[This article was written in April 2015, when I was right at the start of my autism advocacy journey. It’s largely here for historical purposes and for me to look back on once in a while. Language choices (e.g. Asperger’s) should be seen in the context of the time this was written.]
Since this is my first entry, I’ll tell you a little about who I am.
The essentials can be found on the ‘about me’ page (all links on ANW open in new windows), but here’s a few extra facts.
[Also, a loooong time has passed since I first wrote this, and many of these points have full articles written about them. You can find them in these handy square brackets.]
I was once a primary school teacher. I went into teaching because, beyond everything else, what I am first and foremost is a builder of people. Having had no leadership skills as a child, I was given some amazing opportunities by people who dared to believe in me. So when I grew up, I wanted to do for others what those people did for me. I’ll go into my reasons for leaving teaching another time, but the short story is that the lifestyle didn’t suit me very well. I still get to work with youngsters as captain of my local Boys’ Brigade group, so even though I’ve left teaching I don’t think I’ll ever leave guiding people. [Relevant article here- how the Boys’ Brigade taught me to take responsibility, and find strengths I never knew I had.]
I’ve worked in special ed, and loved it. I’ve worked with all parts of the spectrum, and enjoyed both extremes. I think one of my main inspirations for this blog came from working with students in special schools who were strikingly similar to me at their age, except with academic struggles. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had about autism/Asperger’s came from us sharing our perspectives. I’ve worked with severely affected students too: changing pads and dealing with epileptic seizures may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the work is just as rewarding as any other kind of teaching, especially when you hear a student talk for the first time.
I’m a practising Christian. I made the decision to ‘believe in God’ when I was fifteen, but I was 19 before I discovered how this was different to ‘being a Christian’. (For those wondering, the difference is the character and love of Jesus, and what he has done for us.) I also believe that, in a world where Christians make headlines for hating certain groups of people, denying science, and far worse things besides, it’s our Christian responsibility to make sure that we don’t misrepresent the love of God- and that we live our lives with the compassion that Jesus himself did. There’s a fantastic amount of (unreported) good that Christians do, and this should be the focal point of Christianity in practice- with or without press coverage. [Relevant article- how I reconcile faith with my helplessly logical mindset.]
I’m an aspiring writer seeking publication. I went for far too long writing stories for fun, being perhaps too shy to take them further. Then, after writing a story for my first class of kids, I decided I’d run out of excuses. Agents are slowly but surely beginning to take notice now, and my MA in Creative Writing starts in October. [Edit – how life changes! I am now the author of the Underdogs series of neurodiverse dystopia novels, and the lead editor of the Autistic Not Weird project “What We Love Most About Life“. Meanwhile, my first published fiction work now appears in Monster Anthology, and my second is a comedy piece in Bystander (live reading here). Both are anthologies published by my Nottingham Trent University coursemates. My other fiction work can be seen under the “Fun Stuff” category of this site. Oh, and I passed the MA with distinction!]
I’m a notorious chess geek. Chess is more than a game. It’s an opportunity to outsmart another person without even talking to them (or making eye contact!). It teaches you to think with logic rather than impulses, and I’ve seen it turn the behaviour of countless kids and teenagers, in both mainstream and special schools. Personally, I’ve travelled as far as Germany and Gibraltar for the pleasure of sitting down at a board of moving plastic pieces for several hours. It’s awesome, honest. [Relevant article- this one!].
I qualified as a mathematician. I even came out with my personality intact. I went through the course knowing that I was planning to end up teaching times tables to kids, but the course still helped me to think like a mathematician. Whenever someone asks me why they bother studying maths when they’re clearly not going to use it ‘in real life’, I often answer that even if you never use the maths, your brain is much richer having been through the thought processes involved.
I’m a bit of a musician. I’ve played the drums since the age of 11, I’m a self-taught guitarist, and I used to write a load of songs between the ages of 17 and 21. I’m less active than I used to be though, now that writing is slowly beginning to take off.
I’m semi-fluent in German. I work on a German children’s camp each year (another article about how it benefited me as an Aspie is here), and I’ve learned more in that one fortnight per year than through four years of learning it in school. Learning German as an academic subject may help you to book hotel rooms or buy train tickets, but it doesn’t teach you how to socialise with actual German people- or comfort homesick kids.
I once fell out of a plane. Thankfully I had another man strapped to my back, and the experience raised a fair bit of money for Barnardo’s and the National Autistic Society. It’s great fun… once you’re on the outside of the plane. I wouldn’t mind doing it again, but my parents have banned me from doing it. They find it too scary.
Underdogs, a near-future dystopia series where the heroes are teenagers with special needs, is a character-driven war story which pitches twelve people against an army of millions, balancing intense action with a deeply developed neurodiverse cast.
Chris Bonnello is a national and international autism speaker, available to lead talks and training sessions from the perspective of an autistic former teacher. For further information please click here (opens in new window). Autistic Not Weird on Facebook