People often think of autism as a new issue because it has become so
much more prevalent in recent years. But it's actually been recognised for more
than 100 years and our thinking about the condition has changed dramatically
during that time. In the 1970’s just 1 in every 2000 people were diagnosed with
autism. Today more than 1 in 100 people are diagnosed with autism. So things
are improving, and yet we still have a long journey ahead to combat this
Derren Thorne was 39 when he was finally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum
Disorder (ASD), his condition having been ‘missed’ for the preceding four
decades of his life.
Derren was also diagnosed with dyslexia, social phobia
and high anxiety, suffering from panic attacks. His condition, undiagnosed in
his childhood, which took place in the 1970’s, Derren spent his formative years
being treated like the ‘naughty’ child.
Derren comments: “Teachers called me stupid and my
peers bullied and belittled me. I struggled academically, socially and
emotionally. I didn’t have any real friends and, in adulthood bounced from job
to job never really finding my way. I self medicated with alcohol and failed to
get any help before reaching rock bottom. I didn’t see how I could ever be
happy or feel part of anything. When I could no longer see a way out of my
debt, my squalid flat, my dependence on alcohol and people using me, I tried to
For Karen Jeans, a Support Worker for over 15 years with regional
charity Autism Wessex, the whole community has a responsibility to its members;
“Schools, GPs, Parents, Employers, and Healthcare providers; we all have a
shared responsibility to notice, to be aware, to talk and to support. Autism is often referred to as
an ‘invisible’ condition. You can’t tell by looking at someone if they have
autism. But between us all we should be able to intervene sooner and stop any
devastating consequences of misdiagnosis, late diagnosis or no diagnosis at all.”
If Derren had been
diagnosed in his early years, his life could have taken a very different turn,
but we can never know the opportunities missed. What we do know is the value of
early intervention is now well recognised. A focus on improving social support,
parenting skills and parent-child interactions during early infancy has
demonstrated gains that include the mental health of parents and children, and
long-term reductions in challenging behaviours. Studies conducted have shown that
within the first two years, intensive pre-school intervention can accelerate
developmental rates resulting in significant IQ gains, language gains and
improved social behaviour.
Derren’s delayed diagnosis lead directly to his
suicide attempt. Thankfully Derren’s attempt on his life failed and he was
finally able to get some support. Unconcerned with his own appearance or that
of his flat, Derren was living in a filthy apartment and failing to meet his
own personal needs in terms of nutrition or hygiene.
Following his attempt to take his own life, Derren
was referred by his GP to a psychiatrist. It took 18 months for Derren to
receive his diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome.
Due to the nature of autism, many with the
condition have other psychological problems that are either caused by autism or
overlap with it. Derren’s recovery has seen him overcome alcoholism, poor self
esteem and suicidal thoughts. His lifestyle lead to significant debt which only
exasperated the situation.
Thanks to the support he has received from Autism
Wessex over the past five years, Derren has made great progress in getting his
life back on track. Derren has now achieved a common dream so many of us share
– he has recently become a father for the first time at the age of 46.
“Sometimes I feel I’m being controversial when I
say I am a father of a one year old. And the concern isn’t about my age, or my
employment or marital status. People seem to question whether I should be
‘allowed’ to father children because of my diagnosis.
“I have realised my dreams despite my Autism. People with autism are
like everyone else. Of course we have dreams and ambitions. It’s just a lot
harder to achieve them without the right support in place. I thank Autism
Wessex for providing me with a Support Worker who has the patience to listen,
the professionalism to give my life direction and the heart to care.”
Karen continues; “Derren has done an incredible job
putting his life back together and moving forward. He has a wonderful partner
in Lee-Anne and they are nurturing their happy and healthy one year old
daughter. But it’s important to remember that even the realisation of a dream
doesn’t always mean a happy-ever-after ending.
“Derren has come so far, but Autism is a lifelong
condition. Thanks to continued support, Derren’s life today is vastly different
from that even a year ago. As a charity we will continue to support Derren with
his new life, help him maintain a healthy balance and realise his next
ambitions; gaining additional qualifications, employment and new housing. As a
charity we endeavour to improve understanding of autism. With increased
understanding and early intervention we hope no-one with autism will be treated
like the ‘naughty’ child and suffer those potentially devastating consequences.”
For further information please visit www.autismwessex.org.uk. To learn
more about the charity’s Portield School, which has specialist provision for
Early Years pupils, please visit www.portfield.org.uk.
well catering for Early Years students, Portfield School also offers, The Hub.
The Hub is a designated learning area for children with Asperger’s Syndrome or
High Functioning Autism. For help and advice on anything relating to autism or
associated difficulties, please get in touch with the charity’s advocacy
services on 01305 213135.