The words; 'When I grow
up, I want to be just like you!' are words 47 year old Sophia Grech never
thought she'd hear someone say to her. She had spent her youth in a 'hideous'
Infant school and 'even worse' Junior school. She was belittled, bullied and
isolated in her 1970's and ‘80’s schooling when the word Autism wasn't commonly
known and understanding of the condition even less common.
Today Sophia is an
internationally renowned Opera singer. She has performed in front of Royalty
and Presidents. She was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at the age of 45. On
meeting a young man with Asperger’s when singing for an International Autism
Congress, Sophia was dismayed by his comments wanting to
be just like her when he grew up.
“I just wanted to cry”,
says Sophia. “Some young people that I come into contact with struggle to
believe I was just like them when I was an adolescent. I could barely read and
write as a child and I couldn’t tell the time until I was 12. Since then I have
graduated from theRoyal College of Music, the top music college in the country, where I won lots of awards
and got the highest exam results in my year. I am now a professional performer and I travel
the world to hold concerts. I have even performed for the President of Malta
and have performed for Royalty and met many celebrities.”
Thanks to her musical
instinct, Sophia can sing fluently in English, Spanish, Italian, German,
French, Maltese and more recently learnt to sing in Serbian.
Part of the Pink Floyd
generation of the 70's Sophia’s school life was far from happy with even her
Head Teacher being ‘just another brick in the wall.’ Sophia was told by her
Head Teacher; “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 Sophia is determined to help change and start breaking down the
barriers she faced in her childhood.
Sophia ‘plays the
voice’ like an instrument professionally. Sophia now feels it’s time to use her
voice to put the spotlight on autism and help increase awareness and
understanding for the generations to come.
“I was told at school I
had no natural talent for music! I was refused music education even after
applying for violin lessons. But music was always my passion and I started
singing lessons aged 14 outside of school. I had a natural ability to
understand music and was born with a good voice. I didn’t exactly choose to
sing. It chose me.”
Diagnosis was life
changing for Sophia. Before diagnosis Sophia didn't know why. She didn't know
why she didn't fit it. Any more than she knew why she couldn't concentrate on
anything at school. She was kind, and caring and beautiful but couldn't make
friends. She was fiercely intelligent but struggled to read and write. She had
problems she had no explanation for and Sophia was desperately unhappy. Life
just felt confusing. But finally at the age of 45, now Sophia knows why.
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, especially family, 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 all my questions after diagnosis but it has made
such a positive difference to me.”
Sophia continues; "My
autism diagnosis was life changing. I was always considered thick and at school
I received no support either for my education, emotional literacy or social
skills. It was my own determination to succeed at life, some way, some how,
which helped me get the successful career I have today. I am here today despite
my teachers, my peers and my lack of an autism diagnosis. I couldn't spell or
write. I mispronounced words. People thought I was scatty at best, and weird at
worst. But I'm neither of those things.
I finally received the explanation to all my questions about why I found life
so difficult and confusing, and the answer was autism.
concludes; “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 which makes its impact so potentially damaging. It is time we lessen
the pressure on those with autism having to understand the world around them,
because the world around them will finally take it upon themselves to
understand and accept autism. I am determined to be a part of that positive
change for the next generation.”
Sophia has agreed to
become an Ambassador for Autism Wessex and as part of her commitment to the
regional charity will be hosting a concert locally at St Mary’s Church in
Dorchester on Saturday 6th May with Concert Pianist Duncan
Sophia Grech and Duncan Honeybourne who both grew up in Weymouth and
returned to the seaside town some years ago, will be performing together for
this unique concert. Sophia and Duncan are both on the autism spectrum.
Tickets can be