It is estimated that there are around half a million people in the UK who have been diagnosed with autism as well as many more who have yet to receive a diagnosis. This compares with roughly 100,000 people who are currently living with HIV and yet, while most people have some understanding of HIV and AIDS, autism remains shrouded in mystery and misconception.
Autism is a spectrum where, at one end, we find people who used to be knows as “savants”, famously depicted in the movie Rain Man by Dustin Hoffman. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who are so severely disabled that they may be unable to speak or to live independently.
But – and the clue here is in the word “spectrum” – most people with autism sit somewhere in the middle; yes, their brains work differently to mine and possibly yours, and some may need assistance with certain aspects of life but, by and large, we’re looking at hundreds of thousands of people with a range of abilities with whom you could hold a perfectly normal conversation.
Since 2009, Anna Kennedy OBE – through her charity Anna Kennedy Online – has been working not only to raise awareness of autism but, more importantly, to provide invaluable support and advice to people with autism and their families. Honoured by The Queen for her tireless commitment, in 2012 Anna launched Autism’s Got Talent to showcase some of the myriad talents within the autism community and which so seldom see the light of day, chiefly because of the preconceptions of others.
OutNewsGlobal’s Chief Correspondent Steven Smith took me along to this year’s event at the Mermaid Theatre in the City of London, where 16 talented people from all over the UK and beyond came together to provide a quite exceptional evening’s entertainment.
At this point, I should make a confession, and this is not something of which I am especially proud. Actually, I am a little ashamed: I wanted to go along to support my friends – Steven, Anna and my fellow Watford supporter Jo Wiggins – but I did not expect to be so royally entertained. I suppose I had the same level of expectation as when you attend a primary school concert: great effort, good to see the kids coming out of their shells and so on, but not really anticipating anything of a particularly high quality.
Boy oh boy was I wrong. Act after act delivered a show which could have graced any stage: music, dance, poetry and even an impressionist who had flown in from Florida had the crowd on their feet…not out of some condescending and misplaced sense of pity for “those less fortunate than ourselves” but because the full house was witnessing performers with genuine talent.
Most of the acts were singers: Jessi Kay, Joseph Pass, Holly Allison, Samuel Turner, T’mya Fyffe , Sky Boswell, Louisa Futcher, Ben Maille and Kieron Lee, all with different styles but united in bringing unbridled joy to the audience. Joshua Scott-Crowley, a drummer, together with guitarists Tom Wakely and Daniel Carson, demonstrated that an autism diagnosis is no barrier to musicianship, while Essex-based rock band Caged Arts had me rocking out as if I were at a Metallica gig! Friend of OutNewsGlobal and recent winner of Pointless Aston Avery’s interpretative dance showed just how many strings Aston has to his bow, and I was truly bowled over by the powerful poetry of James Scullion and the on-point impressions of Florida’s Scott Edgar.
MC Philip Barnett did not have an easy job – filling in during set changes and conducting on-stage interviews with performers who might not be perfectly comfortable being asked questions in front of an audience of hundreds. He fulfilled his role with skill, kindness and compassion and deserves a warm round of applause from all concerned.
Speaking exclusively to OutNewsGlobal, Anna Kennedy said, “Our 10-year birthday celebration of talented autistic performers surpassed all my expectations. My team and I are still on a high and we have received so many messages of hope from the performers, their families and messages from the audience.”
She continued, “Autism’s got Talent will always hold a special place in my heart and I cannot wait to see the talent that 2022 will bring from across the UK and overseas. So please send in your auditions and show us your talent!”.
For more information about Anna Kennedy Online, Autism’s Got Talent and the Autism Hero Awards, click here.