By Seumas Skinner, SNP activist.
I’d never heard the phrase “Asperger’s Syndrome” before I was diagnosed at high school. I can’t even say I was really aware of Autism or other neurological disabilities then. Like everyone else at school, I just wanted to fit in, and being told that I was medically, genetically and behaviourally different wasn’t part of that narrative.
It’s taken most of the time since then for me to come to terms with being a person with a disability. For a long time, I wanted to hide it utterly, a secret from my best friends. I was afraid of being treated differently, of my friends abandoning me because I was suddenly an unknown quantity. I hid it from employers and colleagues and when I was selected to stand as an SNP council candidate in 2012, the only time that I mentioned it was when I was vetted by the party.
So, what changed?
After the election, when I was job hunting and looking for tips on how to put across special requirements relating to Asperger’s, I stumbled across an Aspie support website which contained a list of careers that were deemed to be unsuitable for people with Aspergers. About half-way down was “Politics/PR”. It’s easy to find other resources, although thankfully none from major charities and support organisations, suggesting that a swathe of university degrees and careers, from studying History to working as a cook or bank clerk are unsuitable or even impossible for people with Asperger’s.
As a former political candidate and organiser, as an aspiring public relations worker, that made me furious. It still makes me furious today, after working in press and public relations for major company.
People with disabilities face barriers every day. Mental, physical, some imagined in our darkest hours, most real. But none of those are a good reason for people to be told that a career area or profession should be barricaded off as ‘impossible’. People with disabilities should have every opportunity to find their own career and shouldn’t be subjected to artificial restrictions. It is important to me that we – as a nation, as people with disabilities, as people with Autism – stand up and say that we can turn our hand to any career that we want, and shrug off arbitrary and artificial limitations that others try to impose on us.
I regret not taking the time to talk about my disability more, teaching people and helping them to understand what Aspergers and Autism means, helping to show that disabled people can do anything we want. I don’t want another Seumas sitting in a depression somewhere to think that they can’t do what they want with their life. I want to stand up beside people like Anne Begg, Dennis Robertson, Gary Numan, Daryl Hannah and Peter Howson and say, “You know what, you can do anything you want.”