funny as them. I felt as though God had dealt me a bad hand in life by giving me ASD and that I was inferior to the others. I felt extremely embarrassed about going out for resource time as it showed I was different from the others.

        In 6th class, my stepdad left our family without saying goodbye. This was a massive upset to my routine and caused immense anxiety. On top of this, I had 2 baby brothers who were going through their own worst phases and coping badly with the departure of their dad. I was unable to cope with my emotions due to the lack of routine and I would cry every night. I began to lash out at my friends and lost my primary school friends for good. Going into secondary school I was extremely anxious but thankfully my mammy was extremely supportive and got me the resource help I needed. The help was as simple as someone to talk to who didn’t condescend towards me and time out of some classes. At first, I found it hard to make friends but after the 2nd half of 1st year Id made a group of friends that I still have to this day.

          Throughout 2nd year my confidence gradually grew and I stopped going to resource for the most part. It was thanks to the support of my friends, resource and most of all, the unending love and compassion that my mammy showed me that I was able to come out of that depression – for the most part. To this day I still struggle with feelings of self -consciousness, anxiety and I still haven’t fully come to terms with my diagnosis but each day I growing in confidence and I’m learning to manage the difficulties that come along with ASD

 

 

The Positives of ASD

So, now that we’ve dealt with the difficulties that accompany a diagnosis of ASD, it’s time to find out why companies such as Microsoft and SAP are looking for employees with ASD. I’m too modest to pretend like I embody these things so this will be more of a comprehensive list of positive attributes associated with ASD.

  • People with ASD are extremely detail oriented/ they’re perfectionists
  • People with ASD excel within their routine
  • Most people with ASD have an at least above average intelligence if not greater
  • Most people with ASD are extremely honest
  • Most people with ASD are great logical thinkers
  • Most people with ASD are loyal
  • Most people with ASD are extremely knowledgeable on the topics that interest them
  • Most people with ASD are extremely hard workers if the work interests them – aren’t we all?

So How Can YOU Help?

So, now I’ve told you about the strengths and the difficulties of those with ASD but how can YOU help those with ASD overcome those difficulties and unlock their true potential? BE UNDERSTANDING. I can’t stress enough the importance of being understanding and compassionate. So much of the difficultly of living with ASD comes with worrying what others think of you and being socially anxious in case you’ll mess something up. Now that you know the difficulties of those with autism, don’t make fun of the kid with a fidget toy or the kid playing on his DS in the corner. Instead, ask yourself why they might be doing what they are, there’s surely a perfectly good reason. Maybe if there’s someone you know with ASD, you could try to strike up a conversation with them because they may want to talk to you but they might just be too anxious to come up and talk to you

  • If someone is in sensory overload, give them some alone time
  • If you make a plan, try to be as comprehensive as possible and STICK TO THE DAMN PLAN

     

 

I like to think of ASD like Miles’ spider powers from Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. At first, Miles doesn’t know how to use his powers and causes many mishaps for the Peter Parker and the other spiderpeople due to how different his powers are than all the others’ powers. It’s only through his dad’s acceptance of his uniqueness and his dad’s support that he’s able to excel and save the other spiderpeople in the end. I think that movie is an apt metaphor for the struggle of those with ASD. People with ASD have many superpowers just like Miles Morales and they/ we can provide so much benefit to society. It’s only through acceptance and support that we can unlock the hidden superheroes living right under our noses.