SUTTON’S YOUTH MP TALKS POLITICS, AMBITIONS AND ASPERGERS

 

IMG_1330Helpp was delighted to meet Sutton’s Youth MP Ethan Smith to talk about studying, politics and more crucially his Asperger’s diagnosis and why he sees it as a great strength

 

 

– When were you diagnosed and do you feel that this diagnosed has affected/influenced you in any ways?

I was diagnosed; misdiagnosed in fact, by CAHMS with ADHD. Unfortunately, for the first 12 years of my life it was assumed that I had ADHD and my inability to cope at primary school and for a small time at Carshalton Boys was due to hyperactivity. Asperger’s was really my condition. It does not influence me in a negative way now because I know I have it and what the symptoms are. My misdiagnosis though meant I was different to other people and I didn’t know why. I was even different to youngsters with ADHD as I was never as hyper as them. I could concentrate when I wanted to. I just felt that I could not understand people. I always believed it was them rather than me, but this was just a misfortune of not knowing my true diagnosis.

– Do you think that Asperger’s has helped or hindered you, and if so in what way?

Hindered I believe not, Asperger’s is an advantage! Anyone who views it as a disability is misguided. It can only be a hinder if the person is not taught what Asperger’s entails. When I finally was diagnosed, it helped answer so many questions! I understood why I struggled to read facial expressions. I knew why colours had such a significant part to play in visualising numbers and days of the week! I felt like I knew why I was different as it confirmed with me that I was unique! I now view ASD as a mental advantage that other people don’t have. Rather than seeing ASD as an alien infestation in the mind, I see it as a mental entity which gives intellectual super powers to a person. An example of this for me is the ability to absorb information through doing research. During my GCSEs I didn’t start taking revision seriously until a couple of weeks before the exams. In this time I researched on the internet and on results day still managed to receive a string of A-Cs!

– How do you think that schools and services could improve to support youngsters with Asperger’s?

I say a system like Stanley Park works wonders! I think the best way to support young people with ASD is to ensure they are not segregated from other young people. This happens in specialist schools which are just for people with autism. In a school like that the young people can become institutionalised, whereas in a school like Stanley Park it integrates young people with ASD into mainstream education. I go to mainstream lessons with the support of the ASD base to fall back on. There is also much open space in school for me and this makes my mood higher and I never feel claustrophobic or squashed. I feel open, comfortable and with a base to fall back on, safe and secure.

– How and why did you get involved in politics?

Politics is my aspiration due to the passion I have for advocating the views of young people and applying my personal experience to help others! I was the elected Member of UK Youth Parliament in 2015 and I represented all young people in Sutton. This ignited a passion in public speaking and standing up for young people’s best interests.

ASD IN POPULAR CULTURE, BLESSING OR CURSE?

At the weekend, America hosted the Tony Awards, the theatre’s answer to the Oscars.

This was a big night for the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The play, based on the 2003 book depicting a 15-year old teenager on the autism spectrum scooped up two of the main awards namely Best Play and Best Lead Actor for Alexander Sharp’s interpretation of Christopher the story’s main protagonist.

On its release the book struck a cord with many and rapidly became a best seller. It then went on to become a successful play in the West End and has now achieved Broadway recognition. There’s even talk of a film by David Heyman and Steve Kloves, the producer and screenwriter behind the Harry Potter franchise.

When it comes to raising awareness it’s difficult to do much better. Whilst the character’s condition has never been confirmed, his social communication difficulties are clear and the success of the book and subsequently the play have given the autism spectrum an unprecedented platform in popular culture. So far so good… Yet telegraph.co.uk reports that the author Mark Haddon has expressed reservations about the novel being used as an autism “textbook” by social workers and police forces.

Whilst this book is clearly a novel, not written by an expert and has therefore no vocation to become an autism textbook, it has undoubtedly lifted a veil over the autism spectrum world. Individuals with no personal interest in this field are unlikely to refer to specialist publications but may read this novel and get an insight of the condition. It is a fiction with a view to entertain but it does help putting the spotlight on social communication difficulties.

So to the question blessing or curse, I firmly believe that the incursion of ASD in popular culture can only be a good thing – and I understand Mr Hatton’s reservations but he has helped many and probably more than he knows.