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Faith Jegede: What I've learned from my autistic brothers

April 22, 2012

Faith Jegede tells the moving and funny story of growing up with her two brothers, both autistic -- and both extraordinary. In this talk from the TED Talent Search, she reminds us to pursue a life beyond what is normal.

Faith Jegede Cole - Writer
Writer Faith Jegede Cole draws on her experiences growing up with two autistic brothers in order to spread awareness and understanding about this increasingly common diagnosis. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Today I have just one request.
00:16
Please don't tell me I'm normal.
00:19
Now I'd like to introduce you to my brothers.
00:22
Remi is 22,
00:27
tall and very handsome.
00:29
He's speechless, but he communicates joy
00:32
in a way that some of the best orators cannot.
00:36
Remi knows what love is.
00:40
He shares it unconditionally and he shares it regardless.
00:43
He's not greedy. He doesn't see skin color.
00:47
He doesn't care about religious differences, and get this:
00:51
He has never told a lie.
00:54
When he sings songs from our childhood,
00:57
attempting words that not even I could remember,
01:00
he reminds me of one thing:
01:02
how little we know about the mind, and how wonderful
01:05
the unknown must be.
01:07
Samuel is 16. He's tall. He's very handsome.
01:11
He has the most impeccable memory.
01:17
He has a selective one, though.
01:20
He doesn't remember if he stole my chocolate bar,
01:23
but he remembers the year of release for every song on my iPod,
01:27
conversations we had when he was four,
01:30
weeing on my arm on the first ever episode of Teletubbies,
01:32
and Lady Gaga's birthday.
01:36
Don't they sound incredible?
01:39
But most people don't agree.
01:42
And in fact, because their minds don't fit
01:45
into society's version of normal,
01:48
they're often bypassed and misunderstood.
01:50
But what lifted my heart and strengthened my soul
01:53
was that even though this was the case,
01:57
although they were not seen as ordinary,
01:59
this could only mean one thing:
02:02
that they were extraordinary --
02:05
autistic and extraordinary.
02:08
Now, for you who may be less familiar with the term "autism,"
02:13
it's a complex brain disorder that affects social communication,
02:17
learning and sometimes physical skills.
02:21
It manifests in each individual differently,
02:25
hence why Remi is so different from Sam.
02:27
And across the world, every 20 minutes, one new person
02:30
is diagnosed with autism, and although it's one of
02:33
the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the world,
02:36
there is no known cause or cure.
02:39
And I cannot remember the first moment I encountered autism,
02:42
but I cannot recall a day without it.
02:45
I was just three years old when my brother came along,
02:48
and I was so excited that
02:51
I had a new being in my life.
02:53
And after a few months went by,
02:56
I realized that he was different.
02:59
He screamed a lot.
03:01
He didn't want to play like the other babies did,
03:03
and in fact, he didn't seem
03:06
very interested in me whatsoever.
03:08
Remi lived and reigned in his own world, with his own rules,
03:11
and he found pleasure in the smallest things,
03:15
like lining up cars around the room
03:17
and staring at the washing machine
03:20
and eating anything that came in between.
03:22
And as he grew older, he grew more different,
03:25
and the differences became more obvious.
03:29
Yet beyond the tantrums and the frustration
03:31
and the never-ending hyperactivity
03:35
was something really unique:
03:38
a pure and innocent nature, a boy who saw the world
03:40
without prejudice, a human who had never lied.
03:44
Extraordinary.
03:50
Now, I cannot deny that there have been
03:53
some challenging moments in my family,
03:55
moments where I've wished that they were just like me.
03:57
But I cast my mind back to the things that they've taught me
04:01
about individuality and communication and love,
04:03
and I realize that these are things that
04:07
I wouldn't want to change with normality.
04:10
Normality overlooks the beauty that differences give us,
04:15
and the fact that we are different doesn't mean that one of us is wrong.
04:20
It just means that there's a different kind of right.
04:23
And if I could communicate just one thing to Remi
04:27
and to Sam
04:31
and to you,
04:33
it would be that you don't have to be normal.
04:35
You can be extraordinary.
04:39
Because autistic or not,
04:43
the differences that we have --
04:45
We've got a gift! Everyone's got a gift inside of us,
04:47
and in all honesty, the pursuit of normality
04:52
is the ultimate sacrifice of potential.
04:55
The chance for greatness, for progress and for change
04:58
dies the moment we try to be like someone else.
05:02
Please -- don't tell me I'm normal.
05:06
Thank you. (Applause)
05:09
(Applause)
05:12
Translator:Joseph Geni
Reviewer:Morton Bast

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Faith Jegede Cole - Writer
Writer Faith Jegede Cole draws on her experiences growing up with two autistic brothers in order to spread awareness and understanding about this increasingly common diagnosis.

Why you should listen

Faith Jegede Cole is a British writer, speaker and researcher. She is passionate about the power of storytelling and its ability to shift mindsets. Her TED Talk titled "What I’ve learned from my autistic brothers" has been viewed over a million times and has warmed the hearts of families impacted by autism.

Faith is currently pursuing her PhD in Communication at American University. She has spent the last three years studying identity, reputation and privacy in the world of online communication. Her research specifically explores the tensions between online visibility and online vulnerability that are experienced when seeking to create positive changes in society.

Prior to her PhD, Faith worked within the radio broadcasting industry for seven years. Before moving to America she hosted and produced her own lifestyle show on a national UK station.

Faith is a proud Londoner, but now lives in Washington DC, with her husband Nathaniel Cole and happily calls it home.

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