Paul Siebenthal is one of our favorite writers online. His blog, Wired Differently, about his life with Asperger’s and dyslexia, inspires and mentors its readers by celebrating creativity and outside-of-the-boxiness. Both his day job and his online work are committed to a conversation about diverse mental health issues and to letting others know that they are not alone.
1) Your blog is so compelling, both in it’s voice and its design. Please tell us a little bit about why you’ve presented it in this way.
When I write the pieces for the Blog, their tone and style reflect my world view and my being Wired Differently. The sentences are compact and short, low on emotion, high on visual detail and meaning. This compact and sparse prose style is me, and is where I can be myself. What you’re reading now is the public me, this isn’t writing as I see (in a creative sense) but rather me typing to explain myself and communicate. It uses the bit of myself I developed to hide behind and pass under the Neuro-Typical radar.
Wired Differently was something I created so I can be myself more and have somewhere to express myself where that is okay, and perhaps encourage others to do the same by sharing the things that I love creatively.
The DMHF is a small peer led Mental Health Charity based in Dorset, which is where I live. The amazing thing about DMHF is that is led by people who have personal experience or Mental Health difficulties. It is a place where having a Mental Illness is seen as an asset as you can speak as someone who understands, truly. I have struggled a lot with depression and anxiety as well as bulimia when I was younger. I am the only staff member with a diagnosis of Asperger’s, but it is a place where you can be yourself whether you are on the Autistic Spectrum or if you have Schizophrenia.
You are just you with your experiences to be used in helping others see that you can still lead a meaningful and successful life.
I do not and neither do the forum believe that Autism is a Mental Illness but it is clear that many of us also suffer greatly from the same Mental Illnesses, and in a higher percentage than the general population.
In my role I run Recovery Narrative workshops, I write for our magazine Reflections, I write the Forum Blog and I tweet for the forum. I also work as a Peer Specialist working with patients in hospital to help support them and to gain insight into their treatment in order to help services to be improved.
We are in the process of developing a Recovery Education Centre which uses the educational model of mental health to give people the tools to build their own recovery and become experts in their own recovery by enrolling of courses that teach those skills. Co-produced and Co-delivered by Health Care Professionals and people with lived experience of mental illness. Both will have completed a standard teacher training package to learn how to facilitate successfully and to meet the students needs.
I worked for 12 years in the National Health Service and during that time trained and worked as a Psychiatric Nurse. I therefore have used mental health services and also provided them, this gives me and the DMHF an interesting perspective that allows us to better meet the needs of those we serve.
My personal interest is in helping people to use creativity to help better understand themselves and each other.
3) Class 3B, about your memories of school as a child took our breath away. What is your advice to kids who are growing up ‘Wired Differently’?
The biggest piece of advice I could give is to always remember that it is okay to be who you are. If other people make you feel that it isn’t okay, then they are wrong.
There are things you can learn to help you fit in better with other people and those things are useful but never lose yourself and who you are in the process of trying to fit in.
The Creative spark that comes from being, ‘Wired Differently’ is so easily lost trying to be like most people. You are not most people and that’s a very good thing.
4) What is your advice to the parents of these kids?
They need to remember the same advice. Their children may or may not be like them. Either way they need to remember that it’s okay for their child to be who they are and they need to celebrate that with them.
5) Lastly, what advice can you give to educators who teach kids with different learning profiles?
I would have loved to have had a more positive schooling experience but sadly I was treated as being stupid and lazy. I was told several times I would “amount to nothing”.
One teacher told my mother, “he is a very excitable child, but don’t worry will soon get that out of him!”
No one ever had a concept of Asperger’s and no one, even at secondary school ever mentioned dyslexia. I was spoken to in such a way as to make me believe I was stupid and worthless.
I left school with no qualifications and I had to go back to college as an adult to gain all the qualifications I have now.
Given my own experience I would like to suggest that there is a difficult balance to be sought by teachers between balancing teaching life skills and emotional skills etc and allowing, “Differently Wired” children to be themselves and not lose that creativity that comes from a different world view.
I fear that the modern creative geniuses will be in short supply because they would have had many of their creative skills squashed in the process of schooling.
My advice is to try and find that balance, and if any thing, there should be an imbalance towards the individuality and creativity of the, “Differently Wired” brain.
Because of the cost of this creativity it really does need celebrating. If we do I think all of society will benefit – not just the child.