Fenton is a 16 year old student at Portfield School, with an autism diagnosis and a talent for the performing arts.
Diagnosed on his 3rd birthday, he reflects on the tantrums that followed shortly after – he was very quiet and used to run away a lot, he wanted everything, and just wanted to have his own way.
He struggled to make friends at school, noting that it had been a little bit difficult at the start.
On making friends, he said, ‘It’s just like you want to get to know them – you want to know what they’re like, what are their hobbies, what games do they play…You just want to like build a bond and build a friendship – and I struggled with that when I was first in school. I just really struggled…’
He’s a big fan of theatre, regularly taking part in drama in school and attend music theatre outside of school. He loves performing on stage, in musicals, citing it as one of his ambitions for the future.
‘I just want to perform and show my talents, pretty much just to be me.’
He views it as something different, as some people would think autistic people wouldn’t be able to handle it.
He adds that some people would assume autistic people wouldn’t be able to handle something like performing – that they would find it too difficult. Despite the assumptions, Fenton has flourished in his theatrical roles.
‘It’s just pushing yourself, trying to make a difference – just like everyone else.’
Discussing what makes him unique, he said, ‘I have a massive memory. Like I know facts of everything, of like cinema, films, actors…and that’s something that I’ve recognised over the last 9-10 years, I’ve known that I know loads about all this…It just comes into my brain and I’m like…oh, okay, that’s fine, you have that.’
He describes it as learning something new every day- something that just pops in your brain.
During a show in 2019, he learned a script in a month - the quickest it has ever taken him. As soon as he received the script, he went home and started going through it. When the director found out, she was impressed and announced the fact to everyone else, encouraging them to take some influence from him.
‘I’ve done many famous roles for stage and I’ve done four school plays and shows outside of school.’
His favourite role was ‘Baloo’ in his year six school production of ‘The Jungle Book’, saying, ‘it just embodies me, just really funny, likeable…And that’s what Baloo is in the Jungle Book. He’s very funny, he’s very lively. I just kind of remind him of like Robin Williams, just really charismatic, very charming, and that’s just what kind of embodies Baloo to me in that show. And there are others, which I did like, but Jungle Book is one of the best ones.’
Autism Unlimited has supported him by presenting new challenges and opportunities. Before he joined, he was very limited in what he wanted to do. Despite wanting to do many things, they never got around to happening. Now, he has successfully completed work experience in fundraising and is currently working in a hotel.
‘So it’s made me different, it’s made me unique and it’s just giving me a new opportunity.’
He expresses that people need to know more about autism and what it involves. Although there have been some references in movies and TV shows, it isn’t enough. There needs to be greater awareness in the wider community and towns, with more campaigns and promotions to make people aware and enable them to better understand autism and all that it entails.
‘Because people don’t usually see autism, they just say oh…and people just say oh he’s a normal person, nothing wrong with him…But what they don’t know is that the person itself actually has a disability and that could be autism.’
Reflecting on his journey, he says, ‘I’ve matured, I’ve got more charming, more polite, and it’s kind of changed me a bit because if I was like that when I was first diagnosed I wouldn’t be allowed in any school because they wouldn’t accept my behaviour…So it’s just learning about being nice, being polite, and just being a nice person in everyday life.’