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Don’t tell me that I can’t do it

The story about a person’s experience in thriving through his studies and his ongoing desire to prove those wrong who doubted him

By James White

James in Costa Rica. Credit: James White

A child must always be told that they can succeed in life if they try their hardest in whatever they choose to aspire in their journeys in becoming adults. Granted advantages that could help promote their chances of thriving in society. For the Autistic community, there is a dire need to tackle the issues to ensure that neurodiversity is represented appropriately and people in the community have their voices heard.

It is not enough to raise awareness about Autism and teach others about the issue. We have to raise awareness on how to tackle the disinformation about the Autism spectrum and how others can interact with people on the spectrum to see how we can include them in society. People in the Autistic community need to know how they can be proud of who they are, regardless of the obstacles they will continue to encounter and overcome.

I know that struggle quite well. Diagnosed with Autism at the age of three, my parents didn’t tell me until I was twelve. Accepting my position in the Autistic community has not always been easy. My peers did not make me feel accepted because they believed I was not an ideal person they would want to invite to any events outside of school. I would try very hard to interact with them because I wanted to know them and feel included. Sadly, not many people felt the same way. My confidence was hurt by this and it left me feeling very alone when I was just getting to know myself.

However, nothing could hurt more than when my primary teacher told me that I would not be able to develop any social relationships, nor would I be likely to achieve anything significant.

She said, it was because I was autistic. This hurt me. For a long time, I thought that she was right. It did not help either that many of my fellow classmates didn’t show me that I was accepted by them. The ones who interacted with me just seemed to use me to make themselves look better. I left my secondary school unsure what I would become, but I promised myself that I would thrive in whatever obstacle I faced. In doing this, I found solace with my diagnosis and learned how to like myself again.

Now, here’s a few examples of how wrong those people were about me.

At nineteen, I became an ambassador to the Holocaust Education Trust when I argued on how discrimination of any kind is never allowed in modern society. I performed public speaking events to an audience of hundreds in my college after visiting the concentration camp of Auschwitz to learn of the horrors made from the Second World War. I travelled to Costa Rica alone and became a team member to strangers from different walks during a marine conservation course. As for my education, I left Aberdeen college with a National Diploma in Social Science that gave me a pathway to a three-year degree at my local university to study Politics. Becoming the first in my family to receive an unconditioned offer. Through all these achievements, I’ve pushed through the barriers of social anxiety and let go of the insecurities that held me back. I keep trying to reach higher to prove that not only I can do it, but others like me can too.

Even after being diagnosed with Dyslexia and Dyspraxia when I got into university at the age of twenty-one, I stayed on my course because I refused to give up and let down the friends who didn’t leave me when I was at my lowest. The essays kept getting written, and I kept my head up. Listening to music greats like Gil Scott Heron and the Xcerts while walking through Aberdeen’s streets is still one the happiest times of my life. Even though I never talked to the people who passed me on the streets, it felt good to be amongst the people.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a frightening crucible for everyone, especially for the students aiming to prosper on more significant achievements. Students must be told to stay on their courses to excel further to help repair the damage caused by this pandemic. Despite the difficulties that the Autistic community will be forced to overcome, everyone’s education is vital to grow and develop their skills. That is why it’s important to know what has worked and failed in the pursuit of providing autistic students support throughout this pandemic.

These circumstances are not how I thought my final year at university would finish—working at home in front of a computer screen and hoping that I can get through this year with as much motivation as I can. This pandemic doesn’t make a student’s life any easier. I miss the conversations with people from different backgrounds over a pint at the student bar and the social events that allowed us to let loose from our studies. Doing a dissertation under these circumstances has not been the most aspiring of times with the challenges everyone has to face. But I did not study for five years to give up and prove those who underestimated me correct.

Like many students in my situation, I’m proud that I did my part in making sure that I acquired the qualifications that can help me contribute to rebuilding the country. There are many challenges ahead, but with the right motivation and the support of their loved ones, everyone in the Autistic community can push forward to achieving their goals.

As a politics student, I believe that we all have a right to voice our opinions when something needs to be said and when an issue arises, people need to speak up for those who can’t defend themselves against these issues. We vote in our country’s elections because voting is not just our human right; it’s our human obligation to ensure that everyone’s viewpoints are represented. I support everyone’s right to have their voices heard because I want Scotland to continue to become a progressive country that can further improve the educational benefits and healthcare for those with the Autistic community who need additional assistance.

To this day, I’m still learning about what it means to be a member of the Autistic community, but I am determined to become a representative for them to advocate further for those in the Autistic community who need to know that they should accept that part of themselves rather than fight it. I’m reaching the end of my degree and I will try prosper through any challenge that comes my way. Awareness is only a part of the battle. Acceptance is the final step towards victory.

Allow them to define Autism, not let Autism define them.

We have a long way to go until we’ve tackled all the issues facing the Autistic community, but it will feel great when we get the chance to ensure everyone is given the support they need. Because they need to know that they can make it in life and make themselves proud of who they are as human beings. Thank you and keep safe.


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