Autistic doctor speaks out about the condition


Kathryn Ryan meets Dr Josef Schovanec, French writer, academic, polyglot and advocate for people with autism. He's an advisor to the French government, and travels France and the world, speaking about autism. He says he feels sorry for "normal" people.

As a youngster, he was bullied because he was different.

Now, a French doctor with autism is spreading the word about the good that the condition brings.

Josef Schovanec speaks 10 languages, has written a best-selling biography, has two regular radio shows in France and Belgium and a doctorate, and is a sought after international public speaker on autism. He has just visited Palmerston North to give a public talk about his "travels in autism".

Josef Schovanec is in New Zealand as a writer in residence.

Josef Schovanec is in New Zealand as a writer in residence.

People with autism spectrum disorder are typically extremely socially reserved. Schovanec said he had to make a conscious decision to learn social conventions and compel himself to undertake social situations. He still finds it exhausting, but enjoys meeting people.

He is passionate about developing understanding between "normal" and autistic people and advocating for better treatment for people with autism.

"Autism is fun. You can have lots of fun with autistic people. The aim is to see how we can [all] have a much better life, as we share our different perspectives.

"If everyone was the same, that would be a sad place to live. I wouldn't like to live in a place where everyone was the same, with the same interests, and same perspectives.

"We have to champion [human] bio-diversity... They're different types of human beings and we need all of them. It's not just philosophical, it's extremely practical."

One example is progressing innovation through outside-the-box thinking and another is learning better tolerance and empathy.

"It's hard work accepting differences. It should be taught in schools from very early on. It's most important to learn the skills of being with other people. And it is extremely important for every child to have the opportunity to have a blind friend, or a friend who speaks a very different language or is autistic, and if the school system is able to bring those abilities to the children that will be an awesome thing for the future of the kids."

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