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Welcome to Series 2 of the Autism Spectrum Teacher Podcast!
Back with a new name: Autism, Neurodiversity and Me.
Steph Reed: Hello and a big welcome to the new series of the Autism Spectrum Teacher Podcast! And it has a new name: Autism Neurodiversity and me. I am your host, Steph Reed. I’m a neurodivergent, autism specialist teacher and school consultant, and also a DJ and I work with a variety of mainstream and specialist settings focused on enhancing provision and practice for autistic students.
So the first series of the podcast focused on autism and teaching. And what I want to do with this series is open up the conversation a bit more about neurodiversity especially with the more that I learn, the more I understand my own neurotype and the link to mental health, the more I understand about how to help myself as well as the students I so fondly dedicate my time to and I’ve got some really exciting guests coming up on the podcast to explore these themes, which I really cannot wait for you to hear!
So my first guest is very special because he really gave me the boost I needed after not releasing a podcast episode for two years. I can’t believe it’s been that long! Believe me, I really wanted to do this so much sooner. But here we are and I’m so grateful for today’s guest. The wonderful Gareth Jones also known as Gaz Top.
He’s a TV presenter, producer, director, podcaster. You may remember him from the children’s TV series such as Get Fresh, How To and the Big Bang. And he was also the first person to swim across Wales from south to north whilst making a documentary series and Gareth is just generally a ray of sunshine who I’ve had the absolute pleasure of spending time with.
And so enter the podcast, Gareth Jones and his insights on neurodiversity!
Oh, Gareth, thank you for coming on the podcast. And first of all, I just want to say a big thank you because you’ve really helped me to kick start this second series of the podcast. I’ve wanted to get started with this second series of the podcast for two years, and that’s actually quite embarrassing for me to say.
And it’s been on my board and I’ve got all of these ideas, I’m doing all of these, lots of different things at the same time, and I’ve wanted to do it. But I think one of the things I really find difficult is, being dyslexic, having ADHD, that task initiation or, you know, just getting something going. I’ve got the ideas.
But yeah, getting it going. And actually, you know, I’ll just say that we met at a party and we were talking about lots of different things. Everything Wales, dialect and autism came up and then we were talking about podcasts. Gareth does a podcast and I guess just talking about it really, really helped. And then, yeah, thank you for sending, of course that email because you broke it down for me. Really, it really, really helped. And here we are.
Gareth Jones: Well, thank you very much indeed for taking my advice. Advice is easy to give, but I see this more of a collaboration than an advice. You know, I’ve made podcasts for eight years, so I know what’s involved in planning starting, and completing a task, and it’s something that I’ve learned to do. And it’s not something that everybody has the ability to do.
And sometimes you need a bit of encouragement, a bit of guidance, and a list, often a list is the answer. You know, if you can write a list, then okay, just do one thing on the list. Starting is always a problem. And I think for people with ADHD, you’ve started 100 things in your head. Yeah, just trying to fix it down to the one thing you have to do in the real world doesn’t come easy always for people of that.
Structure, let’s say. My experience with autism goes way, way, way back. I remember I said, I’m very old now. I’m 61 years old. So I remember way back in the, I think this was a very late 1960s. My mother was reading the Sunday Times supplement and there was an article in it about children in America who you could not reach.
I don’t think they said, “locked in”, but you could not get through to these people. My mother read it and had a eureka moment. At the end of it she says, Oh my gosh, this is Keith, over the road. And she ran into the house with the newspaper supplement still in her dressing gown and went to visit our neighbours who lived across the road, knocked on the door and said, “Syril, this is your Keith”. Now their Keith sat in front of the television with it tuned to no channels. So was just sort of interference and gash on the screen.
And he rocked back and forward and shook his head and moaned and just did that 10, 20 hours a day. He would do it all the time if he could. And the family and the people who’d been speaking to in the health service at that time had no idea. And I’m going to use this in quotes. What was ‘wrong’ with Keith?
There was nothing wrong with Keith. We now understand that Keith was very, very, very much at one end of the autistic spectrum. And through that diagnosis, he got help and lived a functioning life, a good life. And that was the very dawn of my understanding of autism. So it’s always been there for me. These are people growing up in North Wales who I knew were different and I valued the difference because I think there is value in neurodiversity.
I remember I used to make a television programme, I used to produce and direct a TV show with my company, Whiz Bang TV that was about video games. This was some 18, 20 years ago now. And one of the guys who worked on the team was one of those people who had what you might describe as special interest.
And a slightly faraway look in his eyes. My and I realized his thorough and extensive knowledge of some facets of video gaming were going to be a real benefit to our program. He helped us provide content, you know, so neurodiverse people are essential in not just social society but in work society. Yeah, as well. And I value people who are different.
I’m different, I’m a bit odd. I’m not quite sure where I am in the world, but I am a bit odd. And so I gravitate to other oddballs. Perhaps that’s why I’m on this program with you! I think. And it’s it’s never been a problem. It’s been an asset to me. I think people are often confused about people on the spectrum.
They kind of expect people with autism to be savants, to have a superpower. And that’s not always the case. A friend of mine who is diagnosed with a who’s diagnosed with autism late in life when she was 60. Is now coming to terms with her behaviour as a child. And her continued behaviour is an adult and sometimes can modify that behaviour. But most of the time we just love her the way she is.
Steph Reed: Yes. And I guess what you just mentioned there was I mean, especially after the film Rainman came out, I guess that really, you know, made people think about autism in a specific way. You know, you know, do maybe most autistic individuals have have these savant abilities? but of course, that’s not, not the case. And for many people, you know, everyone is so different.
Everyone has their own unique abilities. Their own unique interests. But yes, it’s just understanding that autism is a big kind of vast spectrum and I guess, you know, not even just with two ends, but just, you know, there’s just an infinite amount of possibilities. But I guess what we’re saying is, you know, we, everybody brings value and, you know, everyone has their own strengths. So, you know, if we were all the same, gosh, that would be boring! You wouldn’t get anywhere.
Gareth Jones: I’m a big fan. I mean, Star Trek, we believe in what’s called infinite diversity in infinite combinations. And I genuinely believe that. I genuinely believe that, you know, the successive bridge of the Star Trek was the fact that there were, you know, black women, there were Russians, there were Chinese, there were white American males. And there was an alien to put it all in context, you know, and I think that that that diversity even exists within my experience of the people I’ve met with autism.
It’s a sort of pick and mix. You have some of the traits, but you have a different set of traits and it’s a very broad set of markers that you might find that different people have in different ways.
Let me tell you a story, I’m full of stories today. A dear friend of mine many years ago said, Oh, you’ve got to meet my friend Radar Jim and wait, what Radar Jim? Oh, you’re going to love Radar Jim. I said why’s he called Radar Jim? I said, Well, you’ll know when you meet him. And she introduced me to Jim and Jim had a far away look in his eyes and carried a scrapbook under his arm all the time.
And that scrapbook was full of pictures of radar installations at military bases around the UK that he’d gone and taken pictures of and radar Jim was called Radar Jim because he loved radar. He knew everything about radar. He knew the scientific principles on which it worked. He knew the names of the people who developed it. In Britain during the Second World War, he knew the names of the people above them in the Ministry of Defense.
He knew how the war played out. He knew how peace came about and how the United Nations came about as a result of that and the names of the people in the initial member states of the United Nations. So whilst Radar Jim’s special interest was Radar, that was simply his access point to a very, very broad and wide world of knowledge that most of us would never get to.
Ask him what he knew about and he would say Radar. And that’s all he cared about. So I think that’s an example of it being an asset, but not a superpower. Yeah, it’s just a way of describing how people think, in my layman’s opinion, you know, it’s just a way of describing, it doesn’t mean that you are disabled, it doesn’t mean that you are super powered.
It means that, oh, you’re the type of person who can be described loosely in this way. And that’s the key to understanding, isn’t it? You know, if you’ve got a term in Wales, we have an expression give the devil, an expression, give the devil a name. And that is if something’s bugging you, give it a name, even if it’s not the name thing it is. And then you have control, or at least the beginning of understanding over it.
Steph Reed: Do you know what I, when I think about where we’re heading and our understanding as a, as a society, I really like to think about a shift from thinking about autism, ADHD as disorders and moving to a space where we’re really recognising and, you know, understanding that this is different ways of thinking, different ways of focusing.
What you just described. There was an ability to focus on a specific subject so intently that somebody else would probably not be able to do. And the skills and the strength and the value there is in that. And I think maybe because we have this, you know, we have this system of it’s a very medical system of diagnosing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autistic spectrum disorder, very negative medical terminology, which, you know, of course, affects the way that people think.
And they view about what that means. And so I like to think that we, you know, we’re heading hopefully in this, especially with the neurodiversity paradigm, really understanding that we’re all human beings. We all have very different abilities, different interests. And that is great.
Gareth Jones: Absolutely right. I think you’ve nailed it. I think the term disorder is unfair. I think bias might be a closer word to what we’re trying to say, oh, this person has an autistic bias. You know, some people have a over empathic bias and they’re lovely to be with and they’re darlings. And that doesn’t mean it’s a disorder. And so people with non neurotypical behaviours, again, non neurotypical is a term that suggests that they are beneath or otherworldly, you know, and I won’t say they, I mean we because there is no such thing as they, right.
There’s no us and them. We are all people trying to work on the same issues. So yeah, let’s just, let’s campaign to remove the word disorder. Let’s, let’s find a better word. I’m sure there a better thinkers than me that can come up with that word.
Steph Reed: Definitely. And so you are, you are a parent and of a neurodiverse family. I guess what I really love to, to bring with this podcast is any kind of, you know, practical tips or takeaways or things that maybe any other parents out there, maybe they’re on, they’re starting their journey to understanding neurodiversity, or maybe they’re well on the way and they’re having some challenges at the moment or I mean, is there any kind of any words of wisdom or advice that you would give as a as a parent?
Gareth Jones: Well, I, I used to do a program called How, you know, in which we would answer any question with how and give you a real nugget of information. So maybe I’ve got a neurodiverse, ‘how’. Let’s see, I’m going to do this without naming the members of my family who are either ADHD or autistic, because I think that would impinge on their privacy.
But in terms of general advice, you know, for me, either a number of number of members of my family who are autistic or some of whom are being diagnosed, those who haven’t been diagnosed yet. But the advice I would give, you know, if is how do you deal with autism, I suppose that would be it wouldn’t it, if it was a ‘how?’ how would you deal with autism?
And I think the best advice I could give is be yourself and let them be themselves.
Don’t expect people to behave differently. Differently to you, to behave in a typical way. Allow them this. Okay. He’s another wonderful old adage. It’s slightly sexist, but when I explain you, you’ll understand that I’m not using it in a sexist way here, I hope. They used to say way back in the seventies, you know that story, three blokes trying to get an engine out of a car and they’ve got, they’ve got air and a crane over the car and they can lift the engine out of the bonnet of the car, but they can’t quite get it to clear and they can’t quite get it out.
And they’ve been thinking about it, well can we make it higher? Can we do this? Can we make a shorter chain or can we file a bit off? And we’ve been there for 3 hours. And then one of the blokes wife, one of the blokes wives comes outside, looks at three guys and says, “well, why don’t you just let the air out of the tires and let the car down and it will clear that way?”
Now, that was a sexist observation of how people believed men and women thought differently in the past. I don’t believe that there is no difference between the female brain and the male brain. There is no left brain. There is no right brain. The brain is a far more nuanced, complicated network of sparking bits of bioelectricity than you can define in left or right or male or female.
What that story does tell you is that some people see things different, differently, And they can sometimes offer a solution. Sometimes that could be a problem. So think of it that way. Question If you’ve got a child who will only wear one pair of shoes because that’s in their nature, that’s one of the markers in their pick and mix of autistic traits you might say. Don’t get angry with them and force them to wear a different pair of shoes. Let them wear those shoes. Even if those shoes are worn out, find a way of listening to what that person is expressing and feeling. And work with that. That’s all you have to do. Little bit by bit by bit.
It can be hard sometimes, yes. But it’s it’s rewarding and I think it’s the solution. So that’s it. That’s how you deal with an autistic person in your life? Well, quite easily is the answer by listening.
Steph Reed: Yes. Oh, I love that! Thank you! I love it!
Gareth Jones: I haven’t been planning that. That just came to me there. And then I think that’s how it works for me.
Steph Reed: Perfect. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you, Gareth.
Gareth Jones: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Steph Reed: I’m so grateful to have met you and to have had these conversations and I look forward to spending more time with you in the future.
Gareth Jones: Steph, you are doing remarkable good work. You’re a great broadcaster. You’re a tremendous communicator. You are dealing with a subject that is close to my heart. I wish you all the best through the whole next series.
Exploring autism and neurodiversity in the context of education, with Autism Specialist Teacher, Steph Reed. With a clear passion for improving the outcomes of autistic and neurodivergent individuals, join Steph and guests on a journey of sharing practical information and advice related to autism and education, whilst also exploring her own neurodivergence.