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David Nicholson: Self-advocate, autism consultant and musician

“When I got formally diagnosed, I felt a strong sense of relief”

David Nicholson had the opportunity to play the violin during Autism-Europe’s 11th International Congress in Edinburgh.


A violinist since the age of 11, and diagnosed since he was 19, David Nicholson affirms that “music has no doubt at all helped me in coping with having Asperger Syndrome”. “Through music and playing my violin I am able to express myself and to release my emotions. It helps me to communicate how I’m feeling. If I’m feeling sad or anxious I can turn to my instrument and play some slow airs which in turn helps to release the anxiety and sadness. I feel better afterwards”.

Despite having difficulties socialising and communicating, he has taken his own advice of “embrac[ing] being autistic” and has successfully landed jobs both in the UK and the Scottish Parliaments, as well as in other governmental bodies and with political parties. In the field of autism, David has also worked for associations like the National Autistic Society, Ambitious about Autism or Inclusion Scotland.

Autism-Europe: We read the following sentence on your blog: “I do not and never will regret having Asperger Syndrome. It is part of who I am”. To what extent did your life change after being diagnosed? What does it mean for you to be a person on the autism spectrum?

David Nicholson: When I got formally diagnosed in 2008 I felt a strong sense of relief. It made things official and I knew that I truly was on the autism spectrum. It did not change my life drastically but I knew that with a diagnosis I would be in better position to access support if I required it.

I take great pride in being autistic despite the challenges that the condition brings to me. It is who I am and forms a large part of my identity. It allows me to focus on what I love in life: music, politics and the countryside. I am determined that having Asperger Syndrome will not be a barrier to me achieving what I want to achieve in life including standing for Parliament as a Conservative candidate, finding a lady and getting married, having kids etc. There will be challenges ahead but with a strong fighting spirit I will make sure that any barriers will be smashed down.

AE: What challenges do you face in your daily life as a person on the autism spectrum?

DN: The main challenges that I face at the present moment in time is anxiety and social isolation. I do not have many friends where I come from in Fife (a county in the East of Scotland) and my good friends are scattered around the rest of Scotland and the UK. That means I do not have a very good social life. That has resulted in me sometimes trying to be someone I’m not in order to fit in. That was a mistake and never again will I change who I am in order to either a) fit in or b) impress people. It is essential not only for me but for others on the autism spectrum to be true to themselves regardless of what other people think in the community and elsewhere. In order to combat the anxiety and loneliness I have recently joined a local music group in Fife where I am meeting new people and that is helping my confidence and reducing my anxiety.

AE: As a self-advocate and autism consultant, what are your professional challenges and objectives in the field of autism?

DN: As a self-advocate my main challenge is to ensure that no area of society is excluding people on the autism spectrum. Be it from education through to sports and politics, society must be accessible and inclusive to my peers and I who are on the spectrum. I think society would be greatly enriched if people on the autism spectrum were given the chance to show off their abilities and talents in a wide variety of fields including law, science, music and technology.

It is important that Governments, autism self-advocates, families, the voluntary sector and others come together to try and work in partnership to ensure that society is as autism friendly as possible, where each and every person on the spectrum has the support that they need and to ensure that they have the opportunity to be as successful as they can be in any area that they have an interest in. I passionately believe that people on the autism spectrum have to have more opportunities to express themselves and to have their voices heard by those in positions of influence and power. My peers’ voices deserve to be heard and acted upon.

A message to your autistic peers
My main message to my peers on the autism spectrum would be to always be true to yourselves, celebrate being different and embrace being autistic. Dare to dream big and, despite what others may think, fight on and be the success that you can be.