By Astrid Liddel
Finding someone with high-functioning autism to interview for my blog was surprisingly difficult. People don’t tend to advertise their autism, so you can imagine how excited I was to have the opportunity to interview Sean Barron about his inspirations and advice to young people with autism—particularly young writers!
Sean is a journalist for The Youngstown Vindicator in Ohio, as well as an author of two well-known books about autism: There’s a Boy In Here: Emerging from the Bonds of Autism (co-authored with his mother), and Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries through the Unique Perspectives of Autism (co-authored with Temple Grandin). He has been publicly speaking at autism conferences about his experiences since 1992. The following is a transcript of our interview.
Astrid Liddel: How has autism affected your life?
Sean Barron: I had a lot of the classic symptoms of autism: unusual preoccupation with objects, manipulation of objects, very little empathy. I had a lot of speech and language delays. Social skills were challenging because I didn’t learn that as a young child. I had a lot of dietary problems. I had a lot of sensory overload things, and that impacted my diet.
AL: Has being autistic impacted how you write and speak?
SB: I don’t think it does today. I learned all those things in-depth as I worked my way through my autism. There was a time when autism didn’t impact my life a whole lot. The same is true of my ability to speak in public. By the time I became more proficient at those two skills, I had made tremendous progress in terms of healing. I worked hard to try to connect to the world.
AL: What inspires you to write and speak?
SB: In the early 90s, I made a lot of headway. I have come a long way battling my autism. I started feeling better about myself. I approached my mother about writing a book. Rain Man came out two years earlier, so autism was more known. I decided I wanted to try to write about it and, hopefully, use what I went through as a source of inspiration for people. Mom was reluctant at first; then I convinced her to try it. We wrote the book from our own perspectives, and it came together over time.
AL: What advice do you have for young autistic people?
SB: I really shy away from giving advice, because I don’t feel like I’m an authority on autism. It’s important to not define yourself by a label, because fifty years ago, when I was diagnosed, autism was a terrible thing to have. Now people on the spectrum are given positive things and making an impact. It’s important to strive to do what you feel is purposeful; the things that we all need. People with autism are just as capable as neurotypicals and can have an impact in the world. Think that way as opposed to being defective.
AL: Do you have any specific techniques to manage your autism?
SB: I don’t have any, because it doesn’t impact my life. When I was going through it, I tried a lot of ways. Nowadays I don’t feel like I have to do anything insofar as keeping it under control. I’ve really worked at learning social skills. It is a process, like learning to play a musical instrument or a sport. You work at it and become more proficient at it. They have that in common, in my opinion. The more you dedicate yourself to it, the better you become at it.
AL: Do you have specific advice for aspiring writers?
SB: Writing is also a process. If you want to write, start writing. It doesn’t have to be anything magnificent or a bestseller. Find what your passions are. As far as writing, the first thing is to take notice of what you feel passionate about. If you don’t feel [an] interest, then it will catch up with you sooner or later. Writing is about being able to effectively convey your perspectives of something in a way that other people can relate to and understand. If I’m not interested, I’m not going to write about it. Even if I have a lot of knowledge, if it’s not interesting, the lack of interest will catch up to me.
AL: How have you grown over your career?
SB: I’ve become a better writer. I’ve had people say my writing is distinctive and know I’ve written something without seeing I wrote it. I’ve become more outward-thinking and socially aware; more interested in other people [rather] than in just talking about myself. When I had [more severe] autism, I was very self-focused because I tried to make sense of the world. Now I feel more in tune with other people. I hate to see people suffer or go through bad experiences. It’s much more about reaching something greater than myself.
Astrid Liddel is a CBS staff member and blogger publishing under a pseudonym.
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