My life as performer with a learning difficulty

Guest post from Cian Binchy, a 25-year-old writer and performer from London who has autism. His one-man show, The Misfit Analysis, premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe festival last month.

If somebody asked me, ‘Can you describe autism?’ I would say that question doesn’t make sense. Everyone experiences autism in a different way, and at the end of the day, I can only really describe my own autism.

Cian, a young man wearing a Beatles T-shirt, on a London street
Cian in Dalston, London, last month

When you have Asperger’s syndrome, you are on the very, very able end of autism and in many ways you’re almost like everyone else. But there’s just something little in you that is stopping you, and singles you out from other people. It’s very frustrating.

People think if you’ve got ‘high functioning’ autism you can cope in any situation, and that’s not true at all. I’m always struggling.

I became a performer because I want to educate people about the struggles that people in my position go through.

I want to entertain people, but I also want to make them think. I want people to really experience some of my art and some of the stuff that goes through my mind – and for people to be a bit more understanding of the kind of issues that people with autism have.

My show at the Edinburgh Fringe

The Misfit Analysis is basically about the struggles that I’ve had with autism, particularly as a young adult between 16 and 20 – not having much luck with going to colleges or getting work; failing to have a relationship.

It’s not really a straightforward play; it’s more of a performance, if that makes sense. There is audience participation, there are some videos, but predominantly it is a one-man show.

It’s humorous. It’s dark. It’s a bit twisted. It’s unorthodox. It’s funny. It’s a bit sad. It’s a bit scary. It’s educational. It’s thought-provoking. And it’s all based on my own experiences.

You’re either going to be laughing your head off or be freaked out!

I hope it’ll help people learn that autism is quite unpredictable and complicated, and that you can never be an expert on autism. I would like them to do a bit of research on autism and maybe get more involved in it – and take autism out of the ghetto, bring it into the mainstream.

Because a performer with a learning difficulty, I am in a minority within a minority. There are many disabled performers, but hardly any that actually have a learning difficulty.

Disabled people in the arts

Unfortunately, the performance art world is a very tough place for anyone, especially people with learning difficulties.

Cian sitting on the floor next to a wheelchair, holding a toy windmill and a tragedy mask
Cian in a promotional shot for The Misfit Analysis

I was a consultant on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time at the National Theatre, basically teaching the lead actor, Luke Treadaway, how to behave like someone who is autistic.

He was really good, but the sad thing is that often people who actually have got autism don’t really get a chance to perform. They don’t get a chance to go to a decent drama school; they don’t get the right education for that kind of performance. I actually wasn’t even getting paid for doing this work.

Whereas when you see me perform, it’s real. In my show I am actually performing my own disability – so when you see me, and when you see the kind of stuff I do, like spinning a tin opener, it’s real. It’s not just an act.

Cian is working with Access All Areas, a theatre company which produces work by disabled artists. Read a review of his show in the Guardian here.