Shaun Williams is a newly-diagnosed adult on the autism spectrum. His new website, Autism Guide, discusses his personal experiences with autism and offers advice and insights for all families affected by autism. Shaun asserts that he has achieved several successes in his life including a successful marriage with two children, a degree in Computer Studies, a Master’s degree in Computer Security, and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). In this interview, Shaun discusses his experience being diagnosed with Asperger’s as an adult.
You were diagnosed with Asperger’s as an adult. How did you feel upon receiving this diagnosis? Would you have preferred to have been diagnosed earlier or would it not have mattered?
I received my diagnosis about half a year ago at the age of 35. I thought I may have had high functioning autism two years previous to this but wanted to be sure and have official confirmation. It would have helped me a great deal to have an earlier diagnosis as I would have known why I’ve been different to almost everyone else my whole life. When I got the official diagnosis, I was happy that I knew why I was different, but it took a long time for it to settle in my mind that I am autistic and always will be.
An article on your website suggests that some of the obstacles you’ve encountered to employment may have been because you are autistic. Can you explain?
There have been many obstacles to employment. The main one would be not succeeding in interviews even though I match all the job criteria and experience. I even rehearse interviews at great length and spend days preparing for each one. I just don’t come across right. Reasons include being too honest, making too much or too little eye contact, not being able to hide my feelings and thus showing incorrect or inappropriate facial expressions, and finding hand shakes uncomfortable.
What advice do you have for parents who are trying to help their autistic children find jobs where they can use their full range of talents and make enough money to support themselves and be happy?
This is a tough one, but I find most people who have special interests that can become a career can use this as a good starting point. Someone who is talented at playing the piano as a hobby may be able to turn this into a career, or someone who plays video games may go on to a career making them. Computer programmers seem to do well for themselves as well. I think that social skills need to be worked on at a young age and people with autism can learn how to act and pretend in social situations.
I started the website for a number of reasons. First to share information about how I overcome the difficulties I have with autism so others can learn from this and to hopefully genuinely help people or to improve their understanding of why they find certain things difficult. Second is that I’ve got two computing degrees and miss using these skills, so it was a perfect chance for me to get into computing again. I may make other websites in the future using the skills I learn from this one. Thirdly I find it therapeutic to write about the challenges I face, and it helps me to understand and structure some of my difficulties and benefits and come to terms with my diagnosis and understand my autism more.
Do your children have an understanding of autism? In your opinion, how important is communication about autism among family members?
My children are 8 and 18 months. They do not know or understand autism. I have not told them I am autistic yet, and don’t know when I will.
You mentioned that your wife is the one who wanted you to be formally evaluated. Has the diagnosis helped your marriage?
I believe it has helped the marriage a bit. My wife is more understanding of why I can’t do some things like social events. At the same time, I try to go to some, but not all social events to do the right thing by her, my children, and my other family members.
What advice do you have for parents of young children who are considering whether or not they should test their child because of the “mildness” of the symptoms they display?
I would say that it is mostly worth finding out one way or the other. If your child is autistic, it will help the parent to understand them and support them through their difficulties, and some schools will provide extra support as well as excellent support groups and youths clubs outside of school for children with autism. But not everyone is tolerant of people with disabilities, so, if it was me, I would be selective with the people I would tell to avoid bullying.