World Autism Day 2020
I was supposed to be sharing my story on national TV today, but Covid-19 had other plans, so I thought I would share it on social media instead, in the hope that it touches someone, somewhere, on this most important of days.
Despite being undiagnosed, the traits of autism were visible from an early age, I would rarely be settled and demanded near constant attention, and that need for attention and affection only intensified as I developed, and my sister was welcomed into the world. A few years later, aged just nine, I was diagnosed with Autism.
Even at such a young age I would feel trapped, claustrophobic and deeply unhappy indoors, it just didn’t feel right and I would escape to the garden whenever the opportunity arose. Many happy hours were spent outside in all weathers exploring the garden, playing in the mud and watching the many creatures that called it home. These experiences fuelled a great respect for the world we call home, something so many children are now deprived of thanks to the modern, technologically- driven society we live in.
My love of the outside was further fuelled by our annual holiday to Weybourne Forest, Norfolk. These were family affairs with my mum, my sister Amie, Grandma, Grandad and my Uncle all joining me in a log cabin deep in the forest. Many hours would be spent resting my elbow on the windowsill, staring into the wilderness that existed the other side of the glass, and counting the concoction of dazzling colours. You see for a child with autism, a forest is never just a forest, it is a beautiful array of glistening greens, earthy browns, high-pitched squawks and laser-like beams of light fighting their way through the canopy. To me the forest was Earths heaven, a wonderland where I would feel undeniably happy, where I could forget about the hierarchical conflicts at home and where I could allow myself to dream.
School, on the other hand, was hell. I struggled with mainstream education, becoming the subject of relentless bullying and attempting to take my life for the first time, all at just 15 years old. I had been told I would never pass a GCSE or amount to anything and every day was a battle — the constant remarks, the stares and the utter inability for people to accept my differences made me feel like an alien and I subsequently tried to take my life a further four times.
The autistic brain is complex, it dances around from one thing to the next, never stops for a rest and always demands new, useful information and being laughed at for constantly reading about animals was a painful wake-up call, and knowing that I was no longer accepted for exploring my passion was scary. The high school I attended had a population of over 1,000 students, and I was placed in a form group of over 30 students none of whom bothered to even say hello – a scary prospect for a child who struggled to speak to one person, let alone 30.
It was during this time that I watched and tried to listen to what the majority of those around me where discussing – cars, motorbikes, celebrities, dating – and then there was little me, only interested in wildlife. But I’d had enough of feeling alone and clock-watching, so I tried to develop an artificial interest in the more ‘normal’ topics of discussion amongst teenagers. I came home from school stressed, and forced myself to research these topics, that were really of no interest to me, just so that I could attempt to chat with the others . . . although this ultimately failed, and I was still shunned from their discussions.
I left that school a broken person, refusing to speak to anyone, I had lost all trust in humans and rarely left my room for fear of being judged.
After many legal battles my mum got me into a private special educational needs school in the Suffolk countryside. I blossomed at Centre Academy East Anglia and after a few years of hard work — I passed six GCSEs, became the first head student in the schools history, was elected as head of both student council and eco council, beat many fears, passed seven a-level qualifications at grade a-a* and gained unconditional acceptance to five universities, and, more importantly, had regained my love for the natural world. Now, three years later, I am a renowned artist, author and campaigner. Never underestimate an autistic child!
I think that if you have been afforded a voice, however small, then you should use it to instigate positive change. It’s not an option – it’s a duty, and to forfeit that duty, to keep life easy, to not rock the boat, is simply unforgivable and thus I am now determined to use the platform I have built through my art to change the world for children with special educational needs. I won’t stop until I have done that.
The world can be a scary place for us autistics, but love can change that. We should greet each other with a smile, rather than being so quick to judge.