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Autism: diagnosis saved my life

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 11 August 2010

As scientists develop a revolutionary new brain scan which could diagnose autism in just 15 minutes, Chris Goodchild, who has Asperger's syndrome, tells Channel 4 News his diagnosis in 2007 "saved his life".

Chris Goodchild tells his story of living with Asperger syndrome.

Scientists have developed a brain scanning method using an MRI scanner and 3D imaging which could diagnose autism in just 15 minutes.

The research could lead to a simple, biological test for autism, and a clear  diagnostic process, for the first time ever. In tests, it proved to diagnose adults with autism with over 90 per cent accuracy and it is hoped that it can be developed to also diagnose children.

More than one per cent of the UK population, over half a million people, are affected by autism in the UK, mainly men. It affects different people differently, but sufferers share an inability to communicate, form social relationships, and empathise. They may demonstrate repetitive use of words or movements.

Chris Goodchild, 44, has Asperger's syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. He was diagnosed in 2007.

He told Channel 4 News that for people with autism, diagnosis is a moment of hope and enlightenment - and in his case, pulled him out of a spiral of depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.  

"I’m 44 and I have Asperger's syndrome. I have had it all my life, but I wasn't aware of Asperger's syndrome until three years ago when I was diagnosed.

"I was adopted when I was a baby, and when I was 15 I was hospitalised with acute depression and anxiety. I was labelled as psychotic and treated with medicines as schizophrenic – as was quite common for people with high functioning autism.

"It was quite frightening: I was misdiagnosed, misunderstood and mistreated.

"I have struggled to make sense of my differences all of my life. It wasn't until I was diagnosed in 2007 that I was able to get a full sense of who I was.

Depressed and suicidal
"It was very dramatic for me, as it is for many people on the autistic spectrum. I was severely depressed and suicidal in periods.

"I have a 10 year old son – I don’t live with his mother, she lives in Norwich and I live in London – and I was baffled when I played with him. The time I spent with him would always be terribly distressing and conducting. I would long to be with him, but then unable to be with him and his little friends playing.

"After years of psychology and self help, I was not relating in the way I should be – which is where self worth comes in – 'should be'.

"I was so desperate I was self-harming and wanted to end my life. It was an awful experience to see a self disintegrate and break down.

"I found my natural parents when I was 20, and when I met my natural father I knew he was a bit odd – in a way, I can say it. And I always interpreted his unusualness as probably some mental problems, and always feared I would end up like him.

"In about 2007, I started questioning: have I become severely mentally ill? I had bouts of depression – maybe I will end up like him.

"One day I went to an exhibition by people on the autism spectrum. Their art was just like my dad's and something clicked. Then I could tick all the boxes on the questionnaire, and about three months later I was diagnosed.

"I was diagnosed privately as I feel the psychiatry services of the NHS leave a lot to be desired. The NHS would diagnose further psychiatric disorders for people like me.

"For many people with high functioning autism, the guidance is totally outdated. It doesn’t take in adaptive skills. People with high functioning autism are able to simulate normality to a certain degree.

"Because, as I was growing up, I was told every day that I was mad, crazy, deranged, I overadapted to meet the needs of others to survive. Many of us do. People diagnosed at an earlier stage don't have these other psychological difficulties later in life.

Will the new scanner help?
"The facts are kind: denial of the facts is unkind. That is a profound truth. If I look back on much of my life it would have made an enormous difference but if I reflect on how it would have changed – love for my son took me out of my place of containment and took me somewhere I was baffled. But his love has taken me to a better part of myself.

"He is 10 years old and he is displaying the signs of Asperger's. I don't want him to go through the pain and hardship I’ve gone through.

"There is still a stigma around autism – I call it the 'a word'. My son's mother does not want to accept in any shape or form that he is on the autism spectrum, which is an understandable denial and difficulty. I am dealing with it personally. 

"So the scanner, black and white evidence, is a fantastic godsend for people in the autistic community, not just for children but for people like myself. It could certainly be a lifesaver for many people.

"The suicide rate amongst high functioning autistic people is staggering. They are led to the well, but unable to drink from it. Many aspects of life remain an enigma to us, although we can understand it intellectually. It's a torment. For that uncertainty to be lifted, it's like having a new life.

"My life has changed dramatically since my diagnosis. Your whole personality before is a bit like a cross dresser, fitting in with other people. This double life business is very common for people with high functioning autism.

"I needed help integrating – post diagnosis support. Your whole life is turned upside down and inside out. The enormity of how you live your life, it does feel as if it is too overwhelming to take on.

"But the moment of diagnosis was an enlightenment, as if the gates of my humanity opened up and I could come forth into the world.

"I had no hope before. Now, I've accepted something I can never change. I can't cry it away, kick it away, scream it away. And that's painful. But now I have hope. I know who I am, and it has changed my life and saved my life.

"And 99.9 per cent of people would say that – it’s the only diagnosis where people will be grateful and relieved."

Chris Goodchild, 44, has Asperger's syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. He was diagnosed in 2007. His condition is high-functioning, and he has worked as an Alexander Technique teacher among other jobs. He has a 10-year-old son, but does not live with the boy's mother, and has written two books since his diagnosis: A Painful Gift and Something Inside So Strong, about his experiences with autism.

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