Reports

Small talk can make a big difference


Reported by Oliver

Published on Friday, August 13th, 2021

Leadership Loneliness
Reports

Small talk can make a big difference


Written by Oliver

Published on Friday, August 13th, 2021

Leadership

Loneliness

A page explaining that Oliver is Autistic and setting out what topics he likes to talk about.
Oliver’s ‘mood board’, a tool he uses to start conversations and combat anxiety and loneliness.

 

My ‘mood board’ idea is about generating stress-free conversations that help me calm anxiety attacks or combat loneliness. The board is a laminated sheet of paper that tells people that I live with Autism and panic attacks and prompts them to talk to me about any topic listed on the sheet. I came up with the idea in December 2020, when I was feeling lonely.

Because of my Autism I get more stressed than other people about problems like climate change, loneliness, Covid-19, people cancelling arrangements at the last minute, traffic and transport delays. These things can really play on my mind and my anxiety can build up until it becomes a panic attack. To make things worse, I can also feel very cut off from other people when I am out and about and this makes me feel lonely and even more stressed out. I feel particularly uneasy on the tube, in queues, at pubs on Friday or Saturday evenings and at parks, art shows, gigs, festivals, parties and waiting rooms. It’s like, you know, I’m anxious and there are all these people around and none of them are talking to me – it can be too much to bear.

I first tried to use my mood board in December 2020 in a café on England’s Lane. I didn’t get a good response; people didn’t understand what it was and weren’t willing to talk to me. After that, it took me a while to regain my confidence, but I did try it again two more times in July this year (2021).

 The first time I was on a street in the Belsize Park area and I used the Lanyard Sunflower autism card as well as the mood board. It went better than the previous time and one woman talked to me. I told her I was feeling stressed and asked if she could help me out. She was in a hurry, she said. But then I showed her my Lanyard card and she softened up and showed some empathy. We chatted for a while; it was just small talk, but it made a big difference.

 The next time was on the street in the Swiss Cottage area. That time a lady looked a bit scared and told me it was a strange idea.

 In a way, it’s not surprising that some people didn’t respond well to my mood board idea. London’s not a particularly friendly city in the first place and also people still don’t really understand people with Autism or mental health problems either.

But I’m not giving up yet. I think in the future I might combine the mood board with my paintings to start conversations. I could also do the boards in A5 size and sell them. I already have a business selling my artwork so I know this is something I can do. Perhaps my paintings could persuade people to talk to me in a way that my words sometimes can’t.

Written by Oliver


I am a young artist and activist on the autistic spectrum who has studied at Westminster Kingsway College and Byam Shaw College among other institutions. Painting has been a way of expressing myself and helped distract me from my obsessions. I am very aware of the social barriers caused by ageism which led me to begin an initiative called ‘Engages all Ages’. Myself and a group of friends hold regular meetings and events as part of this project. I appeared on a Channel 4 TV show called the Undateables, which shows the dating agency ‘Stars in the Sky’ helping Disabled people to find love. You can see some of my art work on display at Oliver’s Village Café NW3, our family café, where I also bake some of the cakes.

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Leadership Loneliness

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