Autistic Pride Day: CELEBRATING AUTISTIC Journalists
Celebrating neurodiversity within the media sector
June 18th is a national celebration of neurodiversity, which aims to raise awareness and to promote acceptance and inclusion for those on the autistic spectrum. Autistic Pride was first celebrated by the online community – Aspies for Freedom in 2005 and is now recognised globally. The community expresses how their unique characteristics serve as both rewards and challenges within all industries, but especially in journalism. With the community striving to drive change and to eradicate the negative stigma, attitudes and perceptions of neurodiversity within the media sector.
SHELBY TOLLY – Writer for The State Hornet and young journalist
Shelby Tolly has openly discussed the challenges surrounding her diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at the later age of 21. She highlights how journalism and writing enabled her to find a voice during a difficult time where she was nonverbal as a child. With her late diagnoses, Shelby struggled with anxiety and depression from an early age because of her inability to communicate. After discovering her voice, she felt an ignited passion for writing – something spurred on by looking at video games as a child. The realisation that she was able to combine her passion for video games and her desire to write – enabled her to find her voice and talent for journalism.
Shelby on her difficulties with her diagnosis: “Sure people doubted me, and many didn’t think I could achieve what I have achieved so far. I do still have moments of doubt, but I can’t let my diagnosis stop me from achieving my goals. I can’t let my diagnosis stop me from being happy. I found my literal voice through journalism, and I hope my story helps others like me to find their voice” – The State Hornet
laura james – Author, columnist and journalist
Laura James is an author, journalist and owner of a communications agency. She has been open about her autism diagnosis in an article published in The Guardian – A moment that changed me: I was diagnosed with autism at 45. Since her diagnosis, she acts as a positive role model and has campaigned and raised awareness for autism. She details a poignant and deeply personal perspective of negotiating the autistic spectrum in her book Odd Girl Out.
Laura explains the feeling of her diagnosis – “The diagnosis was both a shock and not a shock. Ever since I could remember I had been longing to find out why I behaved the way I did and why I was so unlike my peers. I find it difficult to recognise and name my emotions, but those I experienced that day seemed different to any I had felt before. Good feelings to me are pink. Bad ones are green. These were made up of all the colours of the rainbow. Not mixing together to make a sludge-brown, but rather like the flashes of colour you see when the washing machine spins a mixed load.” The Guardian
THOMAS HEWITT – Ex writer, reporter and journalist that specialised in sports and current affairs
Thomas Hewitt has been honest and open regarding his autism diagnosis and anxiety disorder and how it affected his work in journalism. He describes how change in his routine, which is typical within the creative industry, was extremely daunting, and did affect him in the early stages of his career as a journalist. He highlighted how he found pre-planning and explaining his condition to interviewees beneficial and how that helped with his overall confidence.
Thomas describes how the government should support and encourage those on the autistic spectrum to pursue a career in journalism, and with the NCTJ qualification. Stating how he believes that people on the spectrum should be able to showcase their talents and abilities on a platform, he also advocates that a diagnosis should not be synonymous with a limitation.
Thomas wants to inspire others – “My message to others on the spectrum is to be proud of who you are, and never let anyone tell you that you can’t succeed in life. Life is too short to live with regrets, and every day, I wake up with the mind-set that Asperger’s is a part of me whether I like it or not, and I accept both the positive attributes and flaws about myself. Remember: Autism / Asperger’s is a blessing, not a burden, so embrace being different and go out there and be you” – Cision
Autistic Pride Day is a great time to celebrate neurodiversity and a great way to communicate to allistic people that autism is a difference opposed to a disability. These journalists exemplify how important it is that we understand neurodiversity within the media sector and to challenge and eradicate false notions and attitudes surrounding autism.
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