Since being diagnosed in 2015, Sophia is also raising awareness
and funding through guest appearances and concerts. In 2016 she was invited to sing for the National Autistic Society at the opening ceremony of XI Autism-Europe International Congress. Sophia is delighted to have recently been made an Ambassador for Autism Wessex.
People with Autism Can be Role Models Too.
by Val Thomas | 20th April 2017
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 the Royal 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.
Sophia 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.”
Autism Wessex 2017