By Sean Watson

"Up until my 20s, I didn’t like the idea of being different or being autistic. So I didn’t tell people and I tried to act in a way that would hide it. In hindsight, it probably led me to have a lot more issues that if I’d just accepted the fact.

I was 10 when I was diagnosed with what was then called Asperger’s Syndrome. My mam and my older sister Tracey were very persistent in getting a proper diagnosis; some people thought it was just the way I was being brought up, but I have an identical twin Leon and he wasn’t acting the same way.

In primary school, I was bullied even before I was diagnosed, so I didn’t want anything that would make me stand out further. In secondary school, I just didn’t tell people – I didn’t want anyone knowing.

So I masked. I was able to pick up on people’s mannerisms and mimic them. I even taught myself sarcasm, pretty much through observation. Because I could mask so well, I managed to suppress a lot of my sensory needs.

I got my GCSEs and went to sixth-form college to study film, media, and politics and government. I can sit and watch films all day, and that made writing essays a lot easier. I watch them now and still remember some of the stuff.

Mental health

I did my AS levels and got conditional offers to study film at either Leeds Trinity or Sunderland University, but halfway through my second year I started having mental health issues and stopped going into college.

I did have support, but I stopped going to see them. I was 16, 17, and I just wanted to fit in. I put the pressure on myself to be the same as everyone else, and it was to my detriment. I started feeling severe anxiety and didn’t want to go in. It was probably burnout.

Sometimes I look back and regret not finishing or going to university. But I just didn’t have it in me.

And the thing is, university would have meant another three years of masking and suppressing who I am, and that would have greatly worn me out.

I stayed in the house and didn’t see friends or go out. I watched films and I read. When I turned 18, I went on medication for my mental health issues and at 19 I went into Cherry Knowle, the psychiatric hospital in Sunderland, for two months. They diagnosed severe depression. I was discharged for three months, and then went back in for another three months. By this time, they’d sorted my medication out but I’d ballooned up to 21 stones.

My twin Leon was at university studying fine art by this point, so I did start going round to see him in his shared house. But that ended, and I spent most of the next year in the house. Eventually I saw an autism specialist who told me I felt anxiety because of the adrenaline my body was creating. He told me to do exercise when I felt anxious to use up the adrenaline. So I walked every day for the following year – I’d walk into town twice a day - and dropped two and half stones. It helped with my anxiety and I was happy to be a healthier weight.


Then I started a friendship and met my new friend once a week. I ended up going on the Metro on my own for the first time in over a decade, and I enjoyed it. So the mental health team helped me apply for a Nexus pass and I pay £12 a year extra for unlimited Metro travel. 

When I got my pass, it felt like I got my freedom. You can go on the Metro and you don’t have to interact with anybody but you can still get the enjoyment of travelling. I sit by the window and listen to my music and watch the views out of the window. We pass horses in the field and there’s a pond a bit further up which sometimes has swans in.

I can’t go on buses. You have to press the bell and then awkwardly walk to the front. On the Metro, the doors open, you sit down and that’s you done.

The Metro stops at every station and chances are someone’s getting on or off, so you’re not the only one and you don’t draw attention to yourself.

I don’t drive but I don’t mind being in cars. Me and my friend drive to Boldon to the Cineworld most weeks. I don’t like the Odeon or the Empire because they serve Coke not Pepsi and they don’t put ice in the drinks. I like having a soft drink next to me, even if I don’t drink it – it’s a comfort thing. Much as I love films, I don’t like filmgoers! I’m hyperaware of people looking at their phone or crinkling food.

I live with my mam and my sister Tracey and our three cats, Smoky, Horace and Boris. There’s a big difference between going home to an empty house and a house where there’s cats waiting for you when you come in. I love them more than life itself.

Tracey has the patience of a saint. She was 22 when Leon and I were adopted so she’s been an extra motherly figure. She manages my money and she’s an advocate for me with the GP. My mam is the spiritual figure holding the family together but Tracey is the backbone of the family.


Leon has a daughter now who’s going to be six this year. She has given me some sense of responsibility because I became an uncle. My phone is pretty much all pictures of her and the cats. I count my blessings because some people don’t have family around them.

My mam and Tracey are both disabled and unofficially I’m their carer. I help look after them, help pay for things, and I help around the house, and that gives me that feeling of a purpose. I’m on benefits where I don’t have to look for work, and I’ve never had a job apart from one day pulling pints at the Stadium of Light. But I have a strong work ethic. 

I never had delusions of grandeur at school – I wanted to be a lorry driver or something like that. But when one of my film lecturers told me to keep writing, I had this desire to be a screenwriter. I find myself writing prose more these days, and one day I’d love to be published.

Writing is very therapeutic. I love reading too - I’ve got two bookshelves in my room and they’re both full. I’ve got a vast film collection and I take a lot of comfort in listening to music as well.

Once I started accepting that I was on the spectrum a few years ago, and that that was me and I couldn’t change it, I didn’t have as much anxiety and stress. I think my autism means I’m more understanding and tolerant. Each person on the spectrum is different, has different abilities, it’s not like a copy and paste each time.

While we’re on the spectrum, we’re still human and have our differences just like non-autistic people."

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