Our ambassador, Sophia Grech has forged a career as an Opera singer to international acclaim, performing in front of Royalty and Presidents.
Yet growing up she was quiet and withdrawn, she struggled to read, write and communicate and was bullied at school. She was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at the age of 45. This World Autism Awareness Day (2nd April 2018) Sophia Grech is determined to share her story to raise awareness of autism and inspire young people with the diagnosis that anything is possible.
It was a chance conversation with a woman whose son had been diagnosed with autism that was the turning point for Sophia. Coming to terms with her own late diagnosis, she decided that she did not want to hide it but instead use her voice to speak out about the condition.
“I just wanted to cry”, says Sophia. “This mother said that meeting me had given her hope that her son could have a successful life. A lot of people I speak to struggle to believe what I was like as a young person. I could barely read and write. I couldn’t tell the time until I was 12. Since then I have graduated from the Royal College of Music, the top music college in the country, and I now perform regularly at concerts across the world. I have even performed for the President of Malta!”
Sophia grew up in Portsmouth with her family. Life was confusing and she was desperately unhappy at school. She was kind and caring but couldn't seem to make friends. She was fiercely intelligent but struggled to read and write. She had problems that she had no explanation for and was viciously bullied. She recalls that on one occasion her former Head Teacher said to her; “I’m sorry but I can’t expel everyone that bullies you, perhaps you should move to a smaller school.” Such lack of empathy and understanding is something that Sophia is determined to help change.
Discovering a passion for music and a natural ability to sing was a defining moment for Sophia. “I started singing in my bedroom at around the age of 7 or 8”, she recalls. “I was told at school I had no natural talent for music! But music was always my passion and I started singing lessons at 14 years old. I taught myself to read music at 15 and was eventually accepted at the prestigious Royal Collage of Music in London.”
“My career then really started to take off but I continued to find certain things difficult. Social situations and travelling were particularly stressful. I became really good at hiding how I felt, but it was exhausting.”
Diagnosis was life changing for Sophia. Finally, at the age of 45, she understood why. Why she found certain situations so confusing and difficult. Why she struggled.
Sophia comments; “It’s so important for a child to know why they are who they are, why they feel the way they do, why they think the way they do, why they struggle more with certain things in life and more importantly that someone understands and loves them for all of those things. I was lucky that my family always supported me and showed me so much love. I wasn’t so lucky at school and struggled so much. I only started getting answers to my questions after my diagnosis. It has made such a positive difference to me.”
Sophia continues; "Growing up I received so little support. It was my own determination to succeed at life, some way, some how, that helped me get the successful career I have today. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today without autism. Autism in itself is not a negative, it is people’s lack of understanding and a lack of support that makes its impact so potentially damaging. My message to anyone with autism is that if I can achieve my dreams, so can you. Anything is possible."
To support our Big Brekkie campaign Sophia asks you to add your voice to hers and help raise awareness of autism. Simply choose a date in April, decide what you fancy to eat and drink and register online at www.bigbrekkie.org.uk for your free fundraising materials. The money you raise will help hundreds of adults, families and professionals to access free advice and support.