'I have found a way to connect to the world in ways I never thought possible'

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Today we mark World Autism Awareness Day with a guest blog post from one of our current Front Line Facilitators participants, Lana.

‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’ Shakespeare’s Hamlet

‘Highly sensitive’, ‘tomboy’, ‘vivid imagination’ and ‘awkward’ were labels put on me from a young age.

As a teenager I felt embarrassed of the photos on the wall of me as a child. I looked wild and untamed usually playing in nature, always without a comb through my hair and only ever wearing loose fitting cotton clothes – or more usually none at all. I envied the photos of my sister who in stark contrast looked prim and proper and wouldn’t be seen dead without bows in her hair or her My Little Pony.

I would ask my Mum why she didn’t make me play or dress in the same way as everyone else. She would reply, ‘You had an original beauty and I understood you’.

As I set out into the big wide world though, it seemed that being me was not a good thing at all, but actually a very bad thing indeed. Most of my school memories are of me sitting outside of the office. I learnt to put on a mask of acceptability and would only feel able to be myself in my own space. In my own space I could be creative and free. I thought for a long time that this was my fate until something amazing happened…

‘The most interesting people you’ll find are ones that don’t fit into your average cardboard box. They’ll make what they need, they’ll make their own boxes’ Dr Temple Grandin

Aged two, my nephew was diagnosed with autism. He wasn’t interacting in the same way as other babies and he had his own unique character. The most amazing thing was the similarities between us!

All the childhood stories of me were playing out again with him. I realised that maybe the issues I had faced all my life were connected to autism too. Despite having loads of qualifications I was still struggling with basic things and I felt so isolated and low having watched my peers all go on to have successful careers. I felt on the outside looking in on life and wondered if there was a place for me.

‘This above all: to thine own self be true’ Shakespeare

It has been thought for many years that there are more males with autism than there are female. It’s becoming obvious that actually the traits just present themselves differently, especially as many women seem to be better at camouflaging their symptoms in order to fit in. My nephew was never meant to fit into this world; he was meant to offer a new perspective. Through my love for him I realised I needed to embrace myself too, and this would only come from letting go of the mask and being my true self.

‘Pleasure and action make the hours seem short’ Shakespeare

My own experience has really highlighted the transformative effect the arts can have on someone’s life.  Through drama, writing and dance I have found a way to connect to the world in ways I never thought possible. I feel alive when I’m performing or watching theatre and have been inspired by the talented actors cast from all backgrounds at The Old Vic.

Many untold stories are surfacing at this time, and we as a society are being invited through the arts to question many outdated beliefs we hold. Theatre has the ability to break down social barriers and to impact society in a positive way, and I want to contribute to this by facilitating workshops that enable people to embrace their own uniqueness and creativity.

‘For autistic individuals to succeed in this world they need to find their strengths and the people that will help them get to their hopes and dreams. In order to do so, ability to make and keep friends is a must. Amongst those friends, there must be mentors to show them the way. A supportive environment where they can learn from their mistakes is what we as a society needs to create for them’ Bill Wong, Autistic Occupational Therapist

Front Line Facilitators has been one of the best experiences of my life. My eyes have been opened to the possibility of having a career in an area where my creativity will be embraced and my life experience can be used to help others. I now have the understanding of how to go ahead and to do this and the support from a mentor to help me make sure that I reach my goals.

Being part of Front Line Facilitators has given me confidence at a turning point in my life and has helped me to feel integrated in the world again. I have made new friends, visited the theatre, worked with incredible practitioners and laughed so much.

‘How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world’ Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

Hannah, Naomi and Kate [Education & Community staff members at The Old Vic] made me feel like my opinions are valid and that it’s ok to be me. The thing that impacted me the most though was their genuine love for the work they do – I realised that when you do what you love, it inspires others to do the same. Thank you!

You can find out more about Front Line Facilitators and our other schemes for young people here.