Hidden disabilities: Joseph Delaney

Iriss.fm, Episode 185
Published on 26 Jul 2017

Michael McEwan speaks to Joseph Delaney about growing up with a 'hidden disability'.

Joseph is on the autistic spectrum and tells us about his life experiences, and his journey to getting his music degree at university and working at Limelight Music.

Date of recording
Audio transcript

JD - Joseph Delaney
MM - Michael McEwan

MM Ok, now on Iriss.fm on this series of Hidden Disabilities, we are going to be talking to Joseph Delaney. Joseph is on the autistic spectrum and Joseph is going to speak about his ups and downs of his journey. So, thanks Joseph for joining us. The first question, when did you become aware that you might be different?

JD Well when I went to mainstream primary school it was discovered I had a moderate learning disability, but even long before that, when I was in nursery school I had a short concentration span so I could only focus on something for a couple of minutes, then I would be away to something else. In saying all that, when it came to music I wanted to be around the piano all the time and that was the only thing I focused on. When I went to St Mary's Nursery they had a piano there and I was always focusing on that. 

MM So, let's go on and speak about school then, how do you feel about not going to a mainstream school?

JD At the time I did feel different because I knew all my pals at school were going to the mainstream high school and I was going to a special school and that was hard to take, but at the same time, as I said before, I feel I have missed out on a lot, my education and different subjects. There is so much now that I want to know and other people know it because they went to a mainstream school, so I feel as if I've missed out on my education in lots of ways. 

MM I take it your confidence was hit by that as well?

JD Yeh. 

MM Yeh. So, how were the schools that you went to? First of all, let's speak about your primary school, how was that?

JD Well the only way I can sum it up is, every day was a bad day because I couldn't do the work, so I fell behind, couldn't do my maths, couldn't do the times tables like the rest of the class. So, I was lacking a lot in confidence, low self-esteem, so it was a struggle and a misery for me every day. 

MM So, you didn't want to be there?

JD No. 

MM So, did you try to say to your mum and dad that you didn't want to be at that school?

JD It wasn't so much that, it was, I went to school even though I knew it was a bad day and every other day was going to be a bad day, I still went to school because I knew I had to go, but I had depression from an early age because I couldn't do my work so I was feeling depressed a lot. 

MM And did you mix with other kids in school?

JD I remember once some of my pals in my class made me part of the company, playing football with them, and then when I was scoring goals they would be jumping on top of me and saying that's great, trying to build my self-esteem up, but most other times I was on my own in the playground because I didn't know how to interact with people. So, that was a struggle for me because sometimes you want to be part of a group, and it's not that you don't want to mix, you don't know how to interact with people. 

MM And then you moved on to secondary school, was that the same?

JD Secondary school was different, that's when I got my special ED teacher there and I got encouraged and told I was an asset to the school, the head teacher told my parents that, Carol Jackson. On saying that, going to a special school I was bullied, and I wasn't expecting that to happen when I went to that school but it did happen and I found a lot of it was jealousy because I was good at music and that's why I was bullied by someone in my class, you know? So, that was hard to take as well and bullying is not nice and sometimes they need to be put in their place, otherwise it just keeps going on and it doesn't stop and that didn't go on, thank God it didn't go on, I put a stop to it. 

MM So, did you do your exams and all that when you were at school? How was it?

JD I did a food hygiene exam, that's the only exam I ever did at Glenburn. That's why I was saying that I missed out on a lot of education because, even though I was bright in lots of ways, I was classed as, well Joseph is the same as everyone else in his class, whereas, they didn't stop to think that I could achieve a lot more. So, I was treated like everyone else. The teachers may disagree with me, but I think it was wrong. They may think it was right for me to be treated like everyone else, but I think it was, they should have looked at it more and encouraged me more. That's how you find out what you are good at and what you are not good at, by encouraging someone. 

MM So, if you look back now, would you say that you would be comfortable and you would get the right support at a mainstream school? If you had to look back 10 years ago or whatever?

JD So now you mean? I think now I would have got the support, yeh, because things are a lot different now. My nephew, they are talking about sending him to Craigmarloch in Port Glasgow and there is so much support, now, for people with a disability or who are autistic, they help and support them. So, yeh, if I was going to re-live it again I would get the support. 

MM I just wanted to ask one question before we move on with the interview, do you think that society has moved forward now in terms of people with a disability, whereas, years ago they would say, well Joseph's got a learning disability, we should send them to a disability school instead of a mainstream high school?

JD Well I think these days people should be given a chance to go to a mainstream school now, because of the extra support that is out there now. They should be given a chance and they shouldn't be saying, the school shouldn't be saying to them, "you're going to Craigmarloch or Kersland in Paisley", you should be given a chance to go to mainstream school. 

MM So, you finished school, did they encourage you to go on to university?

JD No. they didn't even encourage me, at Glenburn, to go on to James Watt to do a mainstream course in music, that was International Certificate. So, at the review meeting was my careers officer and ( unclear) from Enable, my mum and myself, but my teacher that I had didn't encourage me and was worried that I wouldn't get through it, but here I am today and I have an HND and a degree in music and passed all my exams at James Watt, so never say never. 

MM You mentioned your HND in music, I want to speak about that, because you then moved on from school to university, so what did you do there?

JD At university I was involved with Celtic music, Jazz music, doing recitals at the end of the year. We went on a weekend with the orchestra to play and then the rest was all written work, music history music composition, recording using mixing desks and recording music. I failed in the first year and went back to do the recording again and passed that, just passed and no more, and that got me into the second year of university and then eventually graduated with a degree in music. 

MM I take it you wanted to go back to the school and say, "look what I achieved and you said I couldn't do that"?

JD Yeh, well my photograph is up in the school, hopefully it is still up in the school. I've got 2 photos, one of my HND and one of my degree, and that was up in the school but I am hoping now that's it's up in Craigmarloch, so they are aware that I have done exceedingly well in music. 

MM You went to university, did you get any support? Anyone to one support?

JD They provided me with an Apple Mac and they mentored me once a week. In the first year, they put in place a mentor and then it was a different mentor the second year and I had a disability advisor that I could go to, to help with essays and spelling and grammar and how to present essays. So, that was a great support to me when I was at uni, to help me through it, because if I had been doing essays on my own without the help I may have struggled a bit, I would have got there but I probably would have struggled and, again, that's because I didn't have a proper education or I would have learned all these things about spelling and grammar and how to present things. 

MM Do you feel as though because you got on that autism, Asperger's spectrum and you went to uni, did that hold you back at all or were you determined not to have it hold you back?

JD Yeh, I didn't let it hold me back because I was just determined. 

MM That's good, yeh. 

JD Not to prove a point about, look at me, but I was just determined to get there and even when I was at college, I was determined to pass my music log and I had failed it about 3 times or something, and I was determined. Eventually I passed that module but I was determined. 

MM I bet you come up against people saying, well how did you do that if you have a disability? Because I know, myself, a lot of people say you can't do that because you have a disability, you can't play music or you can't be a football coach or whatever, because you have a disability. Did people say that, not in that kind of way but were they kind of hinting that?

JD Not really, no, they never really said anything to me. 

MM And your family were supportive?

JD Yeh, they were supportive of me going to a special needs school and my sister was supportive, that I had to go there for my own good, you know, otherwise I'd have gone to a mainstream school and been put in the bottom of the class, that was my sisters concern for me. She didn't want to see that happening to me. 

MM Before we go on and speak about what you are doing today, let's go on and speak about your diagnosis of the spectrum, because you said to me that you weren't fully diagnosed?

JD I was never diagnosed with any, being autistic, no. Recently, a few years ago, I wanted a diagnosis and went to my doctor and was told that I had a degree so why get a diagnosis? So, I didn't continue researching it and trying to get one because there is no point because I have come on-- so much in my life, in different areas, so there is no need for a diagnosis, but I was never diagnosed from the beginning. 

MM Do you ever wonder sometimes, why did I do that? Do you not bother about things like that?

JD Well, when I was younger I had a lot of obsessions but I wasn't thinking, I'm autistic until it was pointed out to me by my teacher, who specialised in that, in autism. I think I kind of planted it in my brain after I was told that, because you can start to get obsessed about, oh I have to tell people about that, they need to know this. They don't need to know it. It's not like everyone I meet and interviews I go for and assessments I have got to tell them that, I don't need to tell them because I'm not diagnosed so there is no need to mention it. 

MM So let's speak about now, you have got a job and you work for an organisation based in Glasgow, called Limelight Music. First of all, before you tell us what is the organisation that you work for, how did you get involved in them?

JD I first got involved with Limelight, well it was known as Sounds of Progress, but at the time it was through Enable Scotland and Catherine Hurl, who worked there at the time in the Greenock office for Enable, got me into Sounds of Progress and that day I went to see her my mum and my sister were with me and we were talking about the possibility of me getting a job in McDonalds. If you are caught eating and it's not your lunch break then you are out, so then my sister had put the point across to Catherine about music and then that's when she came up with getting involved with a band for people with disabilities or learning impairments and she took me up to the Devolve Centre in Port Glasgow, which is lying dormant now. I went up there and the band met on a Wednesday morning, so I went up with Catherine and went in and that's where I met my director, Gordon, and the rest of the band and I played an Elton John song, that was my audition, and I was accepted into the band. I was really happy in the band and then I joined the Glasgow band and went on to touring Romania, Israel, Germany and it was some experience. 

MM So that was then, this is now, and you are still involved. So, tell us about the projects you have been involved in, first of all let's speak about the school's project because I know this organisation and stuff, when you are in the organisation you forget that, you know, Joseph or Michael, people with disability, that's what I like about it. 

JD Right so, when I went into school and nurseries, I have just finished that project, doing nursery, and that was as a mute tutor, playing guitar and helping to lead the kids in nursery and school but most of the time I would be telling stories, with the autistic unit at Toryglen, I was there for 2 years and I worked with the autistic unit there just as a story teller. Most of the time I would be in the background just playing guitar and helping out. 

MM Then you moved on to perform in the Steamie, tell us a bit about that. 

JD So, the Steamie was a great experience for me with Tony Roper, I had the time of my life touring and going to different theatres and going to Eden Court in Inverness, and McRobert and so on, it was a great time. Staying over, having a good laugh with the actors, and I came on so much musically as well doing that tour and hopefully I will find the time to help out in the 30th anniversary that starts in August. 

MM Then you did some pantomimes as well. 

JD The first pantomime I did was Jack and The Beanstalk, with Gordon and his wife, then I went on to do various other pantomimes in the Tron and I have also done the Johnny Thomson Story at the Kings, and that was a great experience for me as well with all the Celtic players shouting. 

MM Yeh. 

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