Or: I Could Go On Speaking

Thirteen years after the last autism lecture I was involved in, it was great to be back talking about autism spectrum conditions. My last time was a support slot in a lecture with the late great Donna Williams at Middlesbrough Learning and Training Centre. Little did I know this was her final UK tour. She was tired of the travelling, the airport terminals and the passport checks.

Eight years on, she passed away after fighting breast cancer. To the very end of her life, she continued to make a positive, creative impact on fellow people with autism spectrum conditions. Another part of her legacy is the Paper Owl Films/Kavaleer children’s television series Pablo which I co-wrote two episodes for in its first and second seasons.

Thirteen years on, I now work full time for a leading non-profit organisation. One that offers person centred care services for people with complex care needs across the North of England. People with learning disabilities, dementia, and autism spectrum conditions. You may have heard of a little thing called Fun Time Friday, which is half an hour’s worth of pure joy with cheesy music. It is hosted by myself and fellow colleague Kevin Phoenix, a singer-songwriter who has written for Manchester City and Manchester United, and appeared on Channel Four’s Under The Moon back in 1997.

With Fun Time Friday, Kevin and I have been known by my Managing Director, Paula as Batman and Robin. By day, Kevin goes to the houses of supported persons and gives person-centred music sessions. Sometimes I accompany him to the sessions. This Wednesday, after weeks of preparation, we began the first of two one hour-long lectures on autism spectrum conditions.

Let’s Talk About Autism

The seeds were sewn in September by Future Directions’ Managing Director, Paula. After weeks of research and obtaining suitable source materials, we [Kevin and I] started the first of two lectures on Wednesday 19th October 2022 at 1.30pm.

Let’s Talk About Autism was a working title by yours truly, merely a placeholder before a snappier title was suggested. As Kevin liked the title, it stuck. The hour long lecture is in two parts and is aimed at general audiences. In other words, readers of a certain tabloid newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch or – as LBC’s James O’Brien likes to say – “the man on the Clapham omnibus”.

With our first sixteen delegates at Marle House and FD’s MD Paula watching, Kevin and I succeeded in our mission to entertain and inform in equal measure.

The first part is an Absolute Beginners’ Guide to Autism Spectrum Conditions – based on Kevin’s 20 years experience at the National Autistic Society’s office in Northenden. This includes a clip of the NAS’s shopping precinct sensory overload video.

After a brief slide on famous people with autism spectrum conditions, the audience is led to the second part. My part which focuses on my life with autism spectrum conditions, taking my story well in to the present day in a most accessible way.

The presentation was rounded off by Stronger Together, Kevin’s song performed by myself and Kevin.

Initial response

Shortly after our presentation, the response was amazing. Prior to yours truly creating the ‘officially recognised’ evaluation form, Kevin and I received email responses minutes after the finish.

Twenty-four hours on from the presentation, it clearly had a positive impact on my fellow colleagues. At Marle House (FD HQ), it felt as if a fog had been lifted because they knew a lot more about autism and how things were from my perspective. It became the top conversation topic on the ground floor; people who missed Wednesday’s lecture either looked forward to next week’s lecture or wished they could attend.

One wonders if the initial success of this Wednesday’s lecture and – possibly next Wednesday’s lecture – could lead to some more dates.

How it worked for me

The buzz I got from the first talk was unbelievable. Weeks of intense research (whether stats, photos or videos) paid off by Monday. After some proofreading, I thought (overwhelmed, further overloaded from a chaotic commute to work) we had something big. Something special that would stand the test of time and do some good for the people starting out at FD. Especially from a fellow colleague on the autism spectrum and his co-conspirator on Fun Time Friday.

On Wednesday morning, I was slightly nervous but not to the point where I wanted to bounce off the walls. A more efficient commute and Stalybridge Celtic’s first point in weeks the previous night helped a bit. The talk went really well, with my part attracting the most acclaim.

Part of me thought I was back with the late great Donna Williams, planning presentation materials or selecting suitable poems. Incredibly, my journey from Bridlington to Middlesbrough in October 2009 (on a Sunday with three buses!) was less arduous than some of my more recent commutes.

The greatest buzz I got came from the audience, which has lasted right up to the point of me writing this article. Roll on next week’s lecture!

S.V., 21st October 2022.

One thought on “Just One Hour With Stu (and Kevin)

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