FINAL VERSION OF SPEECH FOR SCHOOL REUNION.

Good evening. Six years ago, I had to get a new car, because my old one had come to the end of its life. A man who I was friendly with said, “I like that car. It’s more you. Your old car, it wasn’t you.” I wondered what he meant, “Was it the fact that it had more bland styling? A more bland colour?”

In my first year at high school, I was given some unwanted and unsolicited advice from a bully that if I wanted to be more popular I should let my hair grow long at the back, some other superficial tripe and graffiti my bag. Yes, my hair was slightly longer when I was in Year Nine, but that was only because in the September holidays in Year Eight, I went for a holiday up the Sunshine Coast (yes, Jed, if you’re here, I remember I saw you on the beach at Second Cove) and my mother used to cut my hair, and she said, “I’ll leave it a bit longer at the back, to protect your neck.” And the same during the summer holidays. But, I have curly, wavy hair, and it used to split, so I get it cut fairly short. Also, my hair grows out, not down, so it made my head look huge. And here’s the point about the bag. It was MY BAG. If I told somebody with a car like mine, but with Monroe Shocks to take them off and put KYB Shocks on them, they’d probably tell me to use the precursor to Quicken Books.

I remember a day where this bully and a few others just wouldn’t leave me alone, and Mr Feher, asked me what was going on and this bully said, “He’s a weirdo.” Now, if I’d been Mr Feher, I would have said to the kid, “Is he trying to hang around you, or are you trying to hang around him? Generally, people who view others as weirdos tend to avoid them.” But guess what? Fast-forward four years, and Mr Feher was my Multi-Strand Science Teacher, and fast-forward three years, and he was my brother’s Multi-Strand Science Teacher, and I remember my brother coming home and saying that Mr Feher asked my brother if we were brothers and what I was doing. And Mr Feher said that he was pleased and I deserved to be at university as I had worked very hard at school.

In the Year Twelve Magazine, it was suggested that ten years from 1991 that I would be a human memory bank. Well, 19 years after that, I had something happen to me that explained a lot. After a few years of recurring nightmares of bullying at school, I was diagnosed with PTSD and depression, and after I saw a lovely psychologist, she asked me a question that took me by surprise. “Have you ever heard of (what is the now unpopular term) Asperger’s Syndrome?” “No.” So, we did some tests, and I she diagnosed me with it. We prefer the term autistic, because Hans Asperger, after whom the condition was named, was a eugenicist.

I remember this same bully saying to me, “Imagine if you had a bump on the head and you changed.” Well, two things. One, I remember a Year Twelve Chemistry Teacher who used to wear a bicycle helmet to drive his car. Guess why? His brother was a taxi driver who received violent bumps on the head and he has brain damage. And two, I don’t want to change, I am happy with who I am and if you’re not, well, that’s not my problem.

I remember another bully saying to me that he felt sorry for my father for having me. Well, you know what? The same bully I alluded to before said, “There’s another Peter Wynn, but he’s different to you, he plays football.” I am still not interested in football, but I’m when the Canberra Raiders win, because Ricky Stuart is the coach and he has an autistic daughter. And you know what my father said? We’re just as proud of our autistic son as he is of his autistic daughter.

Since I’ve been diagnosed as autistic, I have met some fantastic friends and I have found a place in society where I belong. I am not a tragedy. The tragedy is not autism but society’s reaction to autistic people. We don’t need to be cured. We are not broken neurotypical people. We are who we are.

Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.