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Thursday March 27 2014

HERALD AND NEWS Visit www.getsurrey.co.uk for more information

www.getsurrey.co.uk

FEATURE

Fixing people was easy, but the rest of life was a mystery
When Vaughan Bowen was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, the debilitating social anxiety which had skewed his life was suddenly explained. Here he explains how, just a few months later, the discovery of a Herald report into his fathers inquest 60 years ago proved just as revelatory
SIXTY years ago on March 5, 1954, the Surrey Herald & News contained a column recording the proceedings of the coroners inquest into my fathers sudden, and unexpected, death by suicide. All the witnesses were taken by surprise. Why? And why did the reporter keep using the word anxiety , yet the coroner indicated that the multiple anxieties were trivial . The factual evidence made no sense. No one understood why he died. I knew nothing of any of this until a year ago when I discovered a sealed envelope that my mother, who passed away in 2007, has left for me. It contained old documents from 1954. Time brings change. The world moves on. Medical science expands with new knowledge. My mother continued to live in Walton. I spent my childhood in boarding school in Hertfordshire. It was a lonely, tough existence. I was always a bit different. Someone once said I was a strange child . I had special interests in geography and flute but trains were my big thing. I excelled at school work but was too uncoordinated for sport. I could run but I did not understand the complexities of team games. I have some invisible difficulties that make it difficult to interact socially and to sometimes appear odd . I have difficulty understanding facial expression, body language and tone of voice. I am poor at starting and ending conversation. I take language very literally and have great difficulty with emotions. I do not know what others are thinking so I sometimes get it all wrong . I have remarkable ability when it comes to non-verbal reasoning, abstract problem solving, special reasoning and visual/motor capabilities. I am well adapted. My special abilities make me ideally suited to orthopaedic surgery. I am funny about textures, sounds and other sensory stimulation. I have to be careful not to get overwhelmed with too much sensory input. This can lead to flooding , which, if allowed to escalate, can have serious consequences. I have lived a double life. Outside observers have seen a great success story. I obtained a medical degree from a good university. I can fly an aircraft. I am a competitive duathlete. People like me and do not realise I am uncomfortable socially. I live in Canada. I find life less complex there and my apparent eccentricities are tolerated and attributed to me being British . Fixing broken people is easy for me. I have had a very successful career. Other aspects of life, however, have been a mystery: unpredictable and difficult to interpret. I had severe depression in my 20s. My wife, an operating room nurse, has looked

Autism Awareness Day: Diagnosed two years ago with Asperger Syndrome Vaughan Bowen then realised the shocking

Rev Clifford Bowen, curate in charge of St Johns Church in Walton in 1954.

after me well and been a great mother for our two adopted children. We have moved from one university job to another, apparently climbing the academic ladder but, more likely, attempting to pacify my social anxiety. Anxiety has been my perpetual life partner. A few months before I found my mothers sealed envelope I had a crisis in my life and was evaluated psychologically. I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, one of the autism spectrum disorders. My life suddenly made sense. Now I also understood one of my brothers, who also appeared odd . He has it too. Anxiety is a common co-morbidity and a big problem. Did my father have this? Is this the answer to why? Asperger Syndrome was unknown to the English speaking world until 1981. Neither the coroner nor any of the other parties involved would have known about it in 1954. Asperger Syndrome is an invisible neurodevelopmental disorder. The wiring of the brain is different from the majority of the population. Affected people tend to have intense special interests and can have outstanding expertise but they struggle with social interaction. Social difficulties can to be covered up by logical reasoning and experience with life, but the process is time and energy consuming. Anxiety and depression are common co-morbidities. Social gaffs may be forgiven by others but worry the perpetrator. Life is difficult. Did my father have this condition? He is gone and cannot be tested. There is now no one else alive to question. There is, however, a trail of quite strong circumstantial evidence. He had special interests into which he threw himself with all his energy. Two of

Fixing broken people is easy for me: Vaughan Bowen, who has Asperger Syndrome, at work as an orthopaedic surgeon in Canada. his sons have Asperger Syndrome, a condition mostly seen in males and which can be familial. He was bothered by anxiety, emphasised in the 1954 Herald column but described as trivial by the coroner. There is also some evidence that he struggled with social situations and emotional thought, although was successful at covering this up. Flooding is a horrible experience. It can happen suddenly and out of the blue . It may be caused by trivial anxieties that become inappropriately magnified. The brain cannot cope and ceases to function properly. Nowadays, with the autism spectrum disorders being diagnosed in children, flooding is anticipated and managed by time out in a quiet non-stimulating environment. None of this was known in 1954. We will never know for sure but, in my opinion, there is strong circumstantial evidence that my father had Asperger Syndrome and flooding was the cause of his death. To many it may no longer really matter. For those that remember, however, this explanation is important. The fact that there is a likely medical explanation for what happened is vindication for an act considered to be almost unforgivable at the time. What happened was no ones fault. I have found peace in this knowledge. I hope my mother, in her final resting place, has also, at last, been able to discover the truth.

www.getsurrey.co.uk

HERALD AND NEWS

Thursday March 27 2014 Visit www.getsurrey.co.uk for more information

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FEATURE

suicide of his father 60 years ago may have been rooted in the disorder now he wants more research into adult diagnosis

At last I understand and I am able to forgive


VAUGHAN Bowen was only a child when his father, a priest at St Johns Church in Walton, committed suicide on February 26, 1954. A report of the inquest and the coroner's verdict was published in the Herald & News on March 5. Nearly 60 years later, Mr Bowen was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, and the discovery made him question the details surrounding his fathers death. He spoke to news editor Amy Taylor ahead of Autism Awareness Day on Wednesday about how his understanding of the condition has helped him to put the past to rest.
AT Chertsey Court House on Monday, Dr J Murray Robertson, coroner for West Surrey, conducted an inquest into the circumstances connected with the tragic death of the Rev Clifford Bowen, curatein-charge of St Johns, Ambleside, Walton, who was found dead in the kitchen at the rear of his church the previous Wednesday, as recorded in our last issue. So began the newspaper report in the Herald & News on March 5, 1954, recording the suicide of Vaughan Bowens father. At the time, no explanation was given to his sons, and it wasnt until last year that Vaughan Bowen learned the truth about how his father died, after finding newspaper cuttings and photographs in a sealed envelope at his mothers house. The reporter described the who, what, when, where and how very clearly, Vaughan said. But why was not revealed. Why did this occur? This death, according to your reporters article, was unexpected and appeared to make no sense to anyone at the time. This has bothered me. I think it bothered a lot of people at the time. Although most have now passed on, there are still some who remember and who do not understand. The newspaper article continued: Evidence of identification was given by Mrs Nora Bowen, the widow, of 49 Dudley Road, Walton, who said her husband had complained of having been overworking. He had been doing a lot of work for the parish and the new church. As far as his life at home was concerned, he was perfectly happy and there was no reason for what had taken place. She last saw him on Wednesday morning when he went out apparently to do some visiting. He was then quite normal. She expected him home to lunch. He had never said anything about having contemplated taking his life. The coroner said that Mr Bowen had been curate at Walton and had done a great deal of fine work for the parish and perhaps to some extent, sad as it might appear, that seemed to be one of the reasons for this tragedy. There was no doubt from the note he was a person who had taken to heart a great many things, which in themselves were of no serious consequence but which had accumulated and worried him and caused him to take that action. Now, 60 years later, Vaughan believes he understands the motive behind his fathers death. His discovery marks the end of a turbulent time personally, which saw him diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 2012. His own experience has led him to the conclusion that his father, too, was autistic, and would have benefited from the treatment and help he himself has received. The world has advanced in the 60 years since you published this article, he said. Things have changed. Clifford Bowens four young sons grew up. Modern medical discoveries have enabled two of them to be recently diagnosed with a familial disorder, usually passed down through the male side of a family. One of them, myself, became a physician, an academic, a university professor. I have intensely studied this condition, which is not in my own field of expertise, spurred on by my need to try to understand what happened to my father. We will never be able to test my father, so there will never be hard evidence, but there is very strong circumstantial evidence that he had the same developmental disorder as his two sons. If this is true, and I believe this is the case, it would amply explain the unanswered question why? He has struggled with the knowledge of his fathers suicide. He suffered severe depression in 1976, and says that now, in hindsight, he knows the psychiatrist who looked after him knew there was something else about me . Asperger Syndrome was not known in the English speaking world at that time. I had another depression in 2012. This time they knew. With Autism Awareness Day on April 2, and people across the world coming together to go blue for autism, Vaughan wants to speak out. Using his clinical background, he has set himself the task of raising awareness through research about autism in adults. Almost all the published literature on autism, especially the medical literature, concentrates on children, he said. Autism in adults is a topic that has recently been publicised a little in novels. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, which was showing as a play, received publicity with the ceiling tragedy at the theatre just before Christmas. The currently popular novel The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, could almost be my biography. It shows, very realistically, what it is like to live with Asperger Syndrome and is so true to reality that I have wondered who Graeme Simsion really is. His own diagnosis has given him a fresh look at his fathers life, and death and he said he wanted the final chapter of the story to be printed where it began, in the Herald & News. At last I have found peace, he said. Now I understand what happened to my father. I no longer have to think that what he did was a crime, bad, hateful or selfish. Someone said that suicide is the ultimate selfish deed. Maybe it sometimes is. I believe my father, however, was likely having an episode of severe Asperger flooding at the time of his death. If this is the case, he would not have been able to help himself and would not have been able to fully comprehend the issues or consequences of his actions. He was someone who needed help. At last I am able to understand and I have been able to forgive. The article in the Herald and News on March 5, 1954. Its discovery nearly 60 years later changed ended a lifetime of anguish for Rev Bowens son, Vaughan.

Vaughan Bowens father was a priest at St Johns Church and he took his own life in the kitchen there in 1954.