Brenda Boyd is the author of Appreciating Asperger Syndrome: Looking at the Upside – with 300 Positive Points, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. When Brenda’s youngest child, Kenneth, was eight, he was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and since then she has become increasingly involved with autism.
How old was your son when he received his diagnosis and how did you react?
Kenneth was diagnosed at nine years old and before that I had never heard of Asperger Syndrome. I was worn out, confused and frustrated, because there seemed to be nothing but problems with him, and I had no idea how to deal with them. That made me feel inadequate as a Mum. Then when he was diagnosed, I began trawling the internet, reading books and going to courses and workshops to find out all I could.
I had a mixture of feelings about the diagnosis really. In one way it didn’t change anything. Kenneth was still Kenneth – he was the same person the day before his diagnosis as he was the day after. But in another way something had changed. Because once you find the correct name for something, you can start to get to know it, accept it and deal with it in a new way.
When did you realise that you also have Asperger syndrome and how has the diagnosis changed your life?
For a long time I suspected it, but I didn’t want to think about it too much. I always knew there was something ‘different’ about me, but the way I handled life was the very opposite way from Kenneth. You could probably sum it up as simply as this – Kenneth was always true to himself, whereas I was not. I had spent my life trying to figure out what it was that people expected of me and then doing all I could to deliver it. It is an approach to life that I am not proud of, but I have a feeling it is more common than we realise (especially among females perhaps).
For years, in order to try and fit in, I had cut off what you might call the AS part of myself. But in doing so I was cutting off more than I realised. The most important thing that diagnosis has done for me is to help me accept and be true to who I really am. Over the last few years I have found great fulfillment through a creative part of myself – pastel painting and song-writing in particular – and probably none of this would have ever come to light if I had not embraced my AS.
Then a few years ago, not long after my diagnosis, I met my husband, singer-songwriter and producer Bap Kennedy. We got to know each other when he ‘discovered’ my songs and recorded them. I then went on to record an album of my own songs, called ‘Banish the Blue Days’ which was produced by him. It has not been an easy journey, but today I would say I am happier and more true to myself than I have ever been.
In your book you talk about the positive points of Asperger syndrome, can you tell us a bit more?
It is very easy to be negative about Asperger Syndrome for it can be a very difficult condition to live with – and I have been be as guilty of this as anyone else. But there is another side to the story, for there are many significant advantages to Asperger Syndrome – for the individuals, those around them and for society in general. There are already plenty of AS books about which focus on the downside. In this book while I didn’t want to deny the negatives, I wanted to present an alternative view point – the other side of the coin so to speak.
People with AS can be like a breath of fresh air in a world which contains so much pretence and artifice, simply because they are often true to themselves in a way that typical people are not. And even though the characteristic traits of AS can make life difficult and uncomfortable, they have been responsible for some of the world’s greatest achievements throughout history – for example the typical AS originality, intense focus and potential to become leaders rather than followers.
Who or what most inspires you?
In general the people who inspire me most are those who are genuine and true to themselves no matter what. And if I had to pick out just one person who inspires me it would be my husband Bap, for that very reason. The way he lives his life is a real eye-opener to me. Yes, he has done a lot of crazy things over the years, but it never seems to have seriously occurred to him to follow the herd or do things in the usual way, solely because that was expected of him. Like me, he loves music and writes songs, but unlike me he has never turned his back on his art. He has devoted his whole adult life to expressing himself through his music and bringing that to the world. Music is a very difficult business, but Bap has managed to make a niche for himself and he has stuck with it through thick and thin – not for money, glory or fame, but essentially to be true to himself.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Over the last few months since we have been married I have been completely immersed in the music of my husband Bap Kennedy – not surprisingly perhaps! He has an amazing back catologue of songs going back over twenty years or so, which I have been getting to know. One of his songs in particular, which is called Lonely Street evokes such a raw feeling of alienation and bewilderment that it could easily be an Asperger anthem! (check it out on www.bapkennedy.com)
Perhaps it will always be true that people who are true themselves have a lot to offer us – whether they have AS or not – because at the end of the day we all have a great deal in common.
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2009