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It was a hard slog. March came and it was a long cold month. All of the major theatre's were applying for National Portfoilo Funding. For us as individuals it was time to apply for Developing your creative practice funds. How do you decide that you are ready to develop your practice? How do you know what steps you need to take? What training and skills you need to fill the gaps in your creative development? All of these questions had to be answered. If all you were doing in March was this it still would have been a challenge. However, if you had multiple application forms to fill out it could possibly have felt as if you were drowining in a sea of paperwork.
Whilst I may be being overdramatic the outcome of all of those long hours spent deliberating was definitley worth the wait. Yesterday (28th of June 2022) myself and seven actors braved the trains after the recent strikes, to meet at Trefoil house Birmingham for a day long theatre workshop.
The purpose of the workshop was to decide which Neurodiverse actors would support me with making an acessible audio book version of my book entitled 'When I grow up I want to be a cat.' The audiobook would enable more neurodiverse audiences to acess the information available in the book about autism and the education system.
The second purpose of the workshop was to ascertain which Neurodiverse actors would support me in the creation of a Show reel to advertise myself as an actor and my work. The Show Reel is being created by Bazan Talent Agency in Birmingham who I am pleased to be working alongside.
The workshop was a lot of fun and the group rules included things like 'Stimming is allowed.' Stimming is very important for many Neurodiverse actors and allows them to feel calm in sometimes stressful situations. I hope the actors had as much fun as me and my assistant director did and I will let them know how they did and who will be doing what by 8th of July 2022. If you woud like to have a look at what we got up to in the workshop, please head over to the photos section of this website and it will all be there on page 3.
Look after yourselves and stay safe
all the best
Alternative Voices Theatre Company Team
What is the book about?
‘When I grow up I want to be a cat’ is all about surviving the education system with Aspergers Syndrome. Not only does the book give my own unique perspective, of my time from Nursery school to University, it interviews nine other individuals on the spectrum about their experiences too. Many of these individuals work for Open Theatre Company Birmingham and Coventry and have gone on in life to do wonderful and creative work within the arts. The book’s title is taken from something I said when I was at school. I was asked by a teacher what I wanted to be when I grew up. All of the other children said “Nurse, Doctor, Lawyer or fireman.” Not me, I wanted to be a brown and white cat. My reason for this was I could be fat, lazy, sit by the fire and have plenty of love and attention. I still live by this philosophy today except that being a housecat does not pay the bills and so I have had to go to University to do more advanced training.
The book is written in an accessible way so everyone should be able to read it no matter if they have any diagnosis or not. The book includes a foreword written by Richard Hayhow of Open Theatre Company which includes his thoughts on creating positive environments for young people with learning disabilities to thrive in. He also writes about his first impressions and his experience of working alongside me. The book includes beautiful pictures drawn by Matt Recardo and Sam Kilpatrick who are both on the spectrum and are making this their debut as professional illustrators. The book is split into four big chapters which are about Nursery, Primary school, Secondary school and University. It is special because not many books are written by Autistic people for Autistic people and their carers and families. Many of the books out there are written by individuals who claim that they are Autism experts but who have no experience of having the condition themselves. They have no understanding of what life is like for us or of what it feels like to experience a meltdown.
The book also interviews my parents, teachers and my school support worker. This is because I wish to break away from us and them attitudes in healthcare. I want to have conversations with professionals about how to better support individuals on the spectrum and I want this book to begin a revolution. I wish for individual care planning for all children. I want their strengths and preferences to be taken into account no matter whether they have autism or not. I also want to use this book as a means to uncover experiences of others with Asperger syndrome who are at school right now and may not be as able to articulate their needs and wishes. What this book does not do is speak on behalf of all people with Aspergers. The book is my experience and mine alone. I do not wish to represent or advocate for any group of people unless I am asked to directly by them. This book also cannot explain the experiences of individuals who are on what gets called ‘the lower functioning end of the spectrum.’ I dislike this term and I explain why in my book but this is the best that language can give us at the moment. The book cannot tell of their experiences because I do not know what it is like to be completely none verbal. I do not know what it is like to need 24 hour support or care. All I can do is use this book to start a conversation about care in England and about what we need to do as professionals moving forward.
How the book began
I began writing this book in 2009 when I was studying my first degree. The book was initially written as a series of blogs on my Universities Mental Health support website. Each blog was about a different topic surrounding Aspergers syndrome and Autism. I was working as a peer mentor at the time. Supporting individuals with learning needs to access university societies, facilities and manage their time and workloads. My boss at the time thought that there was enough material to present it in book format. Further, my father suggested that I write a book when I was at home and so ‘When I grow up I want to be a cat’ was born.
Why has it taken you so long to publish it?
I must say it has taken me a while to publish the book because I am a perfectionist. I wanted to be the first Autistic person to write a book of this kind but I was beaten to it in 2019 and several similar books have followed in the last few years. Initially I was sadden by this but actually it is a great achievement for the autism community because now there are several books that they can choose from in order to gain the correct support, all written by Autistic individuals so in my mind that is a wonderful thing. My book includes lots of different research that has been conducted over the past fifteen years and includes all of the most recent facts and knowledge about Aspergers and Autism. The world of research will never stop and so there has to be a point where you say I have included all I can now otherwise the book would never have been finished. It took me a while to figure out where that stopping point was.
Why should I buy a copy?
This book is for you if you have ever wondered about Aspergers and Autism. You might have some behaviours and want to know about an Autistic experience? You might work with Autistic individuals in your setting and want to know how to support them better. You might be an Autistic person looking for some answers and support. You might be a parent or teacher of someone who has Autism. You might be a health professional who works with Autistic individuals. Whatever your reason, if you are looking for a brutally honest account of what it is like to have Asperger syndrome then look no further. Your book is here.
How can I buy a copy?
Amazon paperback link https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Grow-Want-Cat-Surviving/dp/1838149007
The book will be available on Amazon ebooks via this link https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Grow-Want-Cat-Surviving-ebook/dp/B09G23L38G and will also be available from
Our partners Open Theatre Company Birmingham work using nonverbal physical theatre to collaborate with Young People with Learning Disabilities, creating quality art that reflects and celebrates their unique creativity. Open Theatre have supported Alternative Voices since the 'Creative Minds Conference at 'The Midlands Art Centre' (M.A.C) Birmingham in 2017 and now it is our turn to support them. We have been writing some blogs for them to raise awareness of their valuable work and projects happening across 2021 to read the blogs click below to find out what they have been up to this year.
So who'd have thought we'd all still be locked in a year later? We can't believe it has been a year since our radio play 'The Party Animal' aired on switch radio during the initial Lockdown.
I guess this message is just to check in with everyone and see how you all are getting on? My year has been stressful but productive. I finished all of my university coursework and moved into a new house last summer. I am currently concentrating on publishing my new book and I am doing lots of short courses online such as boosting personal resilience and building self confidence.
It has been 12 weeks in Lock down and life as we knew it has dramatically changed. Shops have been closed, theatres and schools and some of us have not seen family members for several weeks. During this time it is important to keep safe and well and I have found that strategies as someone who is neurodiverse may be a little different from the rest of the population so I thought I would share them with you.
1) Routine and structure are imperative. When I stopped setting my morning alarm for 8am and going to bed later at night my internal world was thrown into disarray. I did not know what time it was or day and I lost all sense of time. By going to bed at the same time at night and waking up at the same time each morning depending on how many hours sleep you need you set yourself right for the rest of the day.
2) Focus on the here and now. I am somebody who either lives in the past or the future. I am either still processing traumatic events from the past that I pushed down inside and did not get round to discussing my feelings because I am too busy or I am planning for the future and what I would like to become. The trick is to learn how to just be! Be still and learn that doing stuff is not just about passing time but it is about expressing your creativity in a way that is true to your identity. Take this time to learn new skills or study something you have always wanted to do.
3) I know everyone has jumped on the stay connected band wagon and organised fun on zoom is becoming increasingly more common but the thing to take away from this is that if you feel lonely then you must reach out to someone. A friend you can trust or a supportive family member is all it takes to help you feel right again and if you do not have those things then seek support online in forums of activities you enjoy.
4) Learn what you enjoy and take time for you. Contrary to popular belief and this was a hard one for me. It is not selfish to take time for yourself if you are protecting your body and mind
so that you can help others more later down the line. I know many people particularly who work in helping professions who feel guilty if they take a break or turn the focus on themselves. You have to help yourself too, sometimes. Nobody else will.
5) Less time on social media. This has been my life line. Turning off my phone has helped me keep the negativity from the outside world outside. By turning on those channels you are allowing the negativity into your home and your safe space.
6) Exercise and eat healthily. Take advantage of that daily exercise do not just stay in the house. Looking at the same four walls is bad for anybody.
I hope you all stay safe and look after yourselves. We shall see you on the other side.