Influencers are individuals with an influence in a sector – so for us, an influencer in the autism sector is someone who (a) is autistic, (b) is a positive role model, (c) speaks positively about autism and (d) has a public profile. Here, we’d like to highlight some individuals whose words we respect, and who are really making a difference to autists worldwide.
Famous autistic individuals – Hannah, Newman, Hopkins, Martin and Messi
There is a handful of fabulously talented and well-respected individuals who are autistic, and have a high-profile. But for us, to be an autism influencer, it isn’t enough just to have a public profile AND be autistic. Yes there are high profile autists out there, all fabulously accomplished and respected people, such as actress Daryl Hannah (“[Growing up] I didn’t fit in anywhere… Anything that involves meeting or talking to more than a couple of people scares the hell out of me,”). Musician Gary Newman (“[My Asperger’s] has given me a slightly different view of the world and I truly believe it helped get me through some hard times. I’d never wish it away,”). Actor Sir Anthony Hopkins (“[Yes], I realised early that [my] brain just worked in a way that was more conducive to acting and art than perhaps business. [But] I didn’t know Asperger’s even existed,”). Road-racer and broadcaster Guy Martin (“[My Asperger’s] is probably what helps me with endurance racing on my mountain bike. I’m not quick but I’m good at getting my head down,”). British Para-gold-medallist swimmer Jessica-Jane Applegate MBE (“I really struggle with day-to-day things like understanding sets, reading sessions, reading a pace clock and remembering technique,”). And footballer Lionel Messi, (“When he enters the area, he knows he will score. And he celebrates, with that typical autistic smile, one who has fulfilled his mission and is relieved,” – Roberto Amado, journalist.)
Promoting one’s ‘autisticness’
But these individuals rarely give interviews specifically about being autists, or promote their ‘autisticness’; and why on earth should they? Autism doesn’t define them!! Many autists excel as artistic performers and athletes – perhaps their autism, with its links to attention to detail and preference for repetition and perfectionism, helps them achieve the highest echelons within their field?
A reportedly high number of technology business leaders and senior members of the tech workforce are autistic. (The company SAP, a leader in the field of computer science, has announced its intention to employ more autistic people, forecasting that by 2020, 1% of the current 65,000 SAP employees will be autistic.)
Perhaps autism’s links to problem solving, not getting caught up in emotional distractions and logical decision-making are factors in some autist’s success in their careers?
Or, on the other hand, have these brilliant individuals succeeded in spite of the challenges autism brings? In spite of the social, communicative and sensory issues the neurology entails?
Whichever is the answer, no one in the public eye HAS to be any kind of ambassador or influencer for their neurology; but we’d like to celebrate some that are.
Autism champion Chris Packham CBE
British naturalist and broadcaster Chris Packham was diagnosed with Asperger’s in his forties, and has undoubtedly made a world of difference to autists, thanks to his groundbreaking BBC TV documentary, ‘Asperger’s And Me’: “Chris experiences the world in a very different way, with heightened senses that at times are overwhelming, and a mind that is constantly bouncing from one subject to the next,” the BBC reports). From championing the late Alan Turing in the BBC’s ‘Greatest Person of the 20th Century’ icons project, to being an ambassador for the National Autistic Aociety, Chris has done a great deal to help autists come to terms with their autism, and describes his Asperger’s as a gift.
“[It was] difficult positioning myself to represent the autistic community; because it’s impossible. I am not a typical autistic person – because there isn’t a typical autistic person,” Chris told supporters via his website, after his TV programme was shown. “We [autistic individuals] don’t need a cure, there is nothing wrong with us – we are different,” he added. (Pic: BBC)
Autism champion Anne Hegerty
Briton Anne Hegerty is famous in the UK as a ‘quizzer’, and plays the Governess on TV’s ‘The Chase’. She also entered the jungle on TV’s ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’ in 2018, where she won over viewers.
Anne told The National Autistic Society: “[Gaining an autism diagnosis] made me feel better. I feel if people ever say to me ‘I understand you identify as autistic’, actually I don’t do any ‘identifying’ at all. Objectively, I conform to scientific criteria drawn up by people who aren’t me.
I kind of feel that distinction is important. What I do mind a bit is people going around claiming that they are neuro-atypical and I think what they mean is simply they are depressed and anxious, shy and introverted.
It’s perfectly possible to be a shy introvert, who’s not on the spectrum at all.”
On TV’s The Wright Stuff, Anne Hegerty gave possibly the best ever autism quote, when she said “People say you suffer from Asperger’s. No, I have Asperger’s; I suffer from idiots.”
Autism champions Talia and Carrie Grant
Talia Grant is a young British actress who got her big break on British TV’s Hollyoaks. Along with mum Carrie, Talia is a great ambassador for neurodiversity.
She’s admitted that autism “Can be a gift and a curse.” Talia is the first female autistic actress to land a mainstream British TV role in her part as autist Brooke Hathaway. “I know that I’m not like everyone else,” Talia Grant told the BBC. “My character Brooke has faced those difficulties and challenges of feeling different. I would have loved to have someone growing up that had autism, that was open about it, that was an actor that I could resonate with.”
Talia seems to be a very mature young woman, and has taken the pressure of being a role model very well.
Hollyoaks itself is seemingly addressing diversity in earnest, featuring a ‘diversity special’ in February 2019, and boasting an autistic writer on its writing team.
All great news for young autists who are watching the soap, and learning about neurodiversity. (Pic: Lime Pictures)
Talia’s Mum, vocal coach Carrie Grant, has also spoken extensively about neurodiversity, saying on the website she shares with fellow vocal coach David Grant: “I am Mum to four children; three birth, one adopted, three with ADHD, two autistic… all high functioning, so they can appear much of the time to be just like everyone else around them.”
Often in the media, parents of autists are speaking about their children’s issues in a negative light, maybe in connection with a loss of local support services, or the challenges that living in a family with an autist brings. However, the Grants are, as a family, exceptional ambassadors for autism and neurodiversity. “We have encouraged our children to be proud of being their autistic selves. A label is only a problem if you have a problem with the label,” Carrie states. (Pic: carrieanddavidgrant.co.uk)
Autism champion Ethan Fineshriber
Ethan Fineshriber is an American martial artist who has played the Green Ranger on Ninja Kidz TV, and has achieved a second-degree black belt. He was diagnosed as being autistic as a young child, and rose to fame when he won his first world title with a perfect score in the XMA (Extreme Martial Arts) black belt boys’ division of the ATA (American Taekwondo Association).
You can see Ethan’s vlogs, which include brilliant films about autism, on his You Tube page.
Ethan’s Mother Mara says –
“I am one of the proudest mothers on the planet and I take heart in knowing that while Ethan will still always struggle with some things, and will always be a little quirky in some ways, he sincerely has the world at his feet.
He has the willpower and fortitude needed to achieve anything he can dream of,” she told ‘Autism Parenting’ Magazine.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg
The sixteen year old Swede and Nobel Peace Prize nominee has been thrust into the limelight over the last few months, since she initiated a weekly school strike to protest about the lack of Government action to address issues surrounding global climate change. Greta is probably the most famous advocate for autism that the community has ever seen. She’s been on national TV news broadcasts, and in national newspaper articles and TED Talks, and doesn’t shy away from talking about her Asperger’s diagnosis. What’s fascinating is that autism is clearly a driving force behind her passion for redressing climate change. Greta reportedly suffered from depression and issues with eating (not divulged by Greta as an eating disorder, but linked to her depression), aged eleven, in what seems to represent a classic example of autistic burnout. She stopped (for the most part) eating and talking, but then turned her life around. She says her autism helps her ‘see things from outside the box.’
Read more HERE…
A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. We’d also love your feedback on our posts!
Also published on Medium.