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Stephen, 22, hasn't let having Asperger Syndrome get in the way of achieving success. He tells TheSite.org about his daily struggle to lead a normal life and how he couldn't have done it without the support and help of various people.
Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a condition which very few people understand clearly. Unless you have in some way been affected by it yourself, it's very difficult to figure out how a person with Asperger's operates. I was first diagnosed with the condition when I was 13 years-old; however, I'm finding that it's having a greater effect on my life as I get older. AS is a part of the Autistic spectrum, so a person with the disorder is likely to have great difficulty in social interaction and understanding the 'unwritten rules' that are taken for granted. They may also follow a set routine and experience anxiety when this is broken. Additionally the condition can have an affect on physical co-ordination, yet someone's level of intelligence is usually average or above average.
Looking back at my time in secondary school I realise that I was somewhat different to my peers. I usually preferred to be with one or two other people rather than in a larger group. I talked about my own interests to excess and didn't recognise the signs that others were perhaps less interested. Sport wasn't one of my strengths and I found games such as football, tennis and cricket a chore, rather than a pleasure. Anxiety affected me the most and continues to do so - I worried extensively when faced with a new or uncomfortable situation. I feared the idea of getting into trouble more than most and because of this was more concerned about making mistakes. Subsequently I developed the reputation of being a 'goody-goody'.
Thankfully there weren't too many incidents of bullying, largely because I was somewhat protected at school and any problems were swiftly dealt with. Later on, school exams and the fear of failure were a big issue for me. I have nothing but praise for the support I received during my GCSEs and with help I was able to come up with an effective revision timetable and could regularly talk to teachers about any concerns I had. When I finally got my results and discovered that all my grades were A to Cs, I was delighted. It made me realise for the first time just what I was capable of achieving.
"I feared the idea of getting into trouble more than most and because of this was more concerned about making mistakes. Subsequently I developed the reputation of being a 'goody-goody'."
The pressure to succeed
After completing my A-Levels I went to Kingston University, but although I was still living at home, I found the experience especially challenging as I was expected to socialise with a completely new set of faces. The first couple of years were relatively straightforward and I became more confident in my abilities and was able to voice my views more regularly. The nature of the work sometimes required me to interview strangers outside the university and although this seemed daunting at first, I was able to perform the tasks with relative ease. The third year of uni was a lot more challenging because of the added pressure and it was at this point that I experienced severe anxiety, which I could not always control. After visiting a psychiatrist I was diagnosed with depression. There were talks of putting my degree on hold whilst I recovered and graduating later than the others, but I refused to contemplate this option and insisted that I finish on schedule. I graduated in 2007 with a 2:1 in Criminology and Film Studies. This was another occasion when I had proved to myself that I was capable of more than I had initially thought possible. Despite some serious setbacks I had achieved my goal.
Finding a job
I'm now possibly facing my biggest challenge of finding a career and competing in the adult world. So far, I must admit, it's not been easy. I've attended several interviews and many were unsuccessful. To earn a bit of extra money I have done a variety of temporary jobs, some of which have been extremely menial. Subsequently my confidence has gone up and down in the last year and the sense of frustration has at times been unbearable. With the help of the National Autistic Society I've been able to focus and think about what I want to do in the long-term. I'm currently preparing to do a post-graduate diploma in Journalism and I'm building up my portfolio by working at the local paper once a week.
I would also say that I've improved socially over the last three years, but I still have a fair way to go. I'm now a lot more vocal than I was a few years ago, although I often remain unsure of myself when meeting new people. Subsequently this has affected my ability to form potential relationships and I'm aware that this will take time to conquer. Having more understanding about the effects of AS has certainly helped me to come to terms with the condition. One thing I've learned is that with the right help and support someone with Asperger's can enjoy a fulfilled and successful life.