My name is Peter Brown. I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome six years ago, late in life. This led me to study information on the computer and realised I had many autistic traits.
I was told about a club called Bridging the Gap South-East for people on the spectrum. After regularly attending this monthly club, I realised just how far I had come in trying to 'fit in'.
I had been on my own for over 25 years with the occasional visit to my siblings, having lost both my parents at that time.
Years before, I was misunderstanding people and general conversation because I could not recognise communication through body language, tone of voice or cope with small-talk. So when I observe other club members, I realise how far I had come by finding my own interactive coping strategies.
At the club, I realised that there were some like me that were high and others low functioning. I realised that it didn't matter whether you were old, young, male or female, Afro-British, professional or an everyday person, there was a connection between all of us.
Therefore, we support each other and, despite references to the contrary, we show empathy in our own way. We have all the emotions it's just that we have great difficulty trying to express them.
I met others that had similar interests to me and we often go to museums, stately homes and other historic places. Six of us have planned and enjoyed holidays together.
Some of us can find a way to express our emotions through creativity and music. Some can create beautiful paintings and other various forms of art.
I myself enjoy writing and I was told by Gerry (or Geraldine) who runs the club that I had a natural gift for creative writing.
She persuaded me to join a creative writing group and meet people from all walks of life that had a similar interest. It involved constructive criticism and, after an awkward start of which I bluntly 'tell it as it is' as they called it, I learned to give my view by telling the good parts, then my criticism then something good at the end. In this way I learned to more diplomatic in my viewpoint which stood me in good stead later in life.
Through the group's encouragement, I sent a poem to the United Press and won their National Poetry of Great Britain award for my poem called 'A Rat's Faith'. I was in all the local papers and my poem was put in a book along with other entrees.
They asked me to send in four more and an epic poem and they were also published. This success soared my confidence and wondered what else could I achieve if I had the support and encouragement of others?
The problem is there is a downside to these aspirations. There are on occasions, times when it becomes difficult to function at 100% and therefore can affect my performance.
For example, the inability to regularly interact when something is affecting my mind, unable to pick up social cues, struggles with everyday life such as when public transport breaks down and affects your journey, filling in forms despite having a high IQ and when one's routine is disrupted of which can be the start of a downward curve towards depression.
These struggles can affect you in such a way that it can become an ordeal to keep up the 'rules' of interaction and engage with society in general, and so can sometimes become too overwhelming.
So one must rid oneself of such thoughts if you want to continue to enjoy life. Eventually, two years ago, I found the answer to the earlier question of how much more I can achieve. I found out about Heart n Soul. Along with Bridging the Gap, it was the only other place that I felt like I was treated as an equal.
Mainly for people with learning disabilities, it also caters for people with other disabilities including Autism and Asperger's Syndrome which is a hidden disability.
I get on well with the participants there. Many are emotional and touch feely. I used to have a problem being touched, but I have got to know them well and have learned that a hug and an embrace can be very reassuring and supportive.
I had realised for some time that humour is a good way to get on with people. In the old days I didn't grasp it too well because I often took things literally (and still do on occasions) but I have made a deep study of it to the extent that it has become part of my personality.
Heart n Soul has encouraged me to perform it on stage as part of being the host. I also enjoy singing and playing my harmonica and use both in the Heart n Soul choir.
Since engaging in all these activities and interacting with the other participants and the wonderfully supportive staff, I feel that I have become a better and more confident person. I've come out of myself. I may think differently, but we are all different in our own way.
I see myself as an Eccentric with a few quirks and perhaps that's the best way to describe people like us.
Peter will be performing at The Beautiful Octopus Club 2016, Friday 9th September, Royal Festival Hall. Free!