House of Commons Speech
Education, education, educationÖ. You know Iíve always wanted to say that.
Hi my name is Joshua Muggleton, and I am a young person with autism.
I may look pretty normal to you, and apart from wetting my underpants right now, I generally act pretty normal too. I say Ďactí because that is what I have to do in order to cope with being around you so called normal people.
Let me tell you a bit about my school experience.
I wasnít a troublesome student. I never got a single detention. My behaviour was exemplary. I was keen to learn, always did my homework and was never late for school.
It is not as if I went to bad schools. Both my primary and secondary schools have good records for academic achievement and excellent Ofsted reports.
So what went wrong?
First of all, soon after I started school I realised that I was a bit different from other children. I was repeatedly bullied, teased, and soon discovered I was a misfit. Apparently not many kids walk around the lines on the playground in the middle of summer with a thick coat zipped up to the hood.
Being diagnosed with dyslexia also didnít help.
Somehow I survived primary school. I treated my depression and low self-esteem with my own "chocolate therapy".
I hoped that secondary school would be different. Before I started, my parents wanted to meet with the school to discuss the additional support I would need. They refused. It seemed that they first wanted to see how far I would sink. Unfortunately I sank too far and never recovered.
At secondary school I was bullied more than ever. The school did nothing. I became more depressed.
After making serious threats to commit suicide I received help from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.
After four years of secondary school hell, I had a complete breakdown. Then after six months of trying to get back into school my psychiatrist decided that I could not cope any more and signed me off on medical grounds.
So what was it that caused the breakdown?
It wasnít just the bullying. It was the lack of understanding of the staff at the school. Nobody seemed to listen to what I was saying. I needed a place of sanctuary when things got too much for me. I needed encouragement from the teachers Ė not threats.
If the teachers had been properly trained in Autistic Spectrum Disorders then they might have be able to help me cope.
No one deserves to go through what I went through. If I had one wish, it would be that all teachers in mainstream schools had compulsory education in autistic spectrum disorders.
Iím now studying for A levels with Satellite Virtual Schools, an internet based study programme. They threw me a lifeline when I could no longer cope and was signed of school.
However I am struggling with this and I would like to go to 6th form college, but is there anywhere that can give me the support I need? At the moment the answer appears to be Ďnoí. I am desperately keen to learn but do not know what I am going to do about my studies next year.
Mainstream school inclusion didnít work for me. I tried my best to adapt, but true inclusion only works when schools can give enough support. If they canít do that then school becomes a very damaging ordeal. Iím only just beginning to rebuild my shattered confidence and self-esteem.
I started this talk with the words, Education Education Education, However this did not refer to students being educated, it refers to teachers being educated, I believe educating teachers about autism is absolutely crucial in any plan to include people like me in mainstream education.
All people like me have a part to play in society, including those like my brother who are more severely affected by autism. But you cannot pigeon-hole us, or try to push us into school settings that end up damaging us, and depriving us from reaching our potential.
Iíd now like to finish by quoting from Gordon Brownís recent budget speech. He said:
"I, like so many, am grateful for the inspirational teachers and the high quality of education that I received. And just as I had the best chances, my aim is that all young people from whatever background have the best of chances."
Well, to Gordon Brown Iíd like to say "put your money where your mouth is" and do something about the educational provision for people like me.
Autism is complex. Our demands are simple.
Lets Make school, make sense.
By Joshua Muggleton, Age 16.www.mugsy.org/josh