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EDITIONS
Thursday, 5 September, 2002, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
'Autism is like living on wrong planet'
Ian Stewart
Communications are difficult for autistic people

To Ian Stewart the machinations of office politics are a complete mystery.

Facial expressions leave him bemused and he cannot lie, not even little white lies.

For Mr Stewart is autistic and he admits he finds the world a baffling place.

"I just feel I am living on the wrong planet. I find the world a very strange place.

Struggle

"It is like being a pilot without radar, you cannot see a missile coming."

Autism is a developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and interacts with other people.

People with autism cannot relate to others in a meaningful way. They also have trouble making sense of the world at large.

As a result, their ability to develop friendships can be impaired. They can also have a limited capacity to understand other people's feelings.

Autism is often also associated with learning disabilities.

Despite struggling with his undiagnosed autism throughout his childhood Mr Stewart is now a successful musician and composer, but he admits it has been a struggle.


I just feel I am living on the wrong planet. I find the world a very strange place

Ian Stewart

"Being autistic means that you believe everything that people tell you and the teachers at school told me I was useless many times.

"So I believed that I was useless.

"But when I was an adult I decided to take an IQ test. I found I had an IQ of 148 and I was invited to join Mensa.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart is now a successful musician

"Had I known that I had such a high IQ at school then I would not have thought myself as stupid.

"Once I got 100% in an applied mechanics exam, but I did not ever think of becoming a mechanic. I thought if I had been good at something that someone would have told me about it."

"With autism unless someone tells you that you are good at something then you do not believe you are."

Hierarchy

Another problem he found was his lack of respect for hierarchy, leading him to argue with teachers.

"Being in school was almost impossible because there were so many hierarchies with teachers, peers etc."

He also found it impossible to fake an interest in subjects that bored him like sport.

Mr Stewart explained that as 93% of communication is non-verbal, autistic people like himself are at a disadvantage.

"If you are autistic you just can't read people's facial expressions."

In the past he has had problems at work when he has been unable to tell white lies.

Saying he liked someone he did not or complimenting someone on their work is alien to him and has led him intro troubled waters.

"I cannot bring myself to lie, which sometimes comes across as very rude."

He also finds it difficult to recognise faces, even of people he has known for many years.

Something as simple as a woman wearing her hair loose rather than in a ponytail can render her unrecognisable.

Issues faced by people like Mr Stewart will be discussed at a two day international conference on autism in London on 6th and 7th September.

See also:

06 Sep 02 | Health
29 Aug 02 | Newsnight
14 Aug 02 | Health
09 Aug 02 | Health
26 Jul 02 | Health
27 Jun 02 | Health
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