THE BLOG

The Singer and the Syndrome

11/12/2013 12:51 GMT | Updated 09/02/2014 10:59 GMT

They called her "Susie Simple" and they bullied her in Blackburn when she was but a bairn.

And it took until her middle years for Susan Boyle (SuBo to her millions of fans) to prove them all wrong.

Incorrectly believed to have been brain damaged at birth, Susan Boyle has now been properly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and, like me, found to have a relatively high IQ and (as is now known to the world) extraordinary ability in a certain area.

Also like me, and as quoted in the Observer, "Boyle says that her struggles growing up made her more determined to succeed but also left their mark on her. 'You don't fight without some resentment.' "

Susan and I are part of the "invisible generation" of older people with autism, and The National Autistic Society Scotland (NAS) recently made the point that there was still a tendency to associate the condition with children and estimated that one in five people with autism were over 60.

The first Aspergers diagnoses weren't even made until the nineteen-eighties, by which time both Ms. Boyle and myself (Susan is 52, I am 49) were already in our twenties and struggling to make sense of an often uncaring and, yes, bullying world with no idea we had the syndrome, no knowledge that there were relevant charities to turn to and nothing else to do but struggle along.

I most certainly have my resentments, too. In one recent case, colleagues in a large public sector organization wilfully went on playing a radio right in my ear until they nearly pushed me into a nervous breakdown (I cannot filter out extraneous noise and after a short time such treatment becomes torture), and when I complained their only excuse was a long whine of "naebody telt us..."

Like Susan, I've achieved my life's ambitions and proved them all wrong, but the more I look back at my experiences in mainstream work, the more I consider Human Resources departments pretty hopeless re understanding Aspergers and the interview process itself a complete farce. Last interview I had, I basically told the HR man to go to hell...

The worst thing is that there are many more Boyles and Christies in the world who could contribute to society (approximately 50,000 in Scotland, according to the NAS), but who have never reached their potential. This is partly because life is indeed unfair, but also because there are too many organizations out there who think they know best but have not got a clue. They end up doing far more harm than good because, for all their talk of diversity, all they often want to do is hammer recruits into conformity.

And if there is one thing people with autism will never, ever be, it's conformist.

James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.