As part of I AM’s mission to celebrate autism with the broader world, we’re happy to present the latest in a series of our ’10 questions with…’ series, featuring neurodiversity and autism speaker, Asperger’s champion, presenter and author, Alex Manners.
1. You said that the biggest challenge you have faced in your life “living with Asperger’s” was school, can you tell us more about the challenges you faced?
Going to school used to feel like I was going to prison. It was a nightmare for my mum to try and get me into primary school each day. Sometimes an overwhelming feeling would come over me at school where I felt I just had to get out and back home. I would stand by the school fence and contemplate whether to jump over it and run home. I never did but wanted to on many occasions.
I was bullied at primary school, not only by some of the people in my year group but it also felt lisome of the teachers were bullying me as well. Some of the girls in my year group were always telling tales on me. I felt that the teachers had pre-conceived ideas about what Asperger’s and Autism was and did not want to put the thing in place that I needed and was entitled to.
The two biggest challenges I faced at school were the homework and the uniform. Homework was always difficult because I needed a clear division between home and school. Sometimes I would be so stressed, worrying about whether we would get any homework at the end of a lesson that I would not be able to concentrate on the work we were doing. If I am wearing colourful clothes, I feel like I can conquer anything. However, when I am wearing dark-coloured clothes, I feel like I am hiding my personality and can become quite depressed. This is how the school uniform made me feel.
If I am wearing colourful clothes, I feel like I can conquer anything.
2. You said that secondary school started to deteriorate following the arrival of a new headteacher, can you explain how it deteriorated?
My secondary school was a much smaller independent school, that had more support in place for people with Autism. They had a small class for people who needed extra help, more learning support staff in lessons and a special GCSE option for us that meant we had extra time to complete other subjects.
However, when a new headteacher arrived in my third year at the school, lots of these things were taken away. Also, a lot of really good and supportive teachers left around this time as they did not agree with some of the things being put in place. I felt like the headteacher would not acknowledge that Asperger’s was a real thing, and I believe he thought that we were just naughty. He once made my whole class stand up in assembly in front of our whole year group. This was over an incident caused by one individual in one of our lessons. The headteacher went up to each person saying, “Was it you who did this?” in my opinion to embarrass and make an example of us. It was around this time that my dad had to do a lot of fighting to get me the support I needed.
3. How do you think the education system and schools should change to better support autistic children?
First of all, I think that anyone working in a school should have some form of Autism training. Teachers should have the flexibility to adapt the rules to suit each individual’s needs. Many of the things we need, are very easy to put in place and don’t affect anyone else. For example, reading a football programme used to really relax me when I was feeling stressed. Some of the teachers used to tell me off for getting my programme out in lessons. However, this did not bother anyone in my class and when it came to the work, I was less stressed and more focused. In the end, allowing me to read my programme was a win win for everyone.
4. You used to present your own radio show and run your own business creating promotional videos for companies and sports clubs. Can you tell us more about your radio show and your business?
I presented my own children’s radio show on a local radio station for two years. I presented my show once a week and thoroughly enjoyed it. Because my ambition is to become a TV Presenter, I want to do everything I can to get there and learn as much as I can about the industry. This is one of the reasons why I started to create promotional videos for local companies and sports clubs. I also filmed all of the Solihull Moors home games for BT Sport. I did this for two seasons and as well as filming the games, I had to interview the two managers after each game as well.
5. You have several ambitions, the main one is to become a TV presenter. Can you tell us why you want to become a presenter, what type of presenter you would like to be (host programmes, interview people and report on issues) and what skills you have?
My ambition to become a TV Presenter started when my dad booked me onto a TV Presenter training course after I left college. I really enjoyed it and wanted a job where I could wear colourful clothes, shirts and suits. I am also very confident at speaking in front of large audiences and call this one of my “Asperger’s Superpowers”. Another reason for my ambition, is that I want to have a job that allows me to raise awareness for Autism. The more well-known I become as a presenter, the more awareness I can raise. I would love to be a children’s tv presenter or a documentary presenter, maybe someone like Michael Portillo.
Knowing that I have such a huge impact on people really motivates me
6. You have said that you consider yourself “lucky to have Asperger’s”, can you explain why and what you see as the positives?
When I was first diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 10, I had no idea what it was. The first thing my dad told me was that it gave me special powers. So, from that moment I have viewed my Asperger’s as something positive and something I feel lucky to have been able to manage. My Asperger’s make me the person you see today!
One of the positives of my Asperger’s is my ability to be able to speak in front of large audiences and talk about my experiences without ever being worried or nervous. I call this one of my “Asperger’s superpowers”. I am also very logical and organised. In my bedroom, all of my clothes are put in colour coded order and everything in my wardrobe has been meticulously organised and categorised into boxes. I also believe that my Asperger’s gives me a determination and drive that I believe will allow me to “pursue my passions” and achieve my dreams and ambitions. I will never give up and always try to find the positives in every situation.
7. You are an experienced public speaker and have given talks to organisations such as Coca-Cola, Universal Music, and Chester University to name a few; can you tell us what motivates you and what you hope to achieve from public speaking?
I now have my own business, presenting talks all about “My Life Living with Asperger’s” to lots of different companies, NHS Trusts, colleges and councils. Most of my friends with Asperger’s would not feel confident at standing in front of large audiences or speaking about their experiences. Because I am confident at public speaking and not afraid to tell people exactly what living with Asperger’s is like, I want to use this superpower to help others. I want to educate people about what living with Asperger’s is like and inspire them to never let their circumstances hold them back in life.
I absolutely love presenting talks. Sometimes people will tell me that one thing from my talk has really resonated with then or that my talk has really helped them to understand someone in their family. Lots of people say how much they enjoyed listening to me and that I was really inspiring. Knowing that I have such a huge impact on people really motivates me to want to speak to as many people as I can. Knowing that some of my advice may help or improve the lives of others also really motivates me. Although this is my job, I enjoy it so much that I really don’t feel like I have one!
8. You published your first book “That’s Not Right!”: My Life Living with Asperger’s” in 2019, can you tell us about the book and your motivation behind writing it?
I wrote my book for a few reasons; to show people just what it’s like to live with Asperger’s and what it’s like for us at school, to show people that they are not alone and that there are others going through the same challenges and to inspire people to never let their circumstances hold them back from what they want to achieve. Throughout the book there are lots of really honest accounts of how having Asperger’s has affected my life from meltdowns at home to incidents with teachers at school. Many people would not want to share such personal information. However, I want to share this information to give a real insight into our lives.
I was writing an article for a local magazine all about my time at school and the fighting my dad had done to get me the support I received. I asked my dad if he had any of this information that I could use to help me write the article. He then took me into our garage and handed me two toy boxes full of files outlining all of this information. I was shocked to see how much there was going on that I didn’t know about. I thought to myself, that information is really important to share with as many people as possible, but it won’t fit into one small article. That is why I decided to write and publish my very own book.
I want to share this information to give a real insight into our lives.
9. Football is one of your biggest passions. Can you tell us more about your love for football and your campaign Football for Autism?
Football means everything to me and ever since the first match I attended back in 2007 I have been obsessed with it. It has given me another focus in life and has helped me to cope with lots of the challenges that my Asperger’s has brought along. I attend matches every week and in 2019 I completed my quest to watch a match at all 92 English Football League clubs. I can also name every ground and its capacity in the top 5 tiers of English football. That is 116 grounds that I know the names and capacities of. I have hundreds of football programmes and probably around 200 football shirts!
I started an Autism and Football campaign to enhance the experience of Autistic people at football matches. I have worked with a number of clubs including Arsenal, Aston Villa and Swansea City and even had a video about my campaign published by BBC News. Swansea City invited me on a tour of the stadium so that I could advise them on how to make the tours more Autism friendly.
10. In your 26 years, you have achieved a great many things. Can you tell us what motivates you and who inspires you?
I want to have an enjoyable life, “pursuing my passions” and doing the things I love. Being able to inspire and educate others with my story brings me a huge sense of satisfaction and enjoyment. These are the reasons why I am so motivated to achieve my dreams. I am inspired by people such as Justin Fletcher (AKA Mr Tumble), Michael Portillo and Chris Packham.
If you would like to purchase Alex’s book “That’s Not Right!”: My Life Living with Asperger’s click here.
You can find out more about Alex by visiting his website www.thealexmanners.com
and following his social media profiles.
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