To my new subscribers, welcome to my website!
A lot of amazing things have happened since my last newsletter. I will try to encapsulate them all in the constraints of a newsletter. I hope I can do them justice.
I am now working as a Peer Outreach Worker (POW), a group of young people commissioned by the Mayor of London to engage, inspire and gather the opinions of other young people living in London. We help to shape the policies, strategies and services affecting young people. I work within the Education and Youth Team under the guidance of Rebecca Palmer (Becs), one of the lovelist persons I've ever met and with an amazing group of young people who have embraced me with open arms.
On Friday (November 17), I participated in UK Parliament Week by being on four youth panels at the Children’s Rights Inquiry. My panels discussed issues, such as: how to improve inclusion and diversity, how to help vulnerable young people and how to support excluded and marginalized young people. I love working at POW, because I have met some amazing and inspirational young people and charity representatives who are passionate and committed to improving the lives of young people. I also have the privilege of working on policies and strategies that have the potential to transform the lives of young people.
In addition to being a POW, I have been working at UCL in two capacities. In late August, I completed a one-week work placement at UCL’s Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE). The researchers at CRAE recognize the importance of involving autistic people in autism research. I was encouraged to propose some potential autism research topics. I am very excited to announce that my proposals were approved and that I will be working with a UCL PhD student to carry out the research. I have also been working with UCL’s Disability Services Department to improve the services provided to prospective ASD students and current ASD students.
I am also collaborating with Andrew Nowak, the Deputy Head of Queensmill School, a special school for autistic children. He has invited me to speak to his students when he teaches the autism module of the Special Education Needs MA programme at the University of Roehampton. We are also collaborating to start an autism social group for young people in London. Although our plan is still in the early stages, I would be grateful if you could let me know if you know of any students that would be interested.
I recently attended two awards dinners. At the Autism Hero Awards, I received the Anna Kennedy Foundation’s Personal Achievement Award. I was extremely honored to meet Anna Kennedy OBE and many other inspirational autism advocates. I also recently attended the British Association of Dyslexia’s Award Dinner where I received the Young Person’s Award. The best part of the evening was getting through my speech without any major mishaps (if you would like to see my speech: qlmentoring.com/in-the-news) and meeting many passionate and inspirational people who advocate and support dyslexic children, dyslexic young people and dyslexic adults.
On a more personal note, in my last newsletter I told you how inspired I was by Malala and Sheryl Sandberg’s talk on resilience and how life rarely goes to plan and that our Plan B can sometimes out shine our Plan A. When I was forced to leave Sevenoaks School because of severe SEN-related bullying, I was devastated. However, I would not be the person I am today and would not be taking part in all the exciting opportunities and projects with incredibly generous and inspirational people, if I had not gone through the worst experience in my life.
Moreover, I now attend a non-selective local school that celebrates the individual and where students are accepting and supportive of each other. It speaks volumes that my new school is the only school I have attended where I haven’t been ridiculed, humiliated or been targeted for being different. It is a breath of fresh air. I never knew how liberating it feels to feel “safe” and to be respected and accepted for who you are. I wish all autistic students could have this experience.
My new school has given me so much more than that. My Director of Studies, Maya Waterstone is amazing. She is encouraging, compassionate and “gets me.” My new school also encouraged me to take my IGCSEs in math biology, chemistry and physics a year early. This was a daunting undertaking because I had missed so much school at Sevenoaks School due to distress and anxiety caused by the bullying and I only had three months to prepare for the monumental life-altering exams. However, Maya and my teachers believed in me, a belief that was infectious. It was not long before I believed I could achieve the A*s I was hoping for. To my delight, I did! I attribute this achievement to Maya and my amazing teachers who had unwavering faith in me. My new school also appointed me to be an ambassador of the school, a position that involved leading the one-week induction of our new international students during the summer holiday. I firmly believe that the support and security I got from my new school gave me the confidence to pursue many of the opportunities and projects I am working on today.
I am still passionate about math. This summer I spent five weeks at Canada/USA Mathcamp, an amazing, yet humbling experience, because I was in the midst of some of the best young mathematicians in the world. I am also incredibly lucky to have an Imperial College pure maths professor overseeing a math research paper I am writing for my CREST Award. It is possible that he LOVES math more than I do. I am still awe struck that I get to learn math from someone so brilliant, so generous and so passionate about math. I also recently completed a one-week work placement at the Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh. I have written about my experience on my website (See: qlmentoring.com/astronomy-work-experience). If you ever need to build a a motorized equatorial mount for guiding an extremely large telescope (ELT) using Arduino, I may be able to help.
Although I have many interests and pursuits, I consider myself to be an autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia advocate. I am now more committed than ever to ensure that children and young people like me have positive school experiences, where their uniqueness is recognized and respected, where they are accepted for who they are. Sadly, a recent study found that 64% of autistic kids have been bullied. We are all human beings, no one, let alone vulnerable children and young people struggling to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles caused by their disabilities, should be ostracized, belittled and degraded for being different.
I hope you join me in my mission to ensure we live in a kinder, more tolerate world where people embrace and accept each other for who they are. Whether you have a disability or not, we all deserve to feel safe and to be celebrated for the unique qualities that make us who we are.
Anna Kennedy OBE and I
at the Autism Hero Awards Giving my speech at the BDA Awards