1. Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?
R: My name is Robert Parton, I am 22 years old, and at 3 and half years old I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, however at the end of the day, to me it’s just a label. When I was diagnosed I was completely non verbal, my mum was told I was never going to speak. My parents did loads of research in to Autism, including a home programme, and after two years I’d learnt how to speak. My hobbies now include photography, surfing, playing the guitar and drawing.
A: My name is Anna Parton, I have been a freelance dietician for over 30 years, and I am also an autism trainer. I have two children, and live with my family in the mumbles and work for the NHS. I also spend time supporting rob in his public speaking events.
2. What are your roles in the festival?
A: Both of us are invited to co-comparing together (MC) at the conference on 23th April, and Robert is doing a five-minute comedy sketch.
And Robert took part at the ASDES photography exhibition that the Festival is showcasing. I am also supplying some character costumes for the day, as I run a theatre group in the mumbles.
3. Why did you want to be a part of the Festival?
R: To support local events, to liaise with other people.
A: Anything that promotes and celebrates autism awareness, is a good thing. However, I say celebrates (with a small c), as I respected many families do have difficult lives. What really attracted me in particular was Hazel was so aware, and wanted to both create an understanding and celebrate the many qualities of those with autism: the creativity, the pureness of soul, not wishing to upset others, qualities that everyone can be positive about.
4. Why are you interested in raising awareness of autism?
R: Because, I have fallen in to it, I was at an autism conference once, listening to the speakers and thought hey that’s pretty cool, that’s something id like to get in to. I’ve been diagnosed with autism and all my life I’ve been put into certain units and categories, which never seemed fair, I’ve always wanted to make the best of it, I don’t believe people necessarily need a label. School and college was a very tough time for me having to go to units with people who claim to be autism trained, but a lot of the time came across as very patronising. I am already doing acting, so public speaking about autism, just sort of came naturally to me.
A: For me autism is still relatively new, its only been around since the1950s so everyone is still not fully educated on the topic.. Robert in particular questions why he needs a label to get help, help should be offered to all. Autism awareness is important to both of us, but it can’t just be for those involved, it has to be a cultural awareness, and we recognise that it’s going to take time.
5. Do you think there could be more events surrounding autism running through the year? And do you have any ideas for events yourself?
R: Rather than making more events about autism, I think we just need more events about people. For example, The Square Peg Coffee House, in Sketty where they showcase, all people not just those who are autistic, who have thought provoking ideas and stories. I have encountered so many on the autistic spectrum who I am not similar to, we aren’t all completely identical, events should be all inclusive.
A: As Robert said I think we should just be pushing to have more events discussing all people and showcasing all talents, we need to be careful not to pigeon hole. It’s about teaching people to have difficult conversations but doing it in a tolerant and passionate way. I would push for more events, that are inclusive of everyone. So, yes to more events, but we must be careful about categorising.
6. If there is one thing you would want people to know about autism, what would it be?
R: Autistic people are just people, don’t make it a bigger deal than it has to be, if there is no problem in front of you don’t act up about it.
A: One of the key diagnostic theories I disagree with, is that autistic people lack empathy, on the whole id say that’s not true, in fact they over emphasise.
R: I mean, aren’t all people subject to lacking empathy, its part of human nature. If you’ve had a bad day, you may come across less empathetic but everyone does that.
A: The biggest gift you can give to an autistic person, is just to be okay even when they’re not. Just to accept that its just a difference, different isn’t bad, it’s just different.
If anyone is interested to see Anna (mother) & Robert (son) interacting on the stage, come to the conference!
(There is a separate talk of Rob at the Ostreme Centre in Mumbles: 7:30 Friday, 24th March. If you are interested please look for the information on Rob’s social media.)
Interview conducted by Patrick Hanmore