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TEDMED 2014

Rosie King: How autism freed me to be myself

September 9, 2014

“People are so afraid of variety that they try to fit everything into a tiny little box with a specific label,” says 16-year-old Rosie King, who is bold, brash and autistic. She wants to know: Why is everyone so worried about being normal? She sounds a clarion call for every kid, parent, teacher and person to celebrate uniqueness. It’s a soaring testament to the potential of human diversity.

Rosie King - Storytelling activist
Rosie King challenges stereotypes of people with autism and contextualizes the issue by asking us, “Why be normal?” Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I haven't told many people this,
00:12
but in my head, I've got
00:14
thousands of secret worlds all going on
00:16
all at the same time.
00:18
I am also autistic.
00:21
People tend to diagnose autism
00:23
with really specific
check-box descriptions,
00:25
but in reality, it's a whole
variation as to what we're like.
00:28
For instance, my little brother,
00:31
he's very severely autistic.
00:33
He's nonverbal. He can't talk at all.
00:35
But I love to talk.
00:37
People often associate autism
00:40
with liking maths and
science and nothing else,
00:43
but I know so many autistic people
00:46
who love being creative.
00:47
But that is a stereotype,
00:50
and the stereotypes of things
00:52
are often, if not always, wrong.
00:54
For instance, a lot of people
00:57
think autism and think
"Rain Man" immediately.
01:00
That's the common belief,
01:04
that every single autistic
person is Dustin Hoffman,
01:06
and that's not true.
01:09
But that's not just with
autistic people, either.
01:12
I've seen it with LGBTQ people,
01:15
with women, with POC people.
01:17
People are so afraid of variety
01:19
that they try to fit everything
into a tiny little box
01:22
with really specific labels.
01:25
This is something that actually
01:27
happened to me in real life:
01:29
I googled "autistic people are ..."
01:31
and it comes up with suggestions
01:34
as to what you're going to type.
01:36
I googled "autistic people are ..."
01:38
and the top result was "demons."
01:40
That is the first thing that people think
01:43
when they think autism.
01:45
They know.
01:47
(Laughter)
01:49
One of the things I can do
because I'm autistic —
01:56
it's an ability rather than a disability —
01:59
is I've got a very, very vivid imagination.
02:01
Let me explain it to you a bit.
02:05
It's like I'm walking in two
worlds most of the time.
02:06
There's the real world,
the world that we all share,
02:09
and there's the world in my mind,
02:11
and the world in my mind
is often so much more real
02:13
than the real world.
02:16
Like, it's very easy for
me to let my mind loose
02:19
because I don't try and fit
myself into a tiny little box.
02:22
That's one of the best
things about being autistic.
02:25
You don't have the urge to do that.
02:27
You find what you want to do,
02:29
you find a way to do it,
and you get on with it.
02:32
If I was trying to fit myself into a box,
02:35
I wouldn't be here, I
wouldn't have achieved
02:37
half the things that I have now.
02:39
There are problems, though.
02:41
There are problems with being autistic,
02:43
and there are problems with
having too much imagination.
02:45
School can be a problem in general,
02:48
but having also to explain to a teacher
02:50
on a daily basis
02:54
that their lesson is inexplicably dull
02:56
and you are secretly taking refuge
03:00
in a world inside your head in
which you are not in that lesson,
03:02
that adds to your list of problems.
03:06
(Laughter)
03:10
Also, when my imagination takes hold,
03:12
my body takes on a life of its own.
03:16
When something very exciting
happens in my inner world,
03:18
I've just got to run.
03:21
I've got to rock backwards and forwards,
03:22
or sometimes scream.
03:24
This gives me so much energy,
03:26
and I've got to have an
outlet for all that energy.
03:28
But I've done that ever
since I was a child,
03:31
ever since I was a tiny little girl.
03:33
And my parents thought it was
cute, so they didn't bring it up,
03:35
but when I got into school,
03:38
they didn't really agree that it was cute.
03:39
It can be that people
don't want to be friends
03:42
with the girl that starts
screaming in an algebra lesson.
03:44
And this doesn't normally
happen in this day and age,
03:47
but it can be that people don't want
to be friends with the autistic girl.
03:51
It can be that people
don't want to associate
03:55
with anyone who won't
or can't fit themselves
03:58
into a box that's labeled normal.
04:01
But that's fine with me,
04:04
because it sorts the wheat from the chaff,
04:06
and I can find which people
are genuine and true
04:08
and I can pick these people as my friends.
04:11
But if you think about it, what is normal?
04:13
What does it mean?
04:17
Imagine if that was the best
compliment you ever received.
04:19
"Wow, you are really normal."
04:21
(Laughter)
04:24
But compliments are,
04:25
"you are extraordinary"
04:29
or "you step outside the box."
04:30
It's "you're amazing."
04:32
So if people want to be these things,
04:33
why are so many people
striving to be normal?
04:35
Why are people pouring their
brilliant individual light into a mold?
04:38
People are so afraid of variety
that they try and force everyone,
04:43
even people who don't want
to or can't, to become normal.
04:48
There are camps for LGBTQ people
04:51
or autistic people to try and
make them this "normal,"
04:54
and that's terrifying that people
would do that in this day and age.
04:58
All in all, I wouldn't trade my autism
and my imagination for the world.
05:02
Because I am autistic,
05:07
I've presented documentaries to the BBC,
05:09
I'm in the midst of writing a book,
05:12
I'm doing this — this is fantastic —
05:14
and one of the best
things that I've achieved,
05:16
that I consider to have achieved,
05:19
is I've found ways of communicating
05:22
with my little brother and sister,
05:24
who as I've said are nonverbal.
They can't speak.
05:26
And people would often write
off someone who's nonverbal,
05:29
but that's silly, because
my little brother and sister
05:32
are the best siblings that
you could ever hope for.
05:35
They're just the best,
and I love them so much
05:37
and I care about them
more than anything else.
05:40
I'm going to leave you with one question:
05:43
If we can't get inside the person's minds,
05:46
no matter if they're autistic or not,
05:49
instead of punishing anything
that strays from normal,
05:51
why not celebrate uniqueness
05:54
and cheer every time someone
unleashes their imagination?
05:56
Thank you.
06:00
(Applause)
06:02

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Rosie King - Storytelling activist
Rosie King challenges stereotypes of people with autism and contextualizes the issue by asking us, “Why be normal?”

Why you should listen
When she was nine years old, doctors confirmed Rosie King’s self-diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. With two younger siblings severely affected by autism, Rosie had a burning desire to help make the world a more tolerant place for people with autism ever since she was a young girl. She found the opportunity to do so when her family was invited to do a local news segment on her mother’s children’s books, which featured Rosie’s illustrations. Her lack of inhibition made her a natural presenter, and she was asked to host BBC Newsround’s special program “My Autism and Me,” bringing her a much wider audience and an Emmy Kid’s Award. Rosie continues to raise awareness about autism, and is working towards her goal of becoming a professional actress and storyteller.
The original video is available on TED.com
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