I won’t let Asperger’s hold me back on Africa challenge

Robbie Newton, Aspergers sufferer, who is going to Namibia
Robbie Newton, Aspergers sufferer, who is going to Namibia
Have your say

Travelling alone to Namibia to teach is a challenge that many young people would find daunting.

But one student from Edinburgh is planning to do just that, despite the fact he has Asperger syndrome, a type of autism which makes it more difficult to deal with change and social interactions.

Robbie Newton, 20, is currently fundraising to pay for the 17,880km round trip to Windhoek, where he will teach youngsters, lead sporting activities and carry out odd jobs.

Mr Newton, from South Gyle, is no stranger to youth work, having already carried out around 1000 hours of voluntary work with young people in the Capital.

But coping with the uncertainties of his trip will be a greater challenge for him than for most volunteers.

Mr Newton said his challenge would start the moment he set off on the trip next August. “In terms of the different challenges, getting over there is one of them. It’s difficult enough for people without Asperger’s to plan plane journeys and stuff all on their own, but for someone with Asperger syndrome the possibility of having to stay in a foreign airport overnight where you don’t know anybody and you don’t quite know what’s happening can be intimidating.”

He said he also expected to find it hard to get enough sleep during the journey if he became anxious and to adjust to the heat on arriving, as well as dealing with a whole slew of face-to-face interactions. He said: “If I’m going to have to change between gates it could be quite challenging to work out where it is and getting help from the airport staff, it can be hard to ask strangers for help.

“I have connections with the people I’ll be working with, but the majority of people I won’t know. When you couple that with it being a different environment, it’s going to be difficult.”

However, he is better equipped to deal with the challenge than he was just a few years ago, after receiving regular help from the National Autistic Society.

A support worker from the charity meets with him weekly in Stirling, where he is studying for a degree in sociology and criminology. Mr Newton said: “Just a chat is a very good support because it means that I can get more experience chatting to people, which helps socialisation. It’s definitely been a help.”

Dr Robert Moffat, national director of the National Autistic Society Scotland, praised Mr Newton for the great strides he had made. He said: “Robbie is a great example of how the right help at the right time can make an enormous difference to people with autism.”