A young student with Asperger’s has written a self-help book for parents with children suffering from the condition.
Joshua Muggleton (22), a student at the University of St Andrews, wrote the book to help parents like his own better understand the minds of their children.
Joshua, who graduates from the University this summer (June 2012), hopes that his book will also offer valuable insights for mainstream school teachers like his own, who struggled to cope with limited resources.
The book, Raising Martians, is already on-sale at US book giants Barnes & Noble as well as in the UK.
Taking its title from the idea that raising a child with Asperger’s can feel like raising an alien, Joshua first thought about writing a book four years ago as he was preparing to leave his home in Guildford, near Surrey, to go to St Andrews. He says the self-help manual is his way of giving something back to those that have helped him overcome the condition.
The 4th year psychology student commented, “People with Asperger’s have a lot to contribute to society, but there is very little education out there for parents and teachers. Education is something of a silver bullet when it comes to helping young people with the condition, and without it deep-set problems can develop at school age.
“I tend to think about how it is for other people with Asperger’s. Equally, I am very aware of the types of questions people ask about Asperger’s because I’ve been talking about my own experiences with it for so long. My book offers a more personal insight because it’s been written by someone with the condition and not a clinical psychologist.”
It was while touring the country giving inspirational talks that first gave Joshua the idea of writing a book from a young person’s perspective.
He said, “People used to ask afterwards if I had anything they could take away with them, so with the encouragement of my parents, I eventually went to a publisher with the proposal and bounced some ideas around.
“I’m quite close to my parents but I’m also able to talk objectively to other parents about their children. I try to talk to them on behalf of their child, giving them answers to questions that they might feel unable to ask themselves. Every child is different but I try to put the parents in the child’s shoes and facilitate some understanding.”
The resulting book is something of a family affair, with his mother Julia helping to edit it and fellow St Andrews student Stacey Martin providing the artwork.
Joshua, who is currently applying for postgraduate courses and hopes to work in either research or clinical psychology, is inspired by the work of his St Andrews lecturers in the fields of anxiety, depression and OCD.
First diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 15, Joshua commented, “Once a child is diagnosed with Asperger’s, parents might as well throw the baby books out of the window.
“When I was at primary school I thought the other children were telepathic. I didn’t understand what they were laughing at or how they understood how to play games. I had problems with non-verbal communication, so didn’t understand subtleties of body language and gestures, especially in imaginative play. Even something as simple as pretending a stick was a sword I didn’t get.”
Instead, Joshua spent his time being introspective and observing the behaviour of others, how they interacted with eachother and how they viewed the world around them. Secondary school became more difficult as Joshua struggled to develop relationships with fellow students.
“Once you get to secondary school, it’s more about forming social relationships based on shared interests and having an opinion on something,” he continued. “Most of it was completely beyond me and I had experience of being bullied, so completely lost interest.”
But a trip to St Andrews in 2008 inspired Joshua to follow the academic route, and a path that he hopes will lead him to further understand the subject so close to his own heart.
He explained, “I never thought I’d be able to go to University because I was bullied and emotionally fragile, so my grades weren’t great. But I fell in love with St Andrews and knew it was the place for me. I looked at the rankings which were really good for psychology, so I worked 18 hours a day to get the grades I needed.”
Attributing his ability to adapt in a strange place 500 miles from home to the close-knit community of St Andrews, Joshua credits his student friends and support staff at the University for getting him through his degree.
He said, “I felt I needed to break free, and St Andrews seemed like a tight knit community that was nice and quiet, away from the stresses of inner-city life. It’s been a life-changing experience for me, I’ve made some great friends and learned about what I can get out of life and what I can do.
“I needed the right type of environment to grow well, and St Andrews has been perfect for me. I have a very supportive group of friends – my first ever group of friends – who I will be very sad to leave, as they give me lots of support in every-day life.”
Already signed up to write a second book that aims to make research into Asperger’s more accessible to parents and teachers, Joshua hopes to go back to his old school to talk to teachers about the condition.
He said, “I would love teachers to have access to my book because it would make such a difference to their understanding. Because Asperger’s isn’t classed as a mental health issue, there are no funds available to help teaching staff. Teachers are already underpaid and overworked so it would be great if I can help them in any way possible. I felt like I was in a very dark place growing up, and although my teachers tried to help, the school didn’t do anything to help them deal with me.
“The way I see it, I could either lash out or try to make a difference. There are kids out there having a harder time than me, and adults too, and if I can help just one person, this is my chance to give something back.”
Raising Martians – From Crash-Landing to Leaving Home: How to Help a Child with Asperger’s Syndrome or High-Functioning Autism by Joshua Muggleton is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
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