I Have Autism But I Don't Let It Stop Me
Lots of young people - like climate activist Greta Thunberg - live on the autism scale. NCS Grad Connor tells us how having autism has helped him gain confidence and do things he didn’t think were possible...
I struggled quite a bit with my autism in Primary school. It might have been because I came from a small community and felt a bit like the odd one out. But I also struggled a lot more with changes to routines than I do now, so the experience of education was quite challenging in those years. This caused me to lag behind, and I went into secondary school not very confident and with really poor reading skills due to lack of engagement in classes.
But, in truth, secondary school was a new start for me personally. There was a much better support base in place which allowed me to get caught up with my lessons. And, by the end of Year 7 I was a member of the schools eco council and had completed the school’s reading scheme ahead of schedule. The increased amount of people helped too as there were more students who also had autism, and really were in the same boat as me, so it was easy to connect with them.
For me, my autism has always affected how I talk to crowds. I used to struggle a lot, so getting involved in social action has really helped. The Doncaster Youth Council has proper support and training in place that allows me to improve my public speaking skills. It started with me speaking more regularly at youth council meetings. I remember the first one, I just sat at the back of the room not speaking to anyone for the entire meeting!
But, over time I started speaking up, and even though getting involved was out of my comfort zone, it really helped build my confidence. Being involved in social action projects allows me to be part of something bigger than myself and make a difference in my community. I think those things also give me the motivation to continue to speak to new people and find more public speaking opportunities.
NCS was a great experience as it really allowed me to get out of my comfort zone in a controlled environment. The challenge week helped me learn new skills, and the social action week meant I could give back to my local community. It was also the first time I had stayed away from my parents for a significant amount of time and the experience really changed my life.
Before going on NCS I was quite unsure if I wanted to go to university. This experience of living away from home really gave me the confidence to apply and I now have a conditional offer from the University of St Andrews!
After NCS, I successfully applied for the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Youth Board run by the EFL Trust. This led to me taking on another new challenge: using public transport. I had never been on a train alone before so this was quite a shock, with the business of the train stations. Luckily my fellow board members and the staff were really supportive. Since then I’m much more comfortable using public transport on my own, even applying and becoming an #iwill ambassador, and travelling around the country in this role.
Autism is a wide spectrum and it affects no two people the same way. But, the advice I can give, and wished other people had told me when I was younger, is to try and get involved in as many opportunities as you can. Autism doesn’t define me, it doesn’t define you, and we shouldn’t let it affect our futures.