[F]or most people, having a simple chat is effortless and enjoyable – but for Andrew Hughes, who is 24 and from Carlisle, it’s not easy at all.
That’s because Andrew suffers from autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a range of conditions that cause problems with social interaction and communication.
“I was diagnosed in March 2015,’ says Andrew. ‘My doctor put me forward for assessment after I went through a bad patch. I was worrying and upset nearly every single minute.”
Now, with the help of Fixers, the campaign to give young people a voice, he’s created a short film about autism.
“The diagnosis came as a bit of a shock but everything started to make sense at the same time. I was sort of relieved – I knew that there was something wrong with me but I didn’t know what it was.”
Autism affects each person differently and to differing degrees. Some are unable to speak and have learning difficulties. Others live normal lives – but with challenges to overcome.
“Because of my ASD I find a lot of things difficult,’ Andrew explains. ‘Doing anything new, speaking on the telephone, or holding conversations with people – even the people I know.”
It’s not the first time he’s made a broadcast about his condition.
After his diagnosis, Andrew informed his friends and family by sharing a video of himself on Facebook. ‘It made sense to just tell everyone all at once,’ he says. ‘I got a lot of positive responses. People saying I had guts to tell everyone, and that they were all behind me.’
Andrew’s Fixers film, made with the assistance of media professional provided by the charity, shares five points about autism, and how it affects Andrew personally.
“There are a lot of stereotypes of autism and it’s not always as severe as you see on TV,’ he explains in the film. ‘Everyone is different… For me it’s a communication difficulty. I don’t have a learning difficulty. My brain is just wired a little differently.”
As a result, Andrew suffered from bullying at secondary school.
“Younger people don’t understand, when I was at school people bullied me, and made nasty comments. Adults are more understanding,’ Andrew explains. ‘My Fixers project is aimed at people aged eight to 18, I hope it helps them to understand autism, so they are less likely to bully other people who have autism.”
The film also highlights that autism can bring positives as well as negatives.
“I have a brilliant memory for memorising facts and statistics,’ says Andrew, who is also in a happy relationship with 21-year-old student Becky. ‘I have good hopes for the future. I hope to be happy with my life, and maybe find a job in mathematics.
“I’m very happy with my video, I think it gets the message across. The best thing you can do is be aware and be supportive. We are all different, we’re not the same – and that’s OK.”
Fixers works with young people aged 16-25 across the UK by providing them with professional resources to help them campaign on issues they feel strongly about.
The charity has helped more than 22,000 youngsters across the UK to have a voice in their community on issues such as cyber-bullying, self-harm, suicide or transphobia. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.fixers.org.uk