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Stuart Barbour

photo of stuart barbour enable scotland employee and memberLike many people who have a learning disability, Stuart Barbour struggled to make friends at school.

A pupil of Law Primary, Lanarkshire, he was frequently poked fun at and called offensive names like ‘spastic’ simply because he was different from the other children.

“I know what it is like to be bullied and called names. I’d either ignore them or tell a teacher or my mum who helped me with coping strategies,” said Stuart, of Carluke, who was diagnosed with 
Asperger’s syndrome at the age of six.

School days were made more tolerable for Stuart when he went on to Cumbernauld High School, which had a specialist unit for people with autistic disorders. He was among five of the department’s pupils who have Asperger’s syndrome – an autistic spectrum disorder characterised by significant difficulties in social interaction and restrictive and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests.

“While the other boys were kicking a ball around or swapping football stickers, I was playing alone in a corner with Star Trek figures. I attended mainstream classes, with support. If it all got a bit much and I wanted time out, I would go to the unit and talk to someone.

“I was bullied physically and verbally at the hands of a couple of people in mainstream education, but also by some of the autistic pupils. That was how some of them dealt with their anger. The fact that I did not have the same interests as the other kids caused friction, and often we’d fall out about football.

“One of the guys thought it would be a great laugh to hide one of my Star Trek comics – that freaked me out. I got frightened when a teacher raised their voice, even though they were shouting at someone else. I was called names like ‘teacher’s pet’ for being too smart. I got the highest test scores in administration and modern studies, and that didn’t go down well.

“I am good at remembering dates and facts, and I read a lot. I’d spend lunch breaks in the school library rather than be out and about. I know it is anti-social, but that’s what I enjoy. One guy in particular found me annoying and had a ’square go’ at me for no reason.”
After leaving school, Stuart studied hospitality and business at Motherwell and Coatbridge Colleges. His first job placement was as an administrator at the Student Loans Company in Glasgow. There was a college link with Enable and Stuart was supported well, and he was commended for his efforts.

Stuart successfully applied through the Employability Recruitment Incentive for a project assistant/office clerk’s role at ENABLE Scotland’s head office near Motherwell. His 16-week contract started in October.

The nature of the job allows Stuart to focus on one or two tasks at a time, which means he can focus and do them well. His job coach at ENABLE is helping him to also apply for positions that suit his strong attention to detail, and his ability to help people. 

“In the workplace, I have difficulty picking up sarcasm, and knowing when someone is joking or being serious,” explained Stuart (26).

“At times I find it difficult to read signals – for example, if I am chatting to someone who is too busy to talk. I don’t adapt well to change. I found it hard to cope with the slightest change to the timetable at school, or a teacher being absent.”

Stuart – who says he’s been likened to the ‘Sheldon’ character in TV’s ‘The Big Bang Theory’ – feels that his work at ENABLE has helped to improve his communication skills through being part of a caring team. 

As well as his love of science fiction and his insatiable appetite for current affairs, Stuart has many interests. He volunteers at a café in Carluke – a social enterprise operated by Scottish Autism. For the past 10 years, he has also accompanied groups of elderly people on trips to Lourdes in France, and is an enthusiastic follower of Motherwell Football Club.

He is a strong advocate of ENABLE Scotland’s #bethechange anti-bullying campaign, and has written to Jimmy Hood MP and Claudia Beamish MSP urging them to pledge their support.

“I now have a few pals – keeping them is the problem. We go for lunch, go shopping, see films and sometimes go to the pub,” continued Stuart.

“Those who bullied me at school see me getting out and about, and see that I have a job and am making a success of my life. To me, that compensates for all the grief they gave me, just for being different.”

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