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TX: 16.05.05 - Asperger's Mastermind

PRESENTERS: JOHN WAITE AND PETER WHITE

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WAITE
The new series of Junior Mastermind begins on BBC TV tonight and one of the 20 contestants who won through to take part is 11-year-old Andrew Cowan from Glasgow. Andrew attends Mount Florida Primary School there, his specialist subject is the Star Wars trilogy and he has Asperger's Syndrome, which is a form of autism. In a moment we'll hear from Andrew and the programme's presenter - John Humphrys. But first, Professor Simon Baron Cohen, an expert on autism and Asperger's, is delivering Cambridge University's annual disability lecture this evening in which he'll question the traditional view that Asperger's Syndrome is a disability.

BARON COHEN
Well the classic view of disability is that you focus on what the person has difficulty with, what the person can't do as well as others. And what this ignores of course is that people are a mix of both strengths and weaknesses and in the case of Asperger's Syndrome this is very much the case, that although they have difficulties with socialising and communicating, they often have skills which can be not just average but even above average and this is in the area of having strong narrow interests in particular topics. Very much the kind of thing that you would need for Mastermind.

WAITE
So those with Asperger's have special needs but that doesn't follow that they are disabled?

BARON COHEN
Well they have special needs because they have trouble forming social relationships and they do need help in overcoming that sense of isolation, which can otherwise lead to depression.

WAITE
But if you say we should concentrate on people's abilities rather than their inabilities, won't that mean that people with Asperger's don't get the support they need for the special needs they surely have?

BARON COHEN
I would hate for that to be the conclusion. I think people with Asperger's Syndrome do need support and often it's only after the diagnosis that the financial benefits and the extra support in the classroom follows.

WAITE
So bearing in mind then the strengths - the mental strengths of someone with Asperger's - how do you think young Andrew is going to get on this week taking part in Junior Mastermind?

BARON COHEN
Well as I understand Mastermind you have the choice to propose your particular topic that you want questions on, I think someone with Asperger's Syndrome would do very well in that particular circumstance. I think there's another part of Mastermind where it's sort of general knowledge and there probably he might just do as well as any other contestant.

WAITE
Professor Simon Baron Cohen. So young Master Cowan looks set to do well perhaps in the new series of Junior Mastermind, Peter White has been speaking to the 11-year-old, his mum Carol and the show's celebrated inquisitor John Humphrys about Andrew's appearance on the programme.

MASTERMIND THEME TUNE

ACTUALITY
HUMPHRYS
And our next contender please. And your name is?

COWAN
Andrew.

HUMPHRYS
And you come from?

COWAN
Glasgow.

HUMPHRYS
And your chosen subject?

COWAN
The Star War trilogy.

HUMPHRYS
Star Wars trilogy, two minutes starting now. In the prologue to A New Hope what name is given to the ultimate weapon of the empire?

COWAN
I watched it at a really young age and it just really stuck in my mind, like the classic story between good and evil.

CAROL COWAN
When his brother Rory was born he got three Star Wars books as a little present from his mum and dad and his little brother and he was reading them himself, now he wasn't even at school at that age. So it was before he was four actually that he started developing an interest.

ACTUALITYHUMPHRYSAt the beginning of Return of the Jedi who is holding Hans Solo captive?

COWAN
It's a very comfortable chair and with the contestant chairs and [indistinct words] .. they're swivel chairs, but you're not allowed to swivel, I still did a little bit though.

WHITE
And what was John Humphrys like because some adults find him quite scary?

COWAN
With the politicians. He's okay, as long as you're not a politician.

ACTUALITYHUMPHRYSOn Dagobah when Luke explores the swampy wood he meets himself dressed as which character?

WHITE
Now one of the things about Asperger's is that it's felt that people often don't react to stressful situations, now the whole point about Mastermind and Junior Mastermind is they're designed to be stressful situations.

HUMPHRYS
Precisely, the walk to the black chair and the silence and the threatening music and all of that. He was as cool as anybody I've ever seen on the programme, utterly relaxed, utterly unfazed, it was as though he was just popping out for an ice cream or something.

COWAN
It's not like an exam or things like that because it's something that I want to do, not something that I need to do. Also I was a little nervous, so I still just did it.

STAR WARS THEME TUNE

I just really wanted to do it to prove that not all Asperger's could - shouldn't be like institutionalised or anything and also I wanted a challenge that I could do.

ACTUALITYHUMPHRYSIn The Empire Strikes Back who saves C3PO from being incinerated in a junk pile and later carried him around on his back?

CAROL COWAN
Hopefully it will make people realise that there maybe reasons for people's behaviour that's out of their control and it doesn't necessarily mean that that person has to be excluded from society. Perhaps one of the reasons why I'm so proud of him doing this as well is because it will perhaps make more people aware of Asperger's and other forms of autism.

HUMPHRYS
We have a stand up man on the programme called Ted Robin, who's a brilliant stand up comedian, who is as quick as a flash and he's terribly funny and takes no prisoners and you know makes people fall about with laughter throughout the whole thing and he's a wonderful turn. And I've never seen him fazed, whatever anybody says to him he's got an instant reply. He tried to do something with Andrew, trying to get the audience to laugh obviously, and Andrew looked at him and said: "You're not funny, I can't really see the point of you." Ted Robins with 40 years of stand up behind him at the Glasgow Empire went psshh, like you'd stuck a pin in a balloon, he was utterly deflated.

MASTERMIND THEME TUNE

WAITE
So you can see how Andrew gets on braving the black chair this Thursday evening on BBC 1 at 7 o'clock and for Scottish viewers you can see Andrew doing his stuff on Wednesday evening at 7.30. 

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