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January 2011



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First Published Monday, 30 March 2009


SAFE HAVEN: Brian Rafferty feels secure in his Broughton Street bookshop.
SAFE HAVEN: Brian Rafferty feels secure in his Broughton Street bookshop.

Brian Rafferty’s secondhand bookshop feels like a sanctuary. Painted claret red and lined with the colourful spines of several thousand volumes, its quiet, compact interior is the sort of place you could happily while away your lunch break. Open just a few months, it is already a popular fixture on Edinburgh’s cafe-lined Broughton Street.

Brian, 21, runs the shop from behind a desk in a back corner and is happy to give his customers the space and time to make their choices, though with his precise knowledge of the stock, he’s also able to help them find a particular volume in seconds. Temperamentally, he appears to be ideally suited to the work of a second-hand bookseller – a job which has given him fresh hope.

“I like the interaction with the customers,” he says, laying down his own book, Sharon Osbourne’s autobiography. “I like it when there are several people in at once.”

But he also loves the calm. “I get things done when it’s quiet, like moving the books around and sweeping up. It’s relaxing.”

For any 21-year-old to be running his own shop would be an achievement, but for Brian it is doubly so, because he has Asperger’s syndrome, a condition on the milder end of the autism spectrum. He did well at school and college, but struggled to find a full-time job afterwards.

“When he was looking for employment in banks, and in IT, he found it really difficult because he was coming up against people who were, in inverted commas, normal’,” says Brian’s stepfather Kevin, a police officer, who has popped in from the family home around the corner. “He was getting up at midday, and had no purpose. Now he’s up first thing in the morning.”

How does he feel about life now? “I’m really happy that I’ve managed to get more employment.”

Brian has a leaflet that he hands out to customers explaining what Asperger’s is and that he intends to donate a percentage of profits each year to the National Autistic Society.

The bookshop was the suggestion of a family friend, who owns the premises, and has been trading since before Christmas. But it was opened officially earlier this month by the entrepreneur Sir Tom Farmer, who paid tribute to Brian’s “can-do attitude”. The stock is donated.

Kevin, and Brian’s mum Sandra, who works in the pharmaceuticals industry, have been deeply touched by how local traders have taken Brian to their hearts. “Broughton Street is a small community. He feels safe here. This is now his home environment, which is fantastic,” says Kevin. “I see such a difference in him. Prior to this, you’d ask him what his day had been like and he’d say fine’. Now, when he goes for a pint, he’ll talk about the shop. It’s something to talk about.”

Brian’s experience underlines how people with certain forms of autism can participate fully in society and the economy. But loneliness and social isolation are widespread among people on the autism spectrum, and are a cause of deep unhappiness.

Autism and Asperger’s are characterised by difficulties in communication, interaction and social imagination. At one end of the spectrum are high functioning people with Asperger’s whose social difficulties may not be very noticeable, while at the other are those with severe autism who may not be able to communicate through speech at all.

“From childhood right through to adulthood, their experience is often of being bullied for being different, or ignored,” says Carol Evans, Scottish director of the National Autistic Society. “Often they want to make friends, but find it very hard.”

One-third of adults with autism develop severe mental health problems like depression or anxiety disorders. Many people with autism spectrum disorders, particularly severe autism, therefore remain at home. “If there was ever a condition that breaks up families, it’s this one,” says Evans. “We find an awful lot of families split because they can’t cope with the sense of stigma. Because autism often results in inappropriate behaviour, people start avoiding the general public. They go to Tesco at midnight instead of midday.”

In a bid to tackle this, 19 autism charities have come together to open people’s eyes to autism on World Autism Awareness Day on Wednesday. The theme is Stand Up For Autism, and a procession of celebrities such as Jane Asher and Patrick Kielty have recorded short videos of themselves doing just that. The aim, says Evans, is to end the litany of tuts and mutterings that autistic people and their families often encounter.

“Our message is: be more tolerant,” says Evans. “Don’t assume the child on the shop floor screaming or waving their arms about is badly behaved. That is their way of trying to convey they’re in trouble. If people were more tolerant, a more normal family life might be possible rather than fearing to leave the house.”

Maureen Rocks from Paisley has two sons with mild Asperger’s syndrome. Her son, Oliver, was diagnosed aged 10. Maureen says: “He was shy and didn’t like to go anywhere. He liked collecting things and doing the same things repetitively, and found it difficult to mix with other children.”

Oliver didn’t like going to school. His teachers noticed him becoming isolated in the playground. One lunchtime, the bell rang and he refused to go in. “The headteacher was brilliant,” says Maureen. “She went out to speak to him and I think she saw in him similarities with another child. She suggested speaking to a psychologist. It was a bit of a relief because I was thinking I was doing something wrong.”

After being diagnosed, Oliver became much happier at school, like Brian,he was picked on by other children. But having a talent for both drumming and playing the guitar, he had a focus and is now studying music performance at college. Oliver’s younger brother Harry was diagnosed with Asperger’s aged five because his behaviour was more challenging, but his character is completely different. “I’d say his social skills are very good,” says Maureen. “He left primary school with lots of friends and won an award for creativity.”

Now the two boys and their brother Jack, 10, who does not have Asperger’s, support one another. Maureen says: “I’m very lucky, my boys have very mild autism. The boys all have an interest and we all get on really well.”

Evans points out that often after leaving the education system, people with autism spectrum disorders get little formal support, because their condition falls between learning disability and mental health problem. Greater public understanding can make a difference.

Maureen’s message is simple: “Learn more about it, be more aware and if you come across someone whose behaviour is negative or difficult, try to be sympathetic and understand why they are behaving that way.”

  • Broughton Street Book Shop, 44 Broughton Street, Edinburgh. Donations gratefully received. Call 07960 015499 or visit www.nas.org.uk

  • Autism: the facts
    Autism spectrum disorders affect 50,000 Scots, one in 100 people, though some scientists believe the rate is rising.

  • *Autism is more prevalent among males than females.

  • *Many adults with autism have not been formally diagnosed, as the condition is usually picked up in school.

  • *Genetic factors are thought to be responsible for some forms of autism, though environmental factors have an influence.

  • People with autism have difficulties in three areas:
    Social communication
    Difficulty understanding facial expressions or tone of voice; body language; jokes, sarcasm and metaphor. Some people with autism may not speak; others will have good language skills.

    Social interaction
    Difficulty understanding unwritten social rules like how close to stand to another person; may become withdrawn or behave in what might seem an inappropriate way.

    Social imagination
    People with autism have imagination and many are very creative. But social imagination – understanding or guessing another person’s thoughts and feelings – is more difficult.

  • *People with autism like routines, and may have sensory sensitivity.

  • Source:   http://www.theherald.co.uk/features/features/display.var.2498557.0.Treatment_by_the_book.ph

    2 Responses to “Brian Rafferty “Treatment By The Book””

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