Thomas plots his journey through life in new book

PUBLISHED: 10:38 12 January 2018

Author Thomas Clements teaching in China

Author Thomas Clements teaching in China


People with autism are as unalike as people without it.

Author Thomas Clements teaching in ChinaAuthor Thomas Clements teaching in China

Thomas Clements, 29, has written a book about his version of the condition called The Autistic Buddha.

The book is also a travel book because, having a gift for languages, he taught himself Mandarin and German and spent time in Germany and China.

When Thomas lived abroad, he says he felt less at odds with life than when he lived at home in Essex because all the other ex-pats were outsiders too.

They were all in the same boat, learning how things were done in a foreign country - except when Thomas was at home in Great Sampford that felt strange too.

Thomas Clements with his book on making sense of a Thomas Clements with his book on making sense of a "chaotic, incomprehensible universe"

Some autistic people are blissfully unaware of their condition but Thomas saw that it limited what he could do and has over the years been severely depressed about it.

One of his chapter headings is: No Man is an Island but some of us are drowning.

At the end of university, he started a job as a teacher in China because he was too ashamed to tell his parents that he had missed so much work that he wouldn’t be getting a degree.

He told them he couldn’t be at the degree ceremony because he would be abroad and his father drove him to the airport.

Autistic BuddhaAutistic Buddha

Eventually, he found peace through meditation and Buddhism and his book, The Autistic Buddha is subtitled My Unconventional Path to Enlightenment.

He has dedicated the book to his parents, Maria and Phil, and his grandmother Dorothy, for their patience and support.

He is currently writing a second book, about his travels in China and his father Phil has designed the cover.

The Autistic Buddha describes Thomas’s early fascination with travel. As a child living in Epping, devouring copies of National Geographic magazine, he would take the Central Line to Soho and glory in Chinatown, particularly the food. When later he went to China, he enjoyed the authentic version of those dishes.

In China, he ventured into the rural south where he says his Mandarin was useless. “They spoke in rough, choppy dialects that were unintelligible to many of their fellow Chinese. Away from the high-rises and the shopping malls, this was the real China, the way 60 per cent of Chinese still lived in poverty, eking out a living by labouring under the auspices of unscrupulous and exploitative contractors.”

He writes: “I shared a carriage with three, chain-smoking men in leather hats. They were brutally ugly but friendly, and not in the least hostile to the unexpected intrusion of a foreign devil or gweilo (ghost) as they say in Cantonese.

“For 18 very long hours, we chugged along at nearly a crawl on our conspicuously low-tech locomotive through wet, luscious fields of bamboo, over fast-moving silt-infused rivers and through dense, sub-tropical woodland.”

In Germany, as part of his university year abroad, he had a nervous breakdown and spent time in a psychiatric ward - not something most tourists get to see, or most Germans.

Eventually, he felt he was becoming institutionalised and discharged himself.

He realised that to feel better, he has to find something within himself, it was not going to come through counselling or a tablet. The book traces an arc in how Thomas feels and manages his condition.

He copes best as a teenager before university when he is living at home, cycling six miles to and from Fyfield to work at a holiday home for dogs and eating his mum’s home-cooked food. He then goes to university and cannot cope with the noise, the nonsense and the parties.

After university, he travels through China and, though he has a lot of adventures that other authors would kill for, again leaves in a hurry.

But by the end of the book, he says he has found a way to come to peace with his condition by giving himself space to think and concentrating on being kind to other people. He says there is no quick fix, if you seek one, he quotes an Eastern philosopher who says “You’re forever a donkey with a carrot suspended in front of it”.

The Autistic Buddah, price £7.50, published by YSM (Your Stories Matter) is at Harts Bookshop, Saffron Walden, or Amazon

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