Charlie Keeble is a creative and innovative intellectual with a taste for developing new and original ideas. He says that he wasn’t always positive about his autism because he was brought up in a judgemental society that dismissed him as being too awkward to be able to achieve anything.
He turned to his writing “because it was the only way I could express myself.” Reading also helped him learn how to think for himself. “Both brought out my individuality and motivated me to rebel against the system that valued assimilation.”
Today, Charlie is an advocate for autism as a political party activist in the UK. His mission is to promote autism in a positive and proactive way by getting people to recognize the abilities of an autistic person. He shares his ideas with his political friends as a blogger as well as collaborating with them on personal projects.
Charlie has written about his personal journey to political activism in his book, A Puzzle in a Tunnel.
Tell us about A Puzzle in a Tunnel.
A Puzzle in a Tunnel is about my activism for autism and how to accept autistic people for the greatness and good that they can bring to society. It’s a combination of politics and civil rights with autism being the theme behind the narrative. It’s designed to empower autistic people in a constructive way and reject other people’s negative judgements.
The story is told in a dual format with a fiction and non-fiction narrative. The fiction part is based on a novella I wrote when I was 20. It’s about this autistic journalist called Scott Hardy who is struggling to get work and is frustrated by the way he is being judged by the system. One day he gets caught up in a train accident and challenges a condescending brutish lawyer who tries to profit from the accident, which results in an opportunity to prove himself. The non-fiction part is a series of chapters that are linked to the themes in the book explaining the situations and about how autism is a force for good.
What inspired you to write it?
I started to be an active campaigning supporting my political friends in canvassing and talking to voters. I had a talk with one man while campaigning on mental health services. I told him that I was an autistic and a Conservative. He was surprised to see someone on the autistic spectrum who was of that political nature. I explained to him how I came to be this way and the thought occurred to me that no story like mine existed in the mainstream. I wanted to tell my story and let the world know why I was the Autistic Conservative.
How did you come to be influenced to be an autism advocate?
What led me to become a Conservative in the UK was the way I was judged by society and a culture that was only interested in compartmentalising me for their own agenda. At the time autism and other disabilities were portrayed and recognised as pitied, pathetic creatures who live in hopeless and vulnerable situations with no outlook on life other than welfare handouts. I lived on welfare handouts throughout my twenties and the services that I had given to me were futile and inefficient.
My school and my local welfare office patronised and condescended me believing I couldn’t think for myself. It really hurt me mentally to think that I was being made to think of myself as a burden in the care of the state. To this day I still get belittled by people who dismiss my ambitions and ideas for bettering myself.
I felt horrified and disgusted by this system. I wanted to do some better than this. Later when I became politically active I started to look at the way autism could be embraced in a positive and constructive way that others could benefit from people like me.
I started to show the world how positive and awesome it is to be autistic and to have someone of that kind in your life. It’s not a tragic tale, but a really useful person.
Who is the ideal reader and how do you see the book being used?
The ideal reader for me would be autistic people, politicians, civil justice advocates, and neuro scientists. I want to see them using it as an example to people that autism should be embraced positively in a constructive manner. In hindsight it will lead to a new way of doing good for communities by launching businesses with a social objective.
Politically I am hoping that A Puzzle in a Tunnel will be used to stand up for the rights and acceptance of autism. It should be used to stop that negative and despairing image of living with a disability like that of a Paralympian athlete. It should also be used as a case against junk science and eugenics.
What’s the message you want your readers to take away after reading the book?
What I want people to take away from reading this book is to receive a perspective on what autism is from a person who is on the spectrum. I want them to see this is a way of going to and listening to actually autistic people themselves, rather than relying on the studies of experts who observe them.
I also want them to realise that awareness of autism should be recognised in the form of listening to those from the spectrum. Most campaigners that raise awareness of autism just talk about the faults in autism’s existence describing them as suffering, idle, helpless and in need. I might be socially awkward, but I have an increased intelligence that help to build a better world. Inequality is a fact of life and we should accept all classes of citizens. Think of the famous autistics like Einstein, Newton, Edison and Lincoln. All of them made a better world with their intellectuality.
Is there anything else about your book that demonstrates your philosophy on autism?
One thing that I have learnt from activism and political activity is that in order to achieve the change that you need for greatness isn’t just your motivation but power. In the book I have included a quotation by Machiavelli which explains this. The book also has some useful analogies to describe my philosophy on autism such as the parallels between autism advocacy and fighting poverty and injustice.
Do you have a proud moment or inspirational story from your activism?
Apart from my writing I have applied my creativity to my activism and support for other passions. One of these is archery and the Commonwealth Games. Archery is a very inclusive sport that has more to it than bows and arrows. It is also a strong test of physical and mental abilities. I have found my mental health gets a boost from practicing shooting. When I practice all my mental energy is concentrated in the shooting and my autism has given me a sharp sense of focus in doing so. In the process I have been able to manage my anxiety and mental health issues.
You clearly have a lot of passions and a desire for adventure and wonder. Where do you expect to go next?
Well at the moment I am a student at Royal Holloway University studying environmental geology. My political and autism activism continues to go on and I blog about my adventures online. There is also my volunteer work at the Science Museum in London, which I continue to promote science and the heritage of the great minds of innovation and discovery.
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