The world can feel a little overwhelming to all of us. More so, if you constantly feel misunderstood, when others try to fit you into a box you don’t belong. This World Autism Day, let us celebrate our individuality, idiosyncrasies, and everything that makes us unique – and recognize that we are all more alike than different.
Meet three Special Olympics athletes living with autism to understand, accept and embrace their uniqueness:
- Grace Payne: She’s a basketball champ from New Zealand who’s carving a niche for herself in the circuit nationally and internationally. This Special Olympics athlete leader competes in basketball, football and powerlifting, and has been a passionate advocate for creating inclusive environments that allow people with intellectual disabilities to thrive and lead their best lives.
“What needs to be understood is, people are born with autism. They do not develop it. It’s a neurological disease. And all people with autism are different. One person might not have the same symptoms as another. Autism is not linear in nature. I like to see it as more of a wheel with different colors, where each color represents a different aspect, like communicative abilities, sensory needs etc. While I might be able to communicate properly, I can have trouble driving. Likewise, someone else might be able to drive with ease, but have difficulty in communication.
- Haseeb Abbasi: He is a business owner from Pakistan. While it was an uphill task for him to convince landowners that people with autism like himself are capable of running successful enterprises, he never gave up. He met with a lot of resistance, and many people he approached turned him away. But passion and grit have shaped his dreams into reality.
“My hope is to be able to work independently and earn my own living. My vision is that people with intellectual disabilities will all be given employment opportunities, and be empowered with skills to eventually run their own businesses.”
- Benjamin Haack: He is an athlete leader from Australia and has been involved in Special Olympics for 16 years. An inspirational athlete, accomplished football and cricket player, Ben has been fighting for inclusion at a national, regional, and global level as a member of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors. He has advocated the message of inclusion all over the world, and the importance of treating people with respect and dignity. He believes that our voices are the most powerful tool to change the world.
“Our society still works in a way where people believe that those with intellectual disabilities offer very little value and that we must prepare the family and the community for the worst. It is a common mindset that people like me are full of defects, and we need extra resources and attention in order to get anything out of us. If we slow down and provide everyone with an inclusive environment to show what they can do, the results can be amazing.”
This World Autism Day, we’re coming together to create a more inclusive and unified world, where everyone can achieve their potential and live their dreams. Will you join us in creating One World?