Oliver * has a huge, bellowing, hearty laugh. His pink face lights up behind his glasses as he responds to a joke told by his friend. He is a larger than life character.
Oliver is a physically large person too. At 5’ 7”, and around 19 stone, he is overweight. His hair hangs to his shoulders in a crazy, wavy mop. He likes comics, rock music, rude humour, rides a motorbike and plays drums in a band.
I worked with Oliver from when he was 18 years old to 21 years. If you did not know him, you might think he was just one of those loud, occasionally foul-mouthed teenagers you see around the UK. He would speak too loudly in class, he laughed too loud, he laughed at inopportune moments, he swore regularly and brushed it off, when staff commented, with a wave of his hand and a ‘whatever’ sound.
Whoever said people with Asperger Syndrome do not smile, were so wrong.
When I began to learn about Autism and Asperger’s over 12 years ago, the general information was that; they cannot/will not look you in the eye, they do not have a sense of humour, they seldom if ever laugh, they do not like physical contact; even from their mother. Now this may be true of some people with Autism, but like ‘mainstream’ types, they are as varied as the rest of us; and Oliver certainly showed that to be true. He did not fit the mainstream, societal and to be honest, old fashioned view, of people with Asperger’s.
I spent quite a lot of time with Oliver and his friends, one of whom also had Asperger’s, and learnt about his interests and family life. He told us about how his father and grandfather were both good at building things, they could disassemble and reassemble motorbikes, they built a fire-pit in their garden, constructed a garage; they did a lot with their hands. It is quite usual to find that Autism runs in families and traits like Oliver spoke of, along with other indicators, might suggest that his father and grandfather were also mildly Asperger’s.
Oliver did not care what you called it; I always ask my students how they would rather the condition be referred to, if we had to refer to it at all. ‘Meh’, he would say and shrug his shoulders, he didn’t care; he was Oliver and that was all that mattered.
He loved and hated coming to college as much as the next person; he enjoyed the social life and the work, but hated getting up early. He was a typical grumpy teenager first thing in the morning; he would park his motorbike and stomp into the building unsmiling, but within half an hour, he would be talking loudly and laughing his bellowing laugh. Oliver’s main friend, Liam*, does not have any learning difficulty; he is bright, sociable, polite and patient. He and Oliver met before college and played together in the band; Liam plays lead guitar, they would hang out together outside of college, go for drinks, parties, concerts and festivals. Liam would occasionally remind Oliver to lower the volume, would point out when his laugh was too raucous and generally be a calming influence. They were best buddies. Liam admitted that while Oliver could be a handful at times, he was great fun and encouraged Liam to ‘come out of my shell’. They seemed a match made in heaven.
To an outsider, it might appear that Oliver is just a rude, raucous young man who needs to learn a few manners. He could, under the wrong circumstances, easily get into trouble; with other people and even the police. He can offend, he can appear callous – as an example, we had a performance by visiting actors to the college about the dangers of relationships going wrong, a young woman slowly becomes subjugated by her boyfriend, eventually doing everything he tells her until it reached a devastating conclusion. I cried. The female student next to me cried and phoned her boyfriend immediately after to tell him she loved him. Everyone in the theatre was stunned into silence, even the world-weary, couldn’t care less males were affected – not Oliver. He later told me he thought it was funny; a comedy!
Oliver was not being heartless, or cruel or thoughtless – Oliver just didn’t get it. His Autism disabled him from being able to empathise with anyone in the play. But he enjoyed it. And this was the moment of clarity for me, it wasn’t just the loudness and obsession with motorbikes and obsession with drumming and drum kits (he could talk for hours about types of drums) that categorised Oliver as Asperger’s; it was his inability to make a connection with other humans on a deeper level.
But, this doesn’t make Oliver a worse person than me, or Liam or his classmates, it just means he has a different way of looking at the world. One of the lovely things about Oliver was his close bond with his grandfather; they did many activities together, and his grandfather understood Oliver. Oliver’s family understood Oliver, and that makes all the difference; getting to know, I mean really know, your Autistic child, can make life easier for all the family. Their understanding meant they were able to deal with any hiccoughs along the way. The shouting and swearing and loud laughter was not regarded as an issue, it was not that important, so it was never addressed, after all, he never hurt anyone, he never committed a crime and is certainly a loyal friend.
Oliver went on to study Animation and Illustration at B.A level. He still has a very close knit group of friends. I see him sometimes and he still laughs loudly, he still waves away admonishments and swears a lot, but that’s Oliver and really, we wouldn’t want him any other way.
Oliver* Liam* names changed for privacy of individuals.
Want to send in a story? Click here
About the author:
Alexandra Peel is a contributing writer for The School of Autism blog. She is the author of Sticks & Stones and writes the blog, Flailing Through Life. She is also a Learning Support Practitioner at an F.E/H.E College, England.
Visit Ms. Alexandra Peel’s blog.
Want to read more?
- Niam Jain – A Boy With Talent
- How An Autistic Classmate Changed My Life
- Benedict* – A Special Child With Regular Needs
About the School For Autism, Hyderabad
School For Autism is based in Hyderabad and provides therapy to people with autism, irrespective of age. To know more about the school, click here.