Hey everyone. My name is Stewart Burton and I am now 46 years old.
I’m from Glasgow in Scotland but I have been living on the South West coast of India in the state of Goa since 2012.
Where to start?
My greatest accomplishments? Well there have been many I suppose. One would be surviving 3 years in a Chinese prison when I was an 18 year old homeless heroin addict. Then later becoming the first ex-offender to work inside a Scottish prison. After that I became the first ex offender and drug addict and openly autistic member of the Scottish children’s panel which is the Scottish court system for children. But more than that was getting married and having two fabulous boys with my wife.
I would love a way to show neurotypicals that our issues are real and not decided by ourselves. My stress and anxiety is often ignored and believed to be a personality flaw.
I never had any resources or support. Straight after my diagnosis I through myself into self study and even went on a master degree course for autism. They allowed one autistic person onto the course each year without a corresponding degree. So it was uncertified for me but what an eye opener. During many of the seminars it was if the professor was talking about me. I learnt so much at such a deep level during that year.
We have to remember that we are just normal people as well and that we go through the same issues as everyone. We just have autism added onto it. I see many parents making the mistake that every behaviour that they see in their child as being related to autism. We have to teach parents to raise their child first. Raise them in the way they would raise any child. Our self esteem and confidence should be the main priority. There are so many autistic adults out there with mental health problems, eating disorders and unemployed due to problems in childhood.
I have terrible mental health problems and so feel strongly about advocating for parents of newly diagnosed autistic children to go through counseling and education prior to their children. I believe with the correct support these families can achieve a lot more lifelong success for their children rather than dragging their child to appointment after appointment with specialists who suggest this and that and the other.
I was diagnosed completely by accident. Whist working in the Scottish prison service I read a report about undiagnosed ASD in the prison population. As my position was to help prisoners stop reoffending I read many of these reports as it was important for to find out why people committed offences. Fortunately my wife knew the writer of the report so I was able to meet with him. He was the head of the local council’s autism and criminal justice department. I knew a little of aspergers as my nephew had been diagnosed. Anyway during the meeting I noticed he was asking me lots and lots of questions and at the end he asked f I would like to go through the diagnostic process? I agreed and the next week I met the head of psychiatry with my wife. Number of hours later was diagnosed.
To be honest I collapsed. I had to take two weeks off work for stress, my first post diagnosis meltdown you could say.
Having the diagnosis allowed me to put my whole life into some sort of perspective. However, it hasn’t come without problems. Friends at the time where so harsh towards me, even saying that I was going to ruin my wife’s life because of it. My wife was pregnant with our first child when I was diagnosed and we really needed support. However we quickly researched and realized that many people in my family were on the spectrum so that the probability of my children having autism would be high. So we were immediately prepared for our child to be on the spectrum. Which he is so it didn’t come as a surprise. Our other son born 18 months later is also on the spectrum.
It’s not been easy. It is continuously problematic.
My wife and I split up last year. The stress just became too much. I’ve been homeless since August. And homeless in India isn’t too easy. But a couple of days ago I have found somewhere to live so that I can now write this. I’ve been asked to take part in an inclusion research project at La Sapienza University in Rome this year. So the journey continues.
Anything that happens in my life I now see it as something that I can help others not have to go through. I have dedicated the last 10 years of my life to supporting families and autistic people here in India. I will continue to do so. I have achieved things in my life that I am really proud of. If I think of the negatives it can quickly overwhelm me.
People don’t see my diagnosis. They can’t understand it. I am hoping that in time people will understand t better. My children are the most amazing individuals. They are only 8 and 9 but they understand who they are. They are thriving in all aspects of life. Yes they have their major autistic days, but they have an amazing resilience. And I’m proud of that.