Rowan McEwen photographed in his classroom at Queen’s Royal College. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Originally published in the Trinidad Express , February 26, 2018

You know sometimes when you wish you didn’t feel so socially awkward? Yup! That’s me. My name is Rowan Nicholas McEwen, and I have this condition called Autism. It does not mean I am mentally ill or anything. It just means that my brain is wired differently compared to a neurotypical (NT) or ‘normal’ person.

This ‘superpower’, as I like to call it, does have some advantages, like being skilled in visual arts, having a massive imagination, and being able to always speak the truth.
I even have this superpower called Audiosynesthesia, which allows me to see a color for any musical pitch, which I find quite useful at times.

Like many things in life, autism always has its challenges and difficulties. For example, when I was three, I had inexplicably lost my entire vocabulary save for the words ‘ma’, ‘da’, and ‘tea’. Another thing about me is that I have really poor hand-eye coordination, so I’m a really slow writer, and that can be quite problematic when it comes to dictation.

It’s also quite tough having to go through hours upon hours of occupational and speech therapy to re-learn everything from what a smiling face was to how to sit down in class.
School was an especially big problem as I’m hypersensitive to noise, so noisy classrooms were a particular thing that made me lose all control.

With all of these problems, it seemed like I was headed for a one-way trip to special school. But as you may not know, I’m not one to give up that easily. I pressed on. I went to mainstream schools around the world, made lots of new friends, and even fled on a ferry from a war-torn country. I studied hard, and believed in myself.

I did five online Pennacool exercises a day and lots of worksheets. And when SEA rolled around, I was ready. I took that test, passed my SEA, and now look where I am, right here in the greatest college in the entire Western Hemisphere… Queen’s Royal College.

Making friends has been one of, if not my biggest challenge of my life. To this day I still don’t know how it works. I think most of it can come from my shyness and self-consciousness, but in most schools I’ve been to throughout my life, I’ve always been the socially awkward odd one out.

At least I feel like a normal person around my family, so it isn’t that bad. I even have some friends — granted I don’t see most of them that much anymore — but I had some nice friends through my childhood. Friends who accepted me for who I was and still wanted me to come over or hang out. One of those friends, a ginger-haired neurotypical boy from the UK, once asked his mom if she had noticed the difference between him and I.

She looked stunned when he replied, “His hair is black and curly and mine is straight and red.” I was shocked too, but I just smiled. Good old George. He really was a great friend.

I am currently in Scouts and was “invested” on the day before this story came out. Being in Scouts has been a really great experience for me and my fellow Scouts have embraced and accommodated me in a way I did not expect.

Another challenge I have faced is acceptance from some family members. The fact that one person close to you can’t accept you for who you are, it doesn’t feel very nice, it hurts a lot. One instance of it happening was last year, when someone really close to me pretended I wasn’t autistic and told me to try and pretend I was neurotypical because “no one would treat you any better” and “no one cares about autism!”

It left me shocked and depressed mostly because I thought that the people who love me wouldn’t care if I am different. Just when I had finally started not just accepting my differences, but celebrating them, it felt like the rug was pulled out from under me.

So I implore you, no matter how rough the road ahead looks, never ever give up on your dreams. When you have a dream, push forward and don’t give up until you achieve it. The little droplets make a hole in the stone not through strength, but through PERSISTENCE. Challenges will always be there. We just learn to live above them.

The production of the Lions segment of the Lioness Project series, highlighting the experiences of ten men in the disability field, is supported by the Cause an Effect Organisation, the Massy Foundation and A Very Special Disabilities Forum.