From early childhood, Alex, who is autistic, found the world a terrifying place

His book Thinking Club: A Filmstrip of My Life as A Person with Autism traces his journey from childhood fears to becoming a public speaker, trainer, blogger and film maker. In 2012 Alex won an Autism Hero Award for Outstanding Personal Achievement in the Community. Here he shares some of that journey.

When some parents find out their child has autism, they feel like all their hopes and dreams are shattered. They say things like, ‘He’ll never be independent… he’ll never go to college… he’ll never get a job… he’ll never get married.’ They think their child is never going to have a future. Of course, some of those things still haven’t happened with me but the point is you can’t always predict the future.

There are many things that my parents thought I would never be able to achieve, but I shattered their expectations.

When I was little, my parents didn’t know if I would ever learn to speak, let alone give speeches in front of loads of people! I also used to think I would be too scared to do public speaking. I thought no one would be interested in asking me to speak. When I was 15 or 16, I heard about autistic people giving speeches and remember thinking, ‘There’s no way I’d ever be able to do that!’ Needless to say, I was wrong. It wasn’t too long after that I did my first speech. People sometimes tell me, ‘There’s no way I could speak in front of large audiences like you do!’ But the fact of the matter is I thought the same at one point.

As a child my parents thought I would never live independently. I still don’t, but there are at least set skills that I’ve learned. I did learn to go around my own local town and there are set bus routes that I learned, but I still can’t travel to most places by myself. I also have learned to cook certain meals. I can cook curry and do this once a week. I have even learned to make a roast dinner (though I still tend to make mistakes). I feel like this is a level of progress considering there was a time when I couldn’t cook anything at all.

Only 16% of adults on the autistic spectrum are in full time paid employment. At one time I thought I would never get a job. Now I am self-employed. Having a job feels like I have achieved an ambition.

I also thought I would never be able to write a book. I started writing my book in September 2010 and I honestly never thought I would finish it. I had tried writing stories before in hope that one day they would get published but they never did. My parents, and those who were helping me with the book, were pretty sure it would get published but I thought it’d be one of these things that seems like a good idea at the time, but we would just forget about it and it wouldn’t ever get finished, let alone published! It took nearly five years but my book did eventually get published and I am now working on a second book.

I’d like to say to parents of young children with autism that the future isn’t set in stone. If you fight for your child and give them the right support, you may be surprised at what they can achieve in life. I’ve achieved more than my parents initially thought I would. When you set your mind to it, you never know what you may be capable of. Never say never!

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