Taken from the first chapter of her first book, The Spectrum Girl ‘s Survival Guide: How to Grow Up Awesome and Autistic, we thought this About Me section was the perfect way for Siena to introduce herself to her new readers. The book is available to pre-order now, and will be released on 19th March 2020.
I’m 16 years old. In many ways, I’m a typical teenage girl. I love music, binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, makeup, chocolate and my awesome dog, Rico. Yet there is one important thing about me that makes me very different from most teenage girls. I’m autistic. I’m also dyslexic and dyspraxic, and I have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
If you’re reading this book, chances are that you’re autistic too. I wrote this book especially for you. Although lots of books have been written about autism and Asperger’s syndrome, most have been written by people who aren’t autistic (neurotypicals) or by autistic adults who are a long way from their childhood. I’m writing this book because I would’ve really benefited from a book that was specifically written for autistic teen girls by another autistic teen girl. A practical and informative book written by someone like you: someone who knows and understands what it’s like to be an autistic teen girl in the digital age of Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube and selfies. I hope you find this book helpful.
I’m a shy and soft-spoken person by nature, which makes me an unlikely candidate to write this book. However, one thing I’ve learned is that life rarely goes as planned and that sometimes you can find yourself on a very unexpected journey.
When I was 13, I designed and created www.qlmentoring.com, a website to support and mentor autistic students and students with learning differences. When researching my various conditions online, I discovered that the information and resources were targeted at parents. I found it odd that I was unable to find information or resources written especially for me. I decided to change this by creating a site where young people could go to get practical advice on how to overcome some of the challenges caused by having special educational needs. On my website, I share the tips and tricks I use to succeed in school, and I provide advice on what to do if you’re being bullied.
As a natural progression from my website, I joined Twitter and Instagram (@QLMentoring and @NCWeek) and began sharing my thoughts about autism, special educational needs and the education system. Although I didn’t set out to do so, I gradually became a neurodiversity advocate and an anti-bullying campaigner. I began to use my voice to share my experiences and to try to change negative perceptions and stereotypes about autism and learning differences.
Before I knew it, I was winning lots of national awards, including the Points of Light award from Prime Minister Theresa May in August 2018 and the prestigious Diana Award in September 2018. I also received the British Citizen Youth Award and was invited to a small reception to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace in October 2018. By far the most surreal experience was winning the 2018 BBC Radio 1 Teen Hero Award! A BBC film crew came to my home to make a short film about me. The film was played at Wembley Arena shortly before I appeared on stage to collect my award in front of 10,000 teens. As part of my Teen Hero Award surprise, Lana del Rey (my absolute favorite musician of all time) and the awesome Shawn Mendes sent me personalized videos congratulating me. I also went on a private tour of the Harry Potter Studios, received a Harry Potter book signed by the legendary J.K. Rowling and met the incredible Callum Turner (he plays Newt’s young brother Theseus in the movie Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald). Callum even invited me to the London premiere.
As I said earlier, sometimes you can find yourself on a very unexpected journey. I would certainly never have predicted that my humble website and autism advocacy would end up catapulting me into chilling backstage with Little Mix and giving an acceptance speech on live TV to the millions of viewers across the United Kingdom watching the Teen Hero Awards. I don’t think that the dozens of people who have mercilessly bullied me over the years would have predicted it either.
Having said that, my most satisfying moments are those outside the limelight. Those quiet, unexpected moments that come after a long day at school. The email from a teenage girl thanking me because she was diagnosed with dyspraxia and autism as a result of reading the information on my website. The email from a ten-year-old boy letting me know that my bullying advice helped him and sharing that he recently won a prize for his creative writing. I treasure those moments the most. Knowing that each of us has the power to make a positive difference to someone’s life is what led me to write this book.
I hope that this book reminds you that you’re not alone. Being an autistic teen girl can be lonely and isolating. I want you to know that there are many of us out there. With each passing day, we are coming out of the shadows and embracing who we are. Never be ashamed of being different: it is this difference that makes you extraordinary and unique. I view my autism as a strength and as an advantage, a modern day superpower. Our brains are wired differently, which means we see and perceive the world differently. Where others may see limitations, we see possibilities. We are the innovators, the problem-solvers, the pioneers, the visionaries and the trailblazers of tomorrow. We have the potential to make significant contributions to society. So never stop believing that you have the potential to be exceptional. I certainly won’t. As far as I am concerned, you’re amazing and I’m thrilled to be part of your journey.
Find out more about The Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide here
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