Robyn Steward, 30, has Asperger’s syndrome and a number of other disabilities.
She is an autism consultant, artist, musician and broadcaster, and the author of The Independent Woman’s Handbook for Super Safe Living on the Autistic Spectrum.
At school, Steward was bullied and regularly called a “spastic” and a “retard”.
While she feels she was let down by the system, there was one teacher, Ernest, who she says “really changed my life”. She adds: “He did three things…that any [teacher] can do for an autistic person.”
Because she often had difficulty processing her feelings, Steward carried “all this stuff around with me” that she needed to “offload”. Ernest was willing to listen.
“Pretty much every day, I would go up into the IT suite and I would just talk to him. Sometimes when things are bad in my life I actually need to offload. Ernest just seemed to get that,” she says. “I felt that the school system didn’t value me and Ernest did.”
Set clear boundaries
“Soft boundaries that make the world easier to understand can be so important for autistic people,” Steward says. “I have found, and I know other [autistic] people have found, the world is so confusing, there’s so much information you have to process all the time.”
This meant she was always asking questions at school – but was given short shrift by most of her teachers.
“Rather than reject me, which is what most people did – ‘Oh Robyn, go away!’ – Ernest understood. So he just gave me a three-a-day question limit.
“That was a clear boundary and it meant I wasn’t constantly being rejected.”
‘Work with what you’ve got’
While Steward left school with no GCSEs, she did better at college and got good grades at university. Over time she learned to play to her strengths and use her talents – and Ernest helped her on her way.
“The third thing Ernest did – and this was about working with what you’ve got – he gave me the opportunity to take photographs in school, for the school website.”