The Autobiography of a Supertramp Fanatic

The story of Stuart Vallantine


Stuart Vallantine started life in the middle of June 1979, on the outskirts of Ashton-under-Lyne in the midst of a 1970s maternity ward. For someone mad on public transport, Stuart arrived two days late! All was going well prior to reaching what we now call the 'terrible twos'. On reaching two, Stuart went on strike for two years.

More seriously, the infant performance poet and visual artist was mute for that period. At this stage, he was thought of as being "autistic" and "hyperactive". After the usual 'mama', this was replaced by some pointing and tantrums. On joining playgroup in 1982, and Yew Tree Nursery the following year, Stuart enjoyed more solo activities such as painting and even reading the newspapers used to cover the painting tables. Spoken language was regained, albeit stunted. Most of this came from television programmes and commercials.

By 1984, Stuart was ready to start 'big school', with a shift from half day to full time attendance. He was seen as naughty and often wandered around the open-plan school layout. A visit from Nana, whilst picking Stuart up saw a change of opinion from the teacher.

By January 1985, Stuart left the bottom infants class to join 'Bay 8', the special needs class at Yew Tree. He resided there until July 1986, which saw him transfer to the juniors. It was there where his drawing skills were noticed, as well as his sensitivities. One memorable incident involved spending a minute in a dustbin. The assistant stated that if I was naughty I would have been thrown in the dustbin. A persistent fear was the fire alarm.

The road to West Didsbury

After determination by his family, April 1986 saw Stuart embark on a four-day assessment at Ewing School in West Didsbury. The school specialised (and still does) in specialist provision for children with speech and language difficulties. His drawing skills and extraordinary memory was noticed after the four days. It was there where Stuart Vallantine was diagnosed with Semantic Pragmatic Language Disorder. This is now regarded as a form of high functioning form of Autism Spectrum Disorder alongside Asperger's Syndrome.

Stuart spent three happy years at Ewing School, between January 1987 and July 1990. The main facets of the school's curriculum included weekly outings to places within an hour's drive of Ewing, tea parties on a Friday afternoon and Tuesday swimming lessons. The first two facets of Ewing's curriculum were designed to enhance social skills. This was all in addition to the more serious educational side, including speech therapy, literacy and numeracy.

Unlike most schools, all teachers, apart from the headteacher and deputy headteacher were addressed on first name terms.

Into Mainstream Education and Further Education

The year 1990 saw a transition to secondary school education, where Stuart spent five years at All Saints R.C. High School in Dukinfield.

Despite generally good academic progress, considering the transition from special school to a mainstream comprehensive, Stuart experienced some verbal bullying. Most of this came from pupils in less organised lessons, such as P.E. and break-times.

Indecision and poor career advice led to Stuart joining an electronics Youth Training scheme in Ashton-under-Lyne. This decision was made after low GCSE grade expectations and a need to break away from All Saints, despite pleas to join the Sixth Form college. After receiving 4 GCSE grades between A* - C, Stuart opted for the BTEC National Certificate option of the programme.

In April 1996, his Youth Training provider moved to Tameside College. This led to greater resources, though problems existed between fellow trainees and college students. Stuart completed his first year of the BTEC course with promising results. The following year seemed promising.

Alas this wasn't to be, with a change of tutor and teaching style hampering Stuart's efforts to complete year two with respectable results. On the Youth Training front, it had taken till February 1997 for Stuart Vallantine to gain a suitable placement. After odd jobs helping students and working with computers, Stuart finally got a place with the administration department of the School of Engineering and Automotive Technology. No permanent job came of this.

Unemployed, Stuart continued further education on a part-time basis, doing courses in Desk-Top-Publishing and Media. Between 1997 - 98, Stuart was qualified to NVQ Level 2 in Desk-Top-Publishing. Between 1998 - 2000, Stuart successfully gained a GNVQ Advanced in Media, Communication and Production.

Entering the World of Work through Revolving Doors

Joining the Labour Government's much vaunted New Deal scheme, Stuart began what became a two and a half year association with Groundwork in Tameside. This came about through two one year terms under the New Deal scheme (February 1999 - February 2000 and September 2000 - September 2001), interrupted by unemployment and augmented by some voluntary work, including a 13 week Prince's Trust Volunteers programme.

The course included community projects, fundraising, outdoor pursuits and organising a presentation. The latter included skills which would later prove useful in the format and running of public speaking engagements. On finishing the course, Stuart began what started off a week long, though grew into a 3 week interview skills course. Ironically, he spent most of the period in job interviews!

On finishing the interview skills course came a recommendation by a fellow member of my Prince's Trust team, over the Millennium Volunteers scheme. Stuart joined the Millennium Volunteers, doing over 200 hours voluntary work for NK Theatre Arts, a long established youth theatre group. During this placement, Stuart designed tickets and posters and gained familiarity with the 347 from Ashton to Haughton Green.

Joining the Self Reclamation Society

In spite of a wealth of experience, Stuart spent most of 2001 and 2002 looking for work. After countless interviews and three weeks total stay at jobsearch workshops, Stuart was unemployed for the whole of 2002. Despite gaining a permanent unsubsidised job in December 2002, the position wasn't effective till January 2003.

The total stay of three weeks in interview techniques workshop conditions led to a change in outlook for Stuart. Staff had realised his quirks. His time in those three weeks saw an average of three interviews a week, though no success. One telephone call to an employer resulted in no reply.

A word, unheard for several years began to haunt Stuart. That was 'autism', following a 'phone call from his mother and an appointment with his then New Deal adviser. This was followed by reading several books on autistic spectrum disorders and an appointment, in November 2002, which marked a turning point in fortunes.

The appointment was a meeting from a representative of 'Prospects', an employment scheme in Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool and Sheffield, sponsored by the National Autistic Society. This came about after efforts to gain work experience with Skill Solution (the former Manchester TEC) and media industry employers stalled. Coincidentally, on that same Thursday, his auntie Catherine, during a dental appointment read an article on Asperger Syndrome and thought "That's Stuart!".

A period of self affirmation came about. Stuart ceased to bother being a carbon copy of other people, as his individuality emerged. This came about through writing poetry, originally conceived as an annexe to his visual works.

In 2005, Stuart has sought diagnosis for Asperger Syndrome or similar autism spectrum disorders. It was concluded that Stuart didn't fit the criteria of Asperger Syndrome, according to the DSM-IV, ICD 10 criteria. Instead, he was diagnosed as an 'autistic cousin' - the higher end of High Functioning Autism - or 'atypical autism'. This now sits alongside the 1986 diagnosis of Semantic Pragmatic Language Disorder.

A job at last!

On January 2003, Stuart began his new job with a leading search engine consultants in central Manchester. His role involved specifying recommendations for websites hoping to gain top ten positions on the main search engines, including Yahoo!, Google and MSN. After the Spring Bank Holiday of 2009, he was made redundant after 6 years. A few days later, he found a similar role with an Altrincham based search engine consultancy. This appointment wasn't as lengthy as the previous one. By the middle of February 2011 he was made redundant, this time due to company restructuring.

In recent years, this has changed with greater emphasis on building new XHTML and CSS coded websites. Stuart has also gained expertise in cross-browser compatibility, now able to create interoperable websites for use in Firefox, Opera, Safari, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer (from IE6 upwards). Other areas have included Web 2.0 and Google AdWords optimisation techniques and work with content management systems.

Artistic developments and public speaking

From 2003 to 2007, Stuart was been involved in a local writing group, 'People's Performance'. With this group, Stuart had performed his own works and began to gain some recognition. The poetry continues to co-exist with his visual work. One poem on proposed cinema closures made the local press in August 2003. An anthology, 'Poetry Live' was released in 2005, with the audio anthology 'People Perform Poetry' a year later.

Photography is playing an increased role in his artistic development as well as poetry. Since 2005, public speaking has become a growth area.

Stuart has read examples of his poetry at five lectures hosted by Donna Williams. The first one took place at Sunfield School in May 2005, which led to a further engagement the following year on the 1st March, and a second one in Sheffield. September 19th 2007 saw Stuart granted a seven minute slot at Donna Williams' Manchester lecture.

On the 1st March 2006, Stuart had a successful thirty minute soiree on his creative endeavours at Sunfield School in Lower Clent, Worcestershire. This was part of a special event entitled "Asperger's Syndrome: A Celebration Day". Stuart shared the bill with four other speakers including Wendy Lawson.

On the strength of the Sunfield lecture, Stuart was invited to participate in three lectures on the outskirts of Bolton. The first three months of 2007 saw him gain three 45 minute slots as part of a series of lectures relating to special educational needs. These took place at Bolton Arena, just outside Horwich.

He has also contributed to a book on Asperger Syndrome and Employment. Edited by Genevieve Edmonds and Luke Beardon, the book, entitled 'Asperger Syndrome and Employment: Adults with Asperger Syndrome Speak Out' was released in March 2008 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

The year 2008 alone also saw Stuart perform at two of Donna's lectures in Burnley and Aintree on the same day. The following year saw 'The Travelling Poet' do the same in Wrexham, Doncaster and Middlesbrough.

Whereas speaking engagements seem to have dried up, his writing has been in the ascendancy. His blog has seen greater success, offering unrivalled coverage on Tameside bus service changes among more irreverent articles of a local nature. An article on The Picc-Vic Project was published in an issue of 'The Shrieking Violet' magazine with a treatise on the 343 route set to hit bookshelves. The latter forms part of a future book entitled 'Bus Pass Britain' edited by Susanne Kries and Nicky Gardner, featuring contributions by several other bus fanatics.

The Future

Since 1979, Stuart has changed considerably, with the greatest strides being made since 2003. One journey was long and tiresome. A second one is about to begin, though to where remains to be seen. With public speaking engagements winning audience approval, this is a most possible one.