I was asked to tell you what Autism is… I did not wish to reproduce the same old clichés that litter the internet. However, to try and wrap it all up in a neat little introduction would be impossible within the confines of this article and I would not wish to trivialise something that can be very debilitating.
Autism is very complex and varied; hence it is called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The spectrum represents the variety of symptoms, which are not just as simple as the green symptom or the yellow but includes the numerous variances in between.
I was diagnosed with Aspergers which is a term that broadly represents my place on the spectrum.
Autism has been described as; “a developmental disorder that can cause problems with social interaction, language skills and physical behaviour. People with autism may also be more sensitive to everyday sensory information. To people with the condition the world can appear chaotic with no clear boundaries, order or meaning. Research has revealed that people with autism have brains that function in a number of different ways to those without the condition”(BBC).
I grew up struggling to make sense of a world that was, irrational, illogical and hugely incomprehensible to me. If only I could ignore it all but the inner battle raged on as I was obsessed, I couldn’t stop over analysing everything that could possibly be analysed, this only heightened my sense of loneliness and anxiety until I eventually retreated more and more within my own mind.
Having been diagnosed with an array of issues like panic, anxiety and depression, I finally reached a pinnacle; I was forced to drop out of university due to agoraphobia, I had become house bound due to a fierce reaction to all of this messy disorganised world. It didn’t help that I found it hard to make and maintain friendships or meaningful relationships, so I often felt like I was dealing with all of this alone and this was when I first had the feeling that suicide was the only thing that could stop the suffering.
After years of treatment and trying desperately to figure things out for myself I had a realisation, the books I read and the television I watched influenced what I wanted to do; seeing my countries rugby team would have me squirming in my seat wanting to play again, the boxing would have me throwing punches at imaginary foes and reading about computer programming would have me reaching for my computer. So I exploited this reaction and read every adventure or endurance book I could and eventually, my fears were no longer stronger than my desires and I finally made my first run.
I ended up running nearly two consecutive marathons over Brecon for fun, soon to be 4; little changes seemed to come naturally with exercise like healthy eating, routine and sensible sleeping patterns, this all helped me feel generally better and more motivated. I started to put effort into practicing discipline and motivation.
Skip ahead and I’m thinking bigger, I want to run 870 miles of the Wales Coastal Path. I want to raise awareness for Autism, to further develop myself by taking on greater challenges and I hope to inspire others in the process. I’m also hoping to set a record, which will require running more than a marathon every day for a month over a rugged route, accumulated height will be greater than Everest… twice! Sprinkle on some infamous Welsh weather and my usual fears and we have a challenge worthy of the name.
To help support other young adults in Wales like Shaun deal with mental health problems, the charity wants to create a holiday and respite centre focused on sports and recreation to help with their challenges and well-being. This centre will cater for young adults with autism and other additional needs with short and long term breaks, to support them to build resilience and a good foundation for ongoing mental strength and well being. www.walescoastpathchallengeforautism.co.uk