My parents spent an awful lot of my early childhood wondering what was wrong. When I started attending primary school I wasn’t mixing with the other children. When I was about six, they took me to see a doctor, who said 'He will be mentally retarded, beyond hope.' This is something which upset my parents immensely. I’m not sure that they ever really got over it.
When I was about six, our teacher was reading us the story of Icarus, who flew up too close to the sun and his feathers started to burn off. The teacher got half way through this story and suddenly this voice interrupted, saying, 'Stop, stop! This story’s stupid – how could a bird fly anywhere near the sun? By the time it got above the troposphere, it would have frozen. And also, the atmospheric pressure up there is so little that the body would literally burst.'
And of course, the teacher said, 'Excuse me, stop interrupting. Could you let me finish the story?'
But that voice, that was me. And what I’d done is read a book on the layers of the atmosphere of this planet and memorised every single detail.
This illustrates my incredible factual knowledge at such an early age. I could pick out little details that other children perhaps wouldn’t recognise. It also illustrates my inability, socially, to wait until after the story, before expressing my views. I had no concept of doing that.
When I was about ten, we got a referral to another doctor, a brilliant doctor, in London, called Dr Frommer. She diagnosed me with Asperger’s within five minutes. It’s an incredible relief for parents to know what the problem is. My father used to say that once you knew what the problem was, you could then decide what to do about it.
Sometimes things catch me out that don’t with other people. When I went to university, I actually won the year prize as one of the top three achievers in the grades, in terms of the actual maths questions.
But at each exam, each candidate was given a piece of string with the papers, so that, at the end of the exam, they could tie the exam papers together. So although I’m happy doing the degree questions in maths, I couldn’t thread the string through the holes in the paper to do it up properly.
It’s important for me to be independent and to do my own thing. And having done that now for about 20 years, you get used to it. So it could be difficult to live with others.
My latest hobby is salsa dancing. This is almost totally contradictory for someone with Asperger’s. It involves interacting with people. And yet, I went along for a three-week course and I absolutely loved it. I’ve met more people and I’m more socially confident through it, than through anything I’ve done before.
I do lots of other activities, I am always busy. I think doing things around the house takes longer than for most people. It can take three or four hours to go through the house. I actually find it takes quite a lot to look after my own house, as well as doing my salsa dancing and my talks.
I live in a block of flats. I’m not happy where I live. It’s a very violent area. There’s drugs, prostitution, noisy parties, that sort of thing. So I don’t feel safe there. But it’s the only place the council have available at the moment, within easy reach of various facilities.
I used to have support from the rehab service, but they started introducing charges that would have meant me paying thousands of pounds a year. I just couldn’t afford it. They keep cutting back in local government. I get a bit of financial support, but they’re asking for way too much - I hardly have anything left.
I’m not very good financially. Despite my masters degree, filling out a tax form - that’s beyond me. I most often understand what the questions are saying, but I don’t know what the right answer is, or where to find it. I get a feeling of dread. If I could go to someone I trust and let them go through it, that would be easy.
My mother died of cancer back in 1991. Now I have to rely upon my friends and my father. He’s very kindly doing it. Obviously I love him to bits and trust him, but he is 80 now, and I worry about what’s going to happen when he’s not able to do that any more.
I’ve produced what I call a home checkbook. The key thing is to recognise those things that matter and to have a strategy, written down on paper, that you can refer to. That’s my way of coping.
Having somebody into my home can be very traumatic for me. I worry they could have touched any electrical switch that I wouldn’t know about. I don’t cook, because I’ve got a great fear of there being a house fire. I always eat out. So in the end, what I’m almost doing is avoiding things that cause me stress.
I have a circle of about four or five really good friends. I can normally call on at least one of them if I want help.
My telephone is a crucial lifeline. Just a few words of reassurance here and there can make all the difference. If there’s a grubby mark on the back of my DVD recorder, and I put my duster over it, touching all the cables behind, will it still be alright? If they say, yes, it will make a difference.
I’m not saying that other people don’t have worries, it’s just that I think sometimes people with Asperger’s have them more acutely. They suffer from them a little bit more.
I feel very sad that I have this condition and that I’m going to have it for the rest of my life. It’s like you’re climbing a mountain with really heavy shoes on. But you can reach the summit if you’re given long enough and you’re given enough support. The important thing is to be given the chance.