Friday 12 October 2012

School Reunion

Readers of this blog will most likely be used to its 'present' tense focus in relation to the mindfulness descriptions, but this entry will be an exception to the rule, as in the last week I have been revisiting my past at a school reunion catching up with my former teachers and former pupils.

Monkwearmouth Comprehensive, the school in Sunderland I attended between 1989-1994, celebrates its 50th anniversary as a school this year and organised a 50th anniversary reunion party open to former pupils and current/former members of staff from the school 's 50 years. The event, organised by Adam Walter, a teacher at the school from 1975-2009, was a huge success and raised over £1000 for the school. There was a huge turnout of both former pupils from different eras and teachers from past and present. When writing my autobiography Glass Half-Empty Glass Half-Full, in which I describe the ups and downs of my school experiences, I did hint towards the end that wouldn't be so keen to go to something like this. by time time of my second book though Asperger's Syndrome and Mindfulness, I had learned how to see people from my past, including former teachers and peers, as they are now.

If anyone reading this blog has read my first book, they will possibly recall that I experienced some difficult times at school as a pupil with undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome, with bullying and generally being misunderstood. As initially difficult as it was, I eventually managed to get over blame that I had towards people from my past who made my life difficult, directly or indirectly. This is has been very difficult for many adults diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome later in life, and I am no different. When giving a seminar with Tony Attwood, author of The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, I learned that some adults with Asperger's Syndrome are given therapy to help cope with the after effects of schoolyard bullying similar to that given to Vietnam War veterans to help cope with traumas that ensued following the conflict. By tuning to the present though, I began to realise in later life that my teachers and peers didn't know there was a reason for why my behaviour and social presentation appeared 'different' as much as I didn't.

With former PE Teacher Adam Walter
Inclusion within mainstream education is a much more highly topical theme than it was during my time at school, but I do remember and also recall in Glass Half-Empty Glass Half-Full that attempts were made by the school to 'include' me. The most memorable was when I was invited to come along on the school football team's trip to Anfield to watch Liverpool play Southampton in 1990 and organise a quiz for the bus journey in relation to my special interest in football trivia. Despite not being good at playing the game, I got a run out that day! This is something that I will always be grateful to Adam Walter, PE teacher, for. For this, as well as the support I had from my former head teacher, Jim Farnie, I wouldn't swap the mainstream school education I had for a special education, having at one stage been offered a place at a special school (of which I wasn't aware of until my Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis).

With former Head Teacher Jim Farnie
Having seen how much support for school pupils with special needs in mainstream education has improved when visiting schools to give training, something that I felt my experience of undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome taught me was that it is possible for a pupil with an Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis to 'survive' mainstream school without formal support, while progress can be made with additional informal support. Most importantly though, what I like to make a point of when visiting schools to give training on Asperger's Syndrome, is the importance of early diagnosis, which can make a huge difference in enabling where necessary support can be identified and implemented.

With England and Team GB international Jill Scott
Also at the event was Jill Scott, who represented Team GB in the women's football tournament at London 2012. A few former pupils from Monkwearmouth School went on to become professionalfootballers, including Martin Smith and Michael Proctor who played for Sunderland, Jill was the school's first full international footballer and has also represented the England women's team at two World Cups and two European Championships. In the meantime, I wish the school all the bets for another fifty years!

Special thanks to Adam Walter and to Monkwearmouth School for all their hard work in making this wonderful event possible.

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