My name is Colin and I have lived in Livingston since I was ten. Last year I had a late diagnosis for Autism and hot on the heels of this Dyspraxia was added to Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Dyscalculia, these were assessed when I was 14. Five years ago I contracted ME/chronic fatigue syndrome. So life has had its challenges.
I was born in Dumbarton in 1966 three months early. The doctors did not rate my chances of survival; I was the size of my dad’s hand, but with the love of my parents I survived and I became quite a stocky baby. However my mum who was a nurse noticed I could not sit up yet my speech was very good. Doctors said “don’t worry” Colin will catch up; however as time progressed learning to walk became a real struggle. I took my first steps on my wee sister’s christening day.
My late father was a quantity surveyor and we moved around a lot as he worked for the Government. I began school in Helensburgh and was about to enter the chamber of horrors. I was left handed and the teacher knocked this out of me by hitting my offending hand with a wooden pencil box and my reading, writing and counting skills were very, very poor in spite of my parents’ best efforts to help, yet my verbal skills were very good. School reports were dotted with ‘Colin is lazy, must try harder’.
My mum and dad never gave up. They spent hours trying to teach me to read and to their credit they cracked it. I also had major problems with my co-ordination catching and kicking a ball, tying my laces, buttoning up my coat and riding a bike were so difficult. By this time I had entered the remedial stream at school. It was here I was to stay all my schooldays.
However my dad had discovered I loved history. He bought me books and took me to sites of historic interest. He sowed the seeds that were to give me an anchor in life.
However my dad had discovered I loved history. He bought me books and took me to sites of historic interest. He sowed the seeds that were to give me an anchor in life. I stumbled into my adolescence with an inferiority complex that was soon to consume me to the point I had a nervous breakdown at 16. I was hospitalised after failing seven out of eight O Grades. My pass was in history. This light was a flicker in a sea of darkness. I returned to school after a summer in hospital.
My first day back was to be my last as I was told in the Higher History Class that I could attend class but I would not be put forward for the exam. Something gave inside me and I left school that very day. I had had enough. My parents were very worried. I had one O Grade; to add to that my self-esteem was in tatters, anxiety and spells of depression were to dog me constantly. The year was 1982. Unemployment was rising and I was part of the worrying trend. The years that followed saw me bounce from one job creation scheme to another with spells of unemployment in between. Then in 1987 after a year in a community house as a carer I entered West Lothian College on a two year community care course.
I gained two O Grades in English and Psychology and to my utter amazement I won a cross college cup for determination and endeavour. I had never succeeded in my life. My parents were so proud to attend the award ceremony. However, when I finished I struggled to find a steady job so I threw myself in to volunteering to build up work experience, and crucially my self-confidence. I worked for many years with a range of organisations in general advice work, youth work, community council, festival society and Disability Rights. I had a dream to go to university; this was to take me ten years.
My parents were so proud to attend the award ceremony.
I moved south to Warrington in 1999 to live with my girlfriend. I found part time work but sadly the relationship crashed. This has been another difficult nut to crack. The dream of university re-sparked and I came home to Scotland and in 2000 I entered Newbattle Abbey College to gain a Diploma in Scottish Studies. I got accepted a year later to enter Edinburgh University and in 2005 I graduated with an MA Hons in Scottish Ethnology. Sadly my dad died of cancer in 2004. Mum was at my graduation but we missed Dad so much that day. Life was full of hope as a week later I got married.
I completed a post graduate in Community Education at Moray House College in 2006. It was a horrendous year and my marriage ended in its wake, however I had gained work as a tour guide with Rabbie’s Highland Tours on one day tours. I loved this. My love of Scotland and people and my long term memory all gelled but after six months I was paid off at the end of season. The experience gained secured me part time work as a character guide at the Real Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh. In my spare time I got on to the professional development programme at the Scottish Storytelling Centre and three years later I became an accredited Storyteller. I also volunteered for eight years with Radio Grapevine at St John’s Hospital in Livingston. I was in the studio for eight years co-presenting, storytelling, and radio production. I also helped co-found the West Lothian branch of Dyslexia Scotland.
Sadly I contracted chronic fatigue syndrome and lost my job at the Close. However I took my storytelling skills and after completing an 18 week business start-up programme I launched myself as a freelance storyteller in 2012. This has been a real challenge. I’ve worked in schools, festivals, museums and libraries to name but a few venues. I’d lost my marriage and my job but with my Mum’s love and support the darkness had a chink of light. After several years of living with Mum I got offered a lovely wee bungalow. I felt very vulnerable and the Community Psychiatric Nurse at the practice referred me to with YOU (formerly Places for People Scotland Care & Support) and I received tenancy support from a worker who has been coming round once a week for quite a while. He helps me with organisational skills and talks to me. This is a massive help to me.
I received tenancy support from a with YOU worker … He helps me with organisational skills and talks to me. This is a massive help to me.
Last summer I was diagnosed through St John’s Hospital with Autism. I’d always felt something was wrong with me. I felt weird, relationships have been painful for me, social interaction and non-verbal communication are not easy for me, however, I was referred to Number 6, the one-stop-shop for adults with high-functioning autism/Asperger’s syndrome. This is an amazing place. I receive one to one support to help me with my business. I also attend workshops which help with interpersonal issues. I hope to take part in the social activities on offer soon at Number 6 – another big challenge awaits.
I wish I had received tenancy support and Number 6 support many years back. It has helped me to cope knowing I have support from with YOU. The team at Number 6 have helped me with my late diagnosis for autism. I cannot heap enough thanks on my support team. I also forgot to mention that I joined Livingston Speakers to improve my public speaking skills. I gained the Toastmasters Competent Communicators Award before Christmas. I have my first presentation soon on the Advanced Speakers Programme. If you had said to me at 14 I’d be doing his I’d never have believed you. I also volunteer as the Vice President of Public Relations for the club. I love getting out and meeting people, telling them about the toastmasters’ programme, which has at its heart a tradition of building up self-confidence in people through improved public speaking and communication.
I hope my story will give those who read this hope for the future. Don’t give up – chase your dreams.