THIS LIFE: Despite being good at school, James Mariner failed to progress. What lay behind his apparent listlessness?
The eldest child always carries responsibility. Younger siblings look up to you and parents look to you with a paternal pride. People with Asperger’s can find this hard to comprehend.
At primary school, I was content playing by myself but was annoyed by small things. Academically I forged ahead and had a fascination with writing, numbers and dates. Afternoons would be spent designing calendars or filling out statistical charts. I always wanted to carry on working with numbers. I never saw it as work, just fun.
I found school easy and often helped others further back (sometimes the entire class). My thirst for education was quenched and my progress faltered. At secondary school I suffered from this lack of progress. I was used to not trying and didn’t care much about my studies.
My carefree attitude saw my GCSEs pass by, with the World Cup unfortunately timetabled around them. My results weren’t outstanding, and from my dismissive stance my parents sensed it was more than laziness.
They took me to a hospital and I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. About one person in every 300 suffers from some form of Asperger’s, with most being men. The symptoms of pedantic speech and stunted conversation can be attributed to men anyway.
Asperger’s leads to low self-esteem. Regularly self-consciousness stops me spewing the contents of my mind. A small chat requires planning and queuing at a bus stop or lunch line can only be conducted in silence. Eye-contact has also been problematic, as well as the need for structure and routine as I like to know what to expect each day. Some people with Asperger’s have a great command of the language and heightened senses.
This can lead to frustration, a normal meal quickly worsening with crunching and slurping magnified in my mind. I am turned off by certain foods, never accepting vegetables but happy to pour fizzy drinks down my throat.
I started a journalism course and settled well into a small class. We all became friendly and I felt able to voice my views and had more time and help from the teachers. It was the first year the college had run the course so we had some leeway. The final year of the course was at a different campus but having my friends qualifying with me helped make it easier. But after finishing the course, as my classmates began to look for a job, I sat back and did nothing.
I showed little urgency to get a job and my mother enrolled me with the National Autistic Society’s employment consultancy called Prospects. Workshops helped me brush up on the skills needed in the workplace and my support worker helped look for job opportunities. I spent a month at The Independent this year and didn’t find it as scary as I had feared. Now I do two days a week at the charity while searching for further media opportunities with my project worker’s help.
James Mariner has Asperger’s syndrome.