My successful journey to Independence

I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome at the age of 13. At 22 I was clinically depressed, following two serious suicide attempts and three months in NHS psychiatric wards, I then walked through the doors of Lakeside. I was skeptical, given my previous miserable experience of psychiatric care, why would this place be any different? At Lakeside, however, I was pleasantly surprised.

Lakeside is a private hospital exclusively for patients on the autistic spectrum, at least we were all in the same boat and I was gradually able to develop a rapport and solid connection with some of the other patients. It is most important when people are struggling with Mental Health needs to keep them occupied! On a daily basis, there was an array of stimulating activities on offer. Ranging from 5 a side football, gym sessions to games nights which included bingo/quiz/karaoke and pool tournaments. We could also access the local town centre for a change of environment and different interactions such as swimming and ten pin bowling. I also joined the local hockey team activities on offer. Ranging from 5 a side football, gym sessions to games nights which included bingo/quiz/karaoke and pool tournaments. We could also access the local town centre for a change of environment and different interactions such as swimming and ten pin bowling. I also joined the local hockey team.

I was assisted in the development of daily living skills. The cooking sessions I found to be particularly beneficial. I was 23 years old and still couldn’t boil an egg. I guess I was like an astronaut as I just heated ready meals in a microwave. I found the staff to be extremely engaging and very patient. They showed me how to cook healthy but relatively simple meals. I discovered that I had the ability to cook all along, I just needed encouragement to instill confidence in the kitchen. My self-esteem levels increased when I could enjoy the results of my labour. I also learned about money management/budgeting; these are important skills which we must learn when making the transition into independent living.

The Psychology Department at Lakeside was truly outstanding and I cannot praise my psychologist  enough, as he was instrumental in changing my life for the better. Over a number of years, I had seen many therapists who had absolutely no knowledge of autism, I clashed with them and found them to be of no benefit to me whatsoever. However, at Lakeside, for the first time in my life I met a professional who actually understood me. There were no barriers, no “them” and “us.” He judged me on my merits, not on this so-called label. This amazing individual taught me a strategy that transformed my life. He taught me about making positive choices in my life and I practised this strategy over the intervening months. Low and behold my life started to change for the better as together we managed to curb my impulsive nature. My psychologist helped me to understand that my poor decision making had negative consequences which in turn hindered my progression in life. He believed in me and gradually his positivity transferred to me, raising my confidence and self-esteem levels.

I remained at Lakeside for 8 months. When I was discharged, I knew that I wanted to become an advocate to raise not just awareness but also acceptance of autistic spectrum conditions. I have developed and set up my own training company called Optimism in Autism. I have spoken at various conferences on behalf of the National Autistic Society, the British Psychological Society and lectures at a University. I am a recipient of a Speaking of Difference Inspiring Young Speaker profile and I have spoken at the House of Commons for the All Party Parliamentary Committee on Autism. Once I started to have some optimism in my autism it can’t be coincidental that things in my life vastly improved. 

Currently I have my own flat and have recently become the father of a beautiful little girl. It is with great thanks to the wonderful and caring staff at Lakeside who helped shape me into the man that I am today, that I now enjoy my life and I am helping to make a difference for others.

Alex – owner of Optimism in Autism training company www.optimisminautism.co.uk

 

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