In Conversation With… Phil Thorne

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Phil Thorne

In light of World Autism Acceptance Week 27 March – 2 April 2023

We sat down to have a conversation with Phil’s experience of neurodiversity.

When were you diagnosed with autism?

I have not actually had a formal diagnosis of an autism spectrum condition.

So why do you think you are on the spectrum?

Well for most of my life I had no inkling. Then in early 2019 I read Guy Martin’s biography; in there he talks about his diagnosis of Asperger’s (shallow end of the autism spectrum) and a phrase that his friends used was “ability to get people’s backs up without meaning to”.

This phrase was not unfamiliar to me, I have had it at one or two appraisals over my career. So this got me thinking about Asperger’s and the more I looked in to it the more “that is me” kept coming up.

Later in 2019 I spoke to my GP about my thoughts and got a referral for an Asperger’s assessment. The assessment was very involved with reference to myself and people I have lived my life with, discussing all habits etc and took two years.

Then at the end I got told we don’t diagnose Asperger’s now. I had autistic traits, but not of sufficient severity to be given an autistic spectrum diagnosis. This matches a lot with what I have seen online, in particular with those seeking a diagnosis later in life and most people who identify with Asperger’s are self-diagnosed.

Can you share some negative effects these traits have for you?

The biggest is not recognizing social norms, having no social filter – basically saying it as you see it directly and bluntly; but then being unaware that neurotypical people may think what you have said, but just don’t vocalize it.

Another thing is not seeing subtle hints when colleagues “suggest trying”, when what they mean is “please do”. Language is important and very literal interpretation and situations are black / white. Sensory overload can occur when colleagues get into enthusiastic discussions in meetings, not had to excuse myself and leave a meeting yet, but I have come close.

There’s often a focus on the negative with neurodiversity but can you share some positive effects these traits have for you?

Speaking in bullet points gets to the point quickly, with no ambiguity, but can be too abrupt for some – I describe it as ‘not doing fluffy’. Very much a doer and finding practical solutions to problems – if you ask for something to be done, it gets done promptly.

Honest to a fault, even if it lands me in trouble the truth is paramount – not got a poker face, could not sell coals to Newcastle, definitely not a politician. I seem to have a 6th sense for when a line of chemistry endeavor is futile and when a line is the answer – manager’s ask for two weeks more effort to convince them of what is obvious to me or slow down and consolidate our understanding before rushing ahead.

Have you worked on any autism spectrum condition projects?

I have not worked on any autism spectrum condition projects. Though with a medicinal chemist hat on I have thought about what may be a cause. Caffeine in coffee does not give me a pick-up, like it does in others, so this has got me thinking if a cause could be a continually ON caffeine receptor. Certainly, my brain is whirring 24/7 thinking about all permutations and consequences of actions, but as a cost not good at coping with change. May be that neurotypical people on a triple espresso is how I am 24/7!

What impact did the assessment process have on your partner?

As we started to go through the assessment and learnt more about autism, it helped my partner understand how my mind worked which resulted in her being able to have workarounds on little things that used to annoy her. Our relationship was always strong, but this has made it even more solid, because she no longer gets annoyed when I don’t take subtle hints. If she wants something she now ensures it is unambiguous.

Thanks to Phil for sharing this with us. You can connect with Phil on LinkedIn.

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