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We Need to Talk About Kenneth


Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ll all know that Anne Hegerty is among this year’s celebs who have entered the jungle. The ‘I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here’ and ‘The Chase’ star is becoming increasingly popular with the nation, and this is partly due to her open-book approach with regards to having Asperger’s Syndrome.

Like anything, autism presents itself differently in everyone, so for Anne, it shows up as Asperger’s and probably goes a long way to explaining her brainbox abilities. My brother’s condition is a lot more severe and is classed as full-blown autism which comes with associated learning difficulties. One of the main issues with his case is that he cannot speak, or just doesn’t see the point in it – no one really knows. So, with that in mind, I’ll take a leaf out of Anne’s book and speak on his behalf…We need to talk about Kenneth.

What is autism? Well, it’s a lifelong developmental disorder which means people don’t see the world in the same way neurotypicals (folks without autism) do. Mum always said that it’s like Kenneth is standing behind a cracked glass screen which makes the world on the other side distorted and hard to understand. Nowadays if anyone asks, I say Kenneth’s brain was put together by a dodgy electrician who didn’t connect all the wires before he did a runner. I think it’s a funnier metaphor and experts aren’t certain what causes autism anyway, so who’s to say it’s not the fault of half-a-job-Harry?

It would take all day for me to go through everything the electrician did to program Kenneth’s autistic mind, and it’d likely reduce you to tears of boredom. However, off the top of my head, the three most prominent traits are; routine, communication and a strong disliking to social situations. All of these combine together in such a way that we don’t know where one ends and another starts. It’s easier to say it’s just how Kenneth is.

When Kenneth was a kid, we went to see our friend Bertha (click here to read the tale in which she features). She had recently moved, so we were getting the grand tour of her new abode. As we went into the living room, Kenneth’s mild cerebral palsy or lack of looking where he was stepping, caused him to trip and fall onto the hearth which was a little more than hot. Kenneth obviously burnt himself which then led to somewhat of a commotion, but the point is that his autistic nature forced him to put his hand on the same hearth every time he visited. That had become his routine, so that’s what he did. Another scenario, which happens to be one of my favourites, is Kenneth’s compulsion to run to the chocolate aisle when he’s in Waitrose. Although, this could have more to do with food being the love of his life rather than a routine. On one occasion, he was on such a mission to get to his Dairy Milk that his trousers fell down. This is amusing, but when I tell you that Kenneth wears pads which are like giant nappies, it goes from being amusing to bloody hilarious.

Actually, this feeds nicely into the complicated matter of communication. Kenneth wears pads because he can’t easily tell us when he needs the loo. Add this to the fact that autism can alter what would ordinarily be deemed as important, and everything takes on a different stance. He doesn’t think its overly vital that he goes to the toilet because he’d rather continue doing whatever it is that he’s engrossed in at the time. So, why would he bother to communicate when nature calls? Aside from things becoming kinda smelly sometimes, you get used to Kenneth’s list of priorities and learn to fill in the gaps.

Lastly, there’s the topic of any situation involving people. Considering Kenneth isn’t a fan of noise, he’s very good at creating it, either through his squeals that are projected at a pitch only dogs can hear or through his questionable taste in music. As a rule, it’d be a bad idea to take him to a concert, unless it was open-air, and maybe don’t take him to a jam-packed supermarket on Christmas Eve. If you do, take ear protection. Your eardrums won’t be the same again. Kenneth’s aversion to socialising also means that he won’t be interested in getting to know you, so you need to make the first move. To put it bluntly, he is the centre of his world because his world is so different to ours.

As I always say, Kenneth is not defined by autism, but it is a huge aspect of him. He might not be able to speak, but if looks could kill I’d have been six foot under a hundred times by now. He has a wicked sense of humour, a love of Disney, and a perspective of life which we could all learn something from.


Photo reference: The National Autistic Society

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