In all my years, I never thought I’d see the day I’d be walking through a school at 5:30 in the evening.
Your job can take you to some weird places, and school was no exception.
Earlier in the week, I had received an email from one of our key allies, the ever innovative autism consultant Kevin Baskerville, asking if I would be available to partake in a meeting attended parents of autistic children at Hinckley Academy School.
I arrived at Hinckley Train Station to be greeted by Kevin and his nephew Angus, who drove us to the school, where we met with some of the other attendees of the event. We made our way through the building to the room, where we passes a series of odd odours, such as cookie dough, chlorine, and what I presume to be hay. (I’m pretty sure hay has a smell to it).
We entered the room, a small classroom with a kitchen area, and waited for the parents to arrive.
Once they had done so, and I had gotten the green light to take the occasional pic without the risk of being thrown out the window, we were off.
Kickstarting the talk was Mike, who spoke extensively about his experiences at school, struggling with bullying, including naming a practice I’m sure many of you will be familiar with, but may not have heard of before; mate-crime, in which people target you for your naivety, pretending to be your friend and then exploiting your feelings for their own evil amusement. Some may rightly call me melodramatic, but we must never forgot the calculated cruelty that bullies are capable of, especially to those they perceive as ‘different’. Seeing Mike standing there, opening talking about his experiences, how they clearly had not defined him and had been able to lead a fulfilling life.
He also made reference to several fictional characters such as Mr Spock, Drax the Destroyer and the Blue Power Ranger, all characters with traits of autism, and potential role models for autistic children everywhere. Mike was also working on a book related to his autism that will certainly be a must-read if his articulation is anything to go by.
We then moved on to Dylan, who had had four years of experience as a public speaker for autism. He didn’t receive an autism diagnosis until he was 11, and had had a lot of difficult growing up in foster care and moving around extensively. He had dealt with some of the key autism traits, such as difficulty with sarcasm. He had also experience difficulty with his temper and had struggled in college, proving the point that autism integration is not exactly a walk in the park for some people. But what impressed me the most was that he wrote weekly planners to organize himself. He showed a great level of self-awareness and had overcome various barriers to become a gifted and prosperous young man about to commence university. Most heartwarming of all was the revelation that he had recently met his birth father. This is a man who is going to go places, and his words of encouragement clearly struck a chord with the audience.
After a fairly brief coffee break, Angus took the stage… in more ways than one. Angus Baskerville had spent much of his younger years moving back and forth between Hong Kong and England and then South Africa, which sounds a lot like Geography Ping-Pong (assuming they have Ping-Pong in those countries). Angus unfortunately had to play the worst kind of game when it came to getting an autism diagnosis: the waiting game.
But once he attained that diagnosis, Angus was off and running. Since being statemented, he has gone on to university where he is currently studying an Honour’s Degree in Animal Management. But although Angus is passionate about this career path, he has also found another calling in life, one that catered to his widespread imagination.
Angus is a mind-dazzling magician who has stashed many tricks up his sleeve over the years. From sleight of hand card tricks to mind reading, he wowed everyone there as if he was looking into their minds themselves, matching a long sum to a series of seemingly unlinked numbers from the audience. His ability to pluck entire nuggets of knowledge out of thin air had my head spinning… metaphorically, not Exorcist-spinning. And I can’t for the life of me work out how he does it. I’ve never been caught out by the “Pick a number between 1 and 10”, but that’s only a fraction of Angus’ magical prowess.
He has gained a notable following since his college days wowing his friends with his tricks. He has performed on Autism’s Got Talent and applied for Britain’s Got Talent. And of course, he hires out his services as an entertainer to interested parties. I have a feeling this man will be making a lot more appearances in the future…
Finally, it was my turn to take to the stage AKA the Front of the Room. Rather than detail my own story, I focused on the work I was doing with Hidden Talent. I did take the opportunity to tie in some personal concerns that parents might have i.e. how scary it can be to get a diagnosis for the first time and wonder how
Now, I recognize that for some parents, the idea of preparing your children for work may be looking a little too far into the future. But I’m sure parents will agree kids grow up so fast. One minute you’re driving them to junior school, next you’re giving them advice about the world of work.
It was an odd experience, being faced with so many parents. For the most part, Hidden Talent has presented to employers, so of course, I had to do a bit of reworking on my usual pitch. Autism can be a befuddling enigma to parents and I remember traces of that same uncertainty my parents faced; not knowing how my condition would impact my life, or whether I would be able to have something resembling a life.
Which is why I think it’s all the more important that groups such as these take place to give parents that reassurance, and know that with the right support, that child could turn out as well as everyone else.
By the end of the session, as much as I love the opportunity to mingle we had to make tracks, on account of the fact that I still had to get my vote in for the then-impending election. Occupational hazard of being a last-minute-man.
For more information on the mystical magic of Angus Baskerville, check out his website if you ever need a magician to captivate an audience: www.angusbaskerville.com
For more information on the tireless work conducted by Kevin Baskerville, check out the official website for the Autism Education Trust: www.autismeducationtrust.org.uk