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Gareth D Morewood

Navigating the difficult transition to adulthood

Luke Jackson's Sex, Drugs and Asperger’s Syndrome (ASD): A User Guide to Adulthood is an invaluable first-hand account of navigating the difficult transition to adulthood.

This review was first published in the Good Autism Practice Journal in the October 2016 edition (Vol 17, issue 2)

One of the first books I read which offered a ‘first-hand’ perspective of autism was Luke Jackson’s Freaks, Geeks and Asperger ­Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence, which he wrote at the age of 13.

When the book was first published in 2002, I was just starting out as a SENCO. It proved invaluable in getting a better understanding as someone who then, had little direct knowledge of the autism spectrum.

Jackson's sequel to this; Sex, Drugs and Asperger’s Syndrome (ASD): A User Guide to Adulthood, is an essential read for teenagers and young adults on the autism spectrum and is equally useful for professionals and parents/carers.

With a refreshingly personal clarity, Luke focuses on the challenges involved in navigating the transition to adulthood, and the challenges of adult life.

 Suitable for anyone involved with or wanting to understand more about autism, but particularly for young people themselves.

He covers everything from bullying and drugs to socialising, sex, negotiating relationships, and finding and keeping your first job.

As a key theme of the SEND Reforms (2014), ‘Preparation for Adulthood’ is a vital part of the work of the SENCO and educators.

This text allows a truly unique perspective in supporting our understanding, but also, perhaps more importantly, directly for young people themselves.

Bullying

Jackson starts by framing his perspective on life; 'At present, I am 26 years young, or old. Personally, I’ve always noted the difference between people who mark themselves in terms of "years old" or "years young".'

You could draw ties between that and the ‘glass half full’ paradigm – viewing life in the years that have already passed or in terms of how young you are. Me, I’m neither an optimist or a pessimist, but a realist, so suffice it to say that 26 years of life have passed.

For me this is in essence the power of the book; using Jackson’s personal experiences during his twenty-six years, clearly articulated and expressed in a very easy-to-read format, to help other young people negotiate their transitions and ‘look forward’ with additional information from someone ‘who has been there themselves’ and already ‘lived’ some of the experiences.

There is a really strong sense of personal identity throughout the book, which one might expect. I think this is the real power of the text, the ability to speak directly to the reader and share experiences that other young people and adolescents may find are yet to come.

A section that stands out for me is the chapter on bullying. I often comment, ‘Any school that says there isn’t any bullying is not telling the truth’; it is an unfortunate element of general life, often amplified and with greatly increased risk of victimisation for those with autism.

Unfortunately, despite some positive outcomes (Ttofi and Farrington, 2010), the effects of bullying interventions are not always practically significant and are more likely to influence knowledge and attitudes than actual behaviour (Merrell et al, 2008); hence the importance of this chapter.

And, interestingly one that Jackson admits almost never made it into the final edit; '…I was in two minds whether to add it in at all…' I think the readers, as I did, will be glad he did.

What makes an effective anti-bullying strategy? Check out our guide to some of the different approaches a school can take

Whitted and Dupper (2005) note that 'the most effective approaches for preventing or minimising bullying in schools involve a comprehensive, multilevel strategy that targets bullies, victims, bystanders, families and communities' (p.169).

The ‘saturation model’ we developed (Morewood et al, 2011) at Priestnall School attempts just that, and this chapter’s ‘first-hand’ perspective from Jackson really does echo our Peer Education initiatives, from which we have seen significant improved outcomes for our whole community, so much so that I see this text becoming an important part of our work in the year ahead.

Sex, drugs and...

The chapters on drugs, sex and relationships add great weight to the text, providing clarity and carefully articulated personal experiences. This, I'm sure, will be of great interest and use for young people trying to navigate these challenging areas of twenty-first century life. Jackson makes the important point about not being taught how to deal with loss (with regard to relationships) when you're young, perhaps this is something that should be developed further, supporting greater understanding of how to deal with the ‘loss’ of love?

When Jackson talks about the fact that not every silence is an ‘awkward silence’ it reminded me of an interaction with one of our Year 7 students this year; where he pronounced ‘awkward silence’ after a quiet moment following my (what I thought to be) cracking joke! Not every silence is awkward!

The real ‘practical’ nature of the dialogue is a huge strength. Indeed, discussions regarding rape and consent are so important and remind me of the equally excellent book by Robyn Steward, The Independent Woman's Handbook for Super Safe Living on the Autistic Spectrum, which I would also recommend.

Jackson rightly identifies that the difficulties with sex and autism are due to social conventions, and the fact that guides and education seem to skip straight from menstruation and puberty to relationships and ‘assume’ the inherent link causes additional challenge.

As Jackson so clearly puts it: 'I left sex education trying to figure out how a penis could be a banana…'

This is an excellent book. Suitable for anyone involved with or wanting to understand more about autism, but particularly for young people themselves. I feel it appropriate to leave the final work to the author, who sums up his perspective brilliantly;

'Different is not just cool, it’s liberating.'

This review was first published in the Good Autism Practice Journal in the October 2016 edition (Vol 17, issue 2)

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