A traumatic train journey ironically gave inspirational speaker Dean Beadle possibly the best vehicle for his talk on autism and anxiety.
Delays on Southern meant he was more than an hour late for the talk, organised by Worthing group Parents for Autism at Chatsmore Catholic High School on Monday.
The large audience could fully appreciate the anxiety he must be feeling as he arrived but he was able to joke about it throughout his candid speech.
Dean, who travels the world giving training and advice, spoke about his own experience of being autistic and gave many useful tips for parents and teachers on recognising and coping with children’s anxiety.
He said: “There is so much about autism that is wonderful. All the joy I experience in life is because I’m autistic.
“It is also possible to talk about the challenges while still liking yourself. It is more than just a diagnosis, it is our identity, it is who we are. I would not change myself for the world.”
Dean said he had always been anxious, often to the point of hyperventilating, but at the age of 20, he had realised it did not have to prevent him doing anything.
As an adult, he has found the courage to speak about being autistic but he said autistic people were still ‘wearing a mask’ for fear of standing out in society, despite there being greater awareness of autism now than ever before.
“A lot of autistic people adopt a mask of coping, acting that they are okay,” he explained.
“We are constantly concealing anxiety and overwhelm.”
Dean hopes the recent news of autistic actor Talia Grant joining the cast of Hollyoaks to play an autistic role has helped people gain even more understanding of autism.
Anxiety is a significant issue for most autistic people and Dean gave advice about recognising it in children. He explained meltdowns might be obvious but autistic people were also likely to go into shutdown, so the anxiety did not show on the outside.
Thinking on autism has changed over the years and experts are now beginning to realise rather than autistic people having a lack of imagination, as was first thought, the opposite is true.
Dean said: “Autistics probably have too much imagination and there is nothing to rein it in. My imagination runs wild. The autistic will be looking for logic in a world that is not logical.”
That imagination feeds the anxiety as most people manage ‘maybe’ with probability but autistics struggle to do that, they need a definite.
Dean suggested ways to help children channel their anxiety, for example giving facts, visual evidence, definite answers and sticking to the truth.
“Say less with more meaning because too much language just expands the queue of things to think about and autistic people cannot prioritise when they are overwhelmed,” he explained.