Autistic Teen Advocate’s Mission to Invite People to Rethink Their Perception of Autism
Since I’m autistic, I’m used to defying societal expectations and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, challenges and odds.
Yet, being selected out of over 7,000 international applicants to be a UN Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a tremendous personal achievement that I would never have envisioned for myself.
Like most autistic people, I grew up with the societal message that autism is a tragedy; a life sentence that would prevent me from having any goals and ambitions.
Let alone achieving them!
So, the fact that I have achieved the unachievable is a victory in and of itself.
But more than that, I hope that it sends a message to autistic teenagers that, no matter how unreachable their goals may seem, they should strive for the stars and that they shouldn’t let societal prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions shape their view of their place in the world.
As an autistic teenager, I know how hard it is to block out the negative messages we are bombarded with each day.
There is still an enormous stigma to being autistic.
It’s still common for public figures to use the term “autistic” as an insult and as a way to diminish or devalue someone they dislike or disagree with.
In terms of equality and inclusion, autism is the last frontier. Even in this woke, politically correct climate, it’s still acceptable to advocate for autism cures and eugenics, to post TikTok videos making fun of autistic people and to sell t-shirts on Amazon advocating making us extinct. If goes without saying that this is unacceptable and has to change.
When I was growing up, there were no prominent autistic role models, other than Dr Temple Grandin. This meant that I grew up with the societal message that autism is a tragedy and a burden; something to hide and be ashamed of.
I want to change this so that future generations of autistic children can grow up like other children. Instead of being underestimated and held back, I hope that autistic children grow up believing that they can have dreams and ambitions too. It is time to stop focusing only on what autistic children cannot do.
Instead, society needs to also focus on acceptance and on recognising and nurturing the many areas in which autistic children can excel.
I am hopeful that having a global platform on which to invite people to rethink their perception of autism is the start of a journey towards the acceptance, inclusion and equality of autistic people.