Apr 20, 2020
On this episode, I interview Mark Palmer - writer. On the podcast, Mark talks about his life and later in life diagnosis of Autism, mental health challenges and how he works with the good and bad aspects of Autism. We discuss his career and working with Autism during COVID19
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Full Transcription from Otter.ai
Betsy Furler 0:03
Hi, everybody, welcome back to for all abilities, the podcast. I'm so glad you're all here with me to learn about yet another person who is living a great life with a brain that works a little bit differently than others. And as I think I've convinced everybody who's listening to this podcast so far, we all are so valuable and our value is really in our differences. And I believe our differences are also our strengths. So today, our special guest is Mark Palmer. And he is going to tell us a little bit about himself. Welcome, Mark.
Mark Palmer 0:43
Thank you. Thanks. It's lovely to be here. Thanks.
Betsy Furler 0:45
Yes, I am so glad you're here. So as we're recording this, we are all pretty much on some sort of lockdown for COVID-19. And so we've we've all had our work life sweet. step a little bit, but I'm really happy you were able to join me. And I would love for you just to introduce yourself first and then we'll, we'll hear more about your life.
Mark Palmer 1:10
Okay, so my name is Mark Palmer and I live in Manchester in England, which is probably best known puts football teams and it's raining, although actually it's quite sunny at the moment. I'm 50 years old and I'm autistic. I was only diagnosed as autistic. Very few years ago, three or four years ago, I've always struggled with my mental health. I also have depression and anxiety. I worked for 30 years in a public sector administration role. I have five children and I remarried six months ago a couple of days ago to my lovely wife, Sue, who is a special needs teaching assistant by trade, which means I basically married somebody professionally trained to deal with me.
Betsy Furler 1:57
That's my way to go. That is perfect. And so tell us a little bit about what you were like as a child. So I guess you were not diagnosed as a child. And so tell us a little bit about what you were like as a little boy.
Mark Palmer 2:13
Okay, well, I like to say I'm so old that as a little boy, autism hadn't really been invented yet. But I was certainly different. I certainly wasn't diagnosed. I didn't even remember hearing the word autism.
I had a lot of trouble growing up at school.
Partly and it all makes much more sense in retrospect. Now, now I'm autistic. We moved around a lot. My dad kept changing his job. So when you're struggling to make friends anyway, and then every year or two, you move to a new school, it gets very, very difficult. So I found it very, very hard to make friends. I was definitely the weird, geeky kid in the class. I was always good at the academics, but I really struggled socially. And I was bullied an awful lot which hurt me and damaged me quite a bit. school I went to I ended up getting bullied right through up to secondary school. So, or high school, I guess you'd call it so, yeah, my parents were great. They were lovely, very supportive. couldn't have asked for better parents. But my childhood was very, very difficult. They didn't understand how I was. The way I was that they struggled with me at times. They talked about boarding school because I just couldn't cope at school. I was being naughty. I was being difficult. And it was really because I didn't understand what was going on around me and those around me didn't understand me.
Betsy Furler 3:34
Did you? They did well academically. Did you make good grades or you just you you knew you're you're a smart person. Clearly, but did you make good grades? Or did you struggle with that as well?
Mark Palmer 3:48
No, I always did very well in the written work, particularly maths and science. That was always my thing, right? I struggled a bit with languages but maths and science. I was always right there at the top.
Betsy Furler 4:00
That's that's a typical profile I think of people who are autistic.
Mark Palmer 4:05
Betsy Furler 4:06
Did you What difference Do you think it would have made had you had a diagnosis as a child
Mark Palmer 4:12
I'd like to think they taught me in a different way accepted that I needed different accommodations and so on. Not constantly held it against me that I I really struggled socially and to get on with the other children. And it's a good question i To be honest, I've not really thought about that because what's done is done. But I see now my wife is working with autistic children that she teaches and it is just a world away from what I had where I was just in the class and you just got on with it and it you went along with it all that was it like it Olympics so it's um, it wouldn't make a huge difference have I haven't been recognized that accommodated but that just didn't happen then.
Betsy Furler 4:52
What about for your own mental health? Do you think that had you known younger, that you had autism with that have changed the way you your self perception?
Mark Palmer 5:04
Absolutely, absolutely. And because I always knew I was different, and I couldn't understand why am I spent years and years, thinking it was obviously something I was doing and choosing to do, but I just couldn't seem to stop it. And we'll come obviously forward later. But when I first the first time I spoke to professional who says yes, I think you're autistic. I cried.
Unknown Speaker 5:25
Because it was a relief
Mark Palmer 5:26
from it. It's such a relief.
Betsy Furler 5:29
Yeah, that's what I've heard from other people too. So let's go on with school. So you graduated and then went on to university? Yes. Was that an improvement? Or how did how did University go for you?
Mark Palmer 5:44
Again, university was was was tough at times. Because again, I really get along with people and the university. I went to you all lived sort of on campus, the first year in student accommodation. And then you had to Get into groups to rent a house together for the second year and they've off campus and I approached the people I'd be hanging out with all year who I thought were my friends and was basically told to get lost we don't want to live with you. And so they were never really my friends at all, they just kind of let me tag along because I lived on the same corredor so I still found making friends on the social side extremely difficult and looking back that the the upshot of that is is that I didn't really make the most of those University College days where you're supposed to have a you know, really good time and grow up and find yourself right all the time feeling miserable.
Betsy Furler 6:37
That's an that's an interesting point about the housing because I think that's something that people take for granted that you're just going to self organize yourself into a group of friends to live in a house with and, and I'm sure people struggle with that all the time. And it has to take a huge hit on your self esteem.
Mark Palmer 7:02
It did, I ended up putting a notice out from an OT school saying, Look, I'm desperately looking for some people to live with, and coming to basically accept the first offer I got, which was from a group of other misfits To put it bluntly, really, there were nice guys. Right? But they weren't exactly sort of, you know, life and soul of the party times we were all a bit strange different in our own ways. And so it was a slightly bizarre year. But yeah, I found people in the end, but it was a very, very uncomfortable, unpleasant experience. And I felt very much rejected and I wanted for a long period.
Betsy Furler 7:37
Yeah, yeah, that I think that's something for people to keep in mind, especially if there are parents listening who have kids who will be going off to college or university. So what did you major in?
Mark Palmer 7:49
I studied mass.
Betsy Furler 7:51
Okay, so you probably, you probably had some other people who thought the same way you did in your math classes.
Mark Palmer 8:00
I suspect I did, but that the way the university worked was you didn't really associate a great deal with the other people in your classes because you'd see them in lectures and then all go your separate ways it was much more significant. When you said that was the people you spent time with, I certainly wasn't gonna start making friends with strangers because I've never been able to do that. But when you're sharing a kitchen and a common room and so on with another seven or eight people,
Unknown Speaker 8:25
Mark Palmer 8:26
end up getting to know them a bit, but they will from different courses. I'm sure there were other people in the group that were autistic looking back and would have been a bit different than I would have got along with brilliantly Had I known them. But remember people on the course and they just didn't meet the right people, I guess.
Betsy Furler 8:43
There was a large university.
Mark Palmer 8:46
It was it was known for maths and so the maths class was very, very big. I studied some other things as well. One of the attractions of the course was you only had to do maths half the time. So slightly ironically, looking back I spent a lot of money I'm studying psychology.
Unknown Speaker 9:02
Oh, and you enjoy that.
Mark Palmer 9:04
I enjoyed that very much. Yes. But to me at that time, I didn't relate it to anything to do with myself.
Betsy Furler 9:10
Right, right. I, I was a psychology, sociology double major and the head of my minors and religion. And I was fascinated by all of that as well. Not so much good at math. I mean, I, I thought I wasn't good at math. Now, I've discovered I actually probably was good at math. But anyway, you know, we're all different. We all have our strengths, right?
Mark Palmer 9:33
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah.
Betsy Furler 9:36
So did you go on to graduate school or what did you do after university or go into the workplace?
Mark Palmer 9:41
Yes, I left University and went straight into the workplace. I went to university in a town called Coventry, which is in the Midlands in England, and then I moved to London to start work for the government. And just sort of in my final term at university, I met the lady who went on to the mind My first wife and the mother of my children. So she also moved down to London to be a teacher. So we moved down together and got married after a year in London.
Betsy Furler 10:10
And are you in the same love? Probably not exactly the same job. But have you had to apply for jobs since that first job? Or did you go into government work and then continue on with that?
Mark Palmer 10:22
I've continued in government work for 30 years, but I've applied to apply repeatedly for internal posts to move to different areas to get promotions and so on. Yes.
Betsy Furler 10:32
Okay. So tell us about how that processes are you comfortable with interviews, meaner? You're doing an amazing job today and even when we first got on the phone, but I wonder when you were younger? How did you cope with the interview job? Yeah, job interview job application process.
Mark Palmer 10:51
It was a nightmare. At some of the jobs I went for, were like sort of accelerated promotion things where you would Do some written tests. Now the written tests would be things like what's the next in this sequence and number problems and things like that. I do those things for fun, right? Yeah. So I'd always get 90% of those. And then then I'd have an interview. And I'd be i'd fail. Because I've barely passed an interview in my life as far as I can remember, but it's an absolute disaster. putting me in a room and telling me to talk about myself with three complete strangers is just about my worst nightmare. Right? You have always been hugely, hugely difficult. And it's something I'm now trying to sort of get changed and make a better pass about. But getting on has been horrible. I've applied for just about every development scheme that my employer runs, and there are lots of them. And I've failed every one Usually, the interview my my kind of greatest achievement in that was I went to one that had a full two days of selection tests, passed all of those and still got rejected by the 45 minute interview at the end.
Unknown Speaker 11:54
Betsy Furler 11:57
Yeah, I think that our interview process in particular Killer has, there's a lot of room for change and growth in that in. You know, just because somebody has a really good interview doesn't mean they're going to be good at the job. And vice
Mark Palmer 12:13
versa. Yes, and I am. It's a point I keep making because even as recently as a couple of years ago, I went to an interview I was diagnosed by then I said, I'm autistic, I need reasonable adjustments. I'm awful at interviews. And the reasonable adjustments I got when I queried it afterwards was well, we asked you if you're okay at the beginning.
Unknown Speaker 12:31
That was it. Wow.
Betsy Furler 12:35
Now do you on your job. Tell us about your job and how you What do you think you do different on the job that you that a neurotypical person might not do?
Mark Palmer 12:48
The main thing I think I do is I see things from different angles. I have lots of different ideas, many of which like a lot of us overcome that have to be dropped immediately because every day in us, but I do seem to find solutions to problems that don't occur to other people. A lot of my work has to do with legal issues. I'm not a lawyer, but we're in the business of maintaining laws making new laws and things like that. And there are lots of sort of minute shy in different ways of doing things. And several times in my career, I found something hidden in the small print, as it were, that let us do something a different way that sold quite a big problem that nobody else had spotted. I just see two seem to see things that many other people don't see. But equally, I miss things that are completely obvious to other people. So it's a blessing and a curse, as these things are double sided. But yes, my main asset at work is my creativity and problem solving.
Betsy Furler 13:44
And I think that's something that a lot of people don't understand about autism is so many people who are autistic, are very, very creative in either their thought process or their ability to do art or painting. put things together in a very unusual but extremely pleasing way. And I think that is something that employers often miss that creativity.
Mark Palmer 14:13
Absolutely. And how do you get that across in an interview?
Betsy Furler 14:17
Mark Palmer 14:18
you can't. So my strongest point I can't put across in an interview, but it exposes my weakest ones immediately. Because the problems, the major problem I have at work is anything interpersonal. And so meetings have always been an absolute nightmare for me. And I know now it's become like a standing joke. I'm in a very, very supportive team that embraces differences now and so on embraces individuality. And it's become just kind of a running joke that don't invite me to a meeting because I hate them. And I'd like to say to people, I've been here 30 years, I've been to three years, four meetings,
Betsy Furler 14:49
right? I think all of us have, but some of us like people like me who I'm like a 97 on the scale of extraversion from zero to 100 right? Super extroverted. So I'm happy to, like just chat with anybody about anything, you know, I'm one of those people. And, you know, some of us, you know, think that meetings are useless, but we love to chat. So we we go anyway. So, but what a waste of time to, especially for someone who like you doesn't get anything out of the meeting, you know, you're, you're not, it's not helpful to you at all. So I'm glad you're on a team that's really supportive. I think that the more that employers can get teams of people together, who work all together who all think differently and who all value and respect those differences, you know, the better our world will be and I love it when I hear about someone who has a team who is working on a team that at least you feel like you have the respected the other people
Mark Palmer 15:56
are do it's a fabulous team at the moment I joined it quite badly. I think just yet they can get another big promotion, and finally got one. And they just did. It's the teenagers that lead the team are on a job share and they couldn't be more embracing of diversity. And that's all I've ever wanted. I don't claim to be any better than anybody else. I'm just different.
Betsy Furler 16:18
Right? Right. Exactly. And did they have what has your employer done? As far as accommodations or having allowing you to disclose your disability? Do they have any special procedures for that? Or is it kind of on a team by Team basis and, and your managers have to be happened to be exceptional?
Mark Palmer 16:39
My manager just happened to be exceptional it is. A lot of it is down to the managers. There are some things that it's just not possible to have, but I would really like a need and my biggest issue is lots of autistic people are hypersensitive in different ways. I'm hypersensitive to noise, but not just any noise. The noise that really gets to me is locked in Lots of voices all at once. And all our offices are big open spaces.
Betsy Furler 17:06
Oh, yeah. So that's hard.
Mark Palmer 17:08
It's very hard and there's not a lot they can do because there isn't any word quiet you can sit. I mean work got me an occupational health assessment for my autism. That's how I got my diagnosis. And and that says, you know, sitting in a quiet spot, well, there just isn't a quiet spot. It doesn't exist. Mm hmm.
Betsy Furler 17:26
Let's go. Let's go back to your diagnosis because I kind of skipped over that. So yeah, um, you said your that was done through work.
Mark Palmer 17:35
It was done through work it it was led up to for a number of years, some some years ago. I met my mother for lunch one day and she came brandishing a sheaf of papers to give to me and others sometimes do and said, this is about something called Asperger's syndrome. Have you heard of it? I think this might be you. And I wasn't interested because at that time, it was just an unhelpful label. And I didn't want another name for why I was strange and so on, and it would have got me nowhere. Then some years later, I'd become divorced from my first wife, I've met Sue, who's now my wonderful new wife, who is a specialist in in autistic children. And she pointed out to me, she believed I was autistic. And that I should try and address that. And again, it was kind of mulling over in my head because it was quite a big step. Then, my work brought in a new reporting system for assessing their staff every year, which meant that every year they had to put 10% of the staff and that sort of bottom category needs improvement, you've got the new better, and they had to put 10% of stuff in that even if everybody was brilliant. And what that meant was the people who were a bit different and did things a bit strangely, and maybe said that this meeting is pointless and so on, were the easy targets to be put in that bottom bracket. And after two years of being in that bottom bracket and the threat of a third it would have been getting into serious proceedings about losing my job even though my work was Excellent. Nobody ever disputed that my work was excellent. So I pursued with it with again, a supportive boss and occupational health diagnosis. And it was through work. I've ended up seeing a specialist and getting my autism diagnosis is getting a formal diagnosis in the UK without paying a fortune or waiting literally years. It's almost impossible.
Betsy Furler 19:21
Yes, yes, same here. Because if you can't pay out of pocket here, and you don't have excellent insurance, and I'm not even sure as an adult insurance would cover the diagnosis here in the US. So here in the US, the best thing to do is to go through our kind of workforce system as well. Yeah. So when your wife said that she thought you may have autism. How did that go? I can imagine she kind of was concerned about what to say and how to say that.
Mark Palmer 19:57
Well, don't read it because it's easy. I think I was already Coming around that idea and we we've had chats about it for a long time we met online. And we talked for an awful long time online and then on my phone before we ever met in person, and we covered all these subjects, I was still living with my ex wife and my children for the benefit of the children. And I take the dogs out for long walks and speak to my then girlfriend. And we'd cover up hours and hours of talking about all these different subjects. And I explained to I came out very early and said, Look, I'm different. I have all these weird things I do. I'm not like other people. I just want you to know what I am, in case you're not interested. And she didn't put her off at all. She actually liked it for some reason. So we had had this conversation. It wasn't it wasn't a complete out of the blue. I think you're autistic. It had been percolating in my head anyway. And she kind of just gave me enough nudges to push me over the age but it was scary. But I say at the same time on the first phone call I had when especially said yes, it sounds like you're autistic. I went outside and I probably Because she relief and I said to my boss, it doesn't mean I'm not going to be a pain in the backside anymore. It just means that we understand why I'm a pain in the back.
Betsy Furler 21:09
Exactly. And you know what we all we all have, you know, all of our it is and crises and our quirks some of us fit into that some of us can adapt ourselves into that imaginary normal box better than others. But none of us are really normal. So,
Mark Palmer 21:29
no, mobile is greatly overrated. But one thing I do know from my experience and from speaking to other autistic people, autistic people spend an awful lot of our lives what we call masking. Yeah, so pretending to be something that we're not pretending to be neurotypical as opposed to neuro diverse, which covers autism and a number of other conditions. Right. And that's exhausting. When you have to effectively process and make a conscious decision about how to react to everything how to how to behave in the way that many other people seem Just do completely unconsciously and take for granted that is absolutely exhausting,
Betsy Furler 22:04
exhausting and not good for your mental health.
Mark Palmer 22:07
Exactly. So as I said, I have depression and anxiety. And again, that's quite common in autistic people to have other mental health conditions, probably as a result of having to try and be somebody that you're not for your whole life.
Betsy Furler 22:19
Right, right. And trying to fit into a world where everything is difficult.
Mark Palmer 22:24
Betsy Furler 22:26
Well, awesome. Well, is there anything else you want to tell us about yourself or work or your family or anything?
Mark Palmer 22:35
Well, it Yeah, I'm trying now to to move on and to help other people. I mentioned that I've always found it difficult to speak to new people. Slightly bizarrely, you can remove 100 people I've never met I would absolutely hate going around speaking to them individually. But if you put me in a platform in front of them and tell me to give them presentation, I will absolutely love it. I love public speaking And so on. It's like a different persona of me. And I absolutely adore it. It feels in many ways what I was born to do. So I'm trying to do speaking about autism and neurodiversity, and different work events. And I'd love to do more with that as I if I could. And I'm also starting a new career at the moment alongside my current job writing about autism and about mental health. And I'm trying to build a career out of that writing about my experiences, about how to speak to autistic people, how to get along with them about the benefits autistic people can bring to the workplace and about other mental health issues. So that's what I'm doing now. And that's what I'd like to do more and more of in the future.
Betsy Furler 23:37
That's fantastic. And if people want to get in touch with you, how should they do that?
Mark Palmer 23:42
Right, well, I have a website, which is www.markpalmerwriter.co.uk that's Parmar pa l m er like Arnold Palmer. That's Mark Palmer writer.co.uk or you can email me at Wordsbymark@outlook.com, I'd love to hear from anybody who's interested, I'd love to talk to autistic people to mental health, people about mental health, you said I was fine talking to you, when you start talking about mental health and autism, I'll talk all day. I'm really passionate about it. So that's why I'm so comfortable with this because I know I have plenty to say. And I'm confident in what I say. So I'd love to hear from anybody. And as I say, I'm trying to get established as a freelance writer. So if there's anything I can do for anybody, if anybody has anything they'd like me to write for them. I'd really love to hear from you. That would be terrific.
Betsy Furler 24:33
What type of writing jobs are you the most comfortable with? Did you I think you had said technical writing?
Mark Palmer 24:40
Well, what I'm writing at the moment is his articles about different aspects of autism about different aspects of mental health. Earlier today, I wrote a short article for somebody about managing your mental health in the midst of this pandemic. So any aspect really, but it's very much from my experience of living with these things for 50 years. I'm Not a doctor, I'm not a scientific expert, but I describe my angle as autism from the inside. So I can tell you what it's like I can tell you how autistic people can help you and I can tell you how you can help them because very often it's very small adjustments could even just be turning the light off in a meeting room makes their life so much easier.
Betsy Furler 25:20
Right, right. And also the awareness that somebody might need something like that.
Mark Palmer 25:27
Exactly. It's all about education. I think autistic people are very misunderstood and and looked down on and people see the bad and not the good. And actually, if you can just find somebody at like corner or turn the lights off in the room for them. They'll probably come up with dozens of really, really good ideas that will help your company help your business if you just give them that chance. Don't judge them on a terrible interview. Give them an environment that suits their needs and it will they will more than repay their worth.
Betsy Furler 25:53
Absolutely. Well. You have been a delight to interview today. I am so glad you stepped up I'm on LinkedIn, I'm actually I'm not sure if you stepped up or I kind of was like, hey, do you want to do this interview, but you accepted immediately. And I am so grateful you've been on the show. And I think that you your work, and your experiences are going to help so many people and also give families who have children who have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, hope that their kids can go on and lead amazing lives.
Mark Palmer 26:32
I certainly can. And there is lots of states that the world is a much better place. Scrub autistic now than it used to be, but there's still an awful long way to go. And there is definitely hope if you have an autistic child, they can do whatever they want to be, and they can use their amazing superpowers to really make the difference and change the world.
Betsy Furler 26:51
Absolutely. Well, thank you, Mark. And thank you for all abilities audience for tuning in today. Please subscribe vibe review, re rank rate, my podcast and on whatever podcast platform you're listening to. And if you want more information about Pharrell abilities, go to my website at www dot for all abilities.com and you can always follow me Betsy Furler on LinkedIn at Betsy Furler. It's su r le AR on Instagram. I'm for all abilities and Twitter, both Betsy Furler and for all abilities. So it was great having Mark today and thank you everyone else for tuning in.