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Sim Ling, Age 12

1) Where did you get the idea for your story?

I first got the idea when I read a memoir named The Pretty One, by Keah Brown, a writer with cerebral palsy. I could really understand the author’s life because I have similar experiences of my own. Thus, the book was really inspiring to me, and it made me start researching disabilities such as cerebral palsy, scoliosis etc. While thinking of a new story to write, I thought about outer space and the freedom of movement that you could have up there in weightless space, and the two ideas became connected.

2) When were you diagnosed with autism?

I was diagnosed with autism when I was four. Sadly, however, I am considered a rarity among autistic girls, many of whom are only diagnosed in adulthood. I really hope there can be more awareness of disability in girls so more girls can get diagnosed.

3) How has having autism helped you in your life?

Autism isn’t really as “disastrous,” a thing as many people make it out to be. Autism may cause me to struggle with some things, but also allows me to be better at others. For example, I have a really good memory, and I can memorize words and numbers faster than most. Autism makes me hypersensitive, and I notice and remember things around me easily, such as car license plates. It also gives me great attention to detail, allowing me to concentrate even down to the tiniest details.

This really helps with writing stories because you need to observe the things around you and weave them into your story, making them more realistic and believable. Plus, research has actually shown that autistic people are much better at patterns and problem-solving than non-autistic people. That’s pretty cool!

Because of my autism, I have poor motor skills, and I learnt how to do simple, everyday tasks (such as sewing or tying shoelaces) slower than others. I also have mild scoliosis, a condition that affects my spine. So, I know what it’s like to struggle with movement. 

Most importantly, though, I feel that being autistic, you are less likely to judge others. All my life, I was always “different” from my friends and classmates, and I think that made me more accepting and open-minded to celebrating the diversity around me, including disability. That’s exactly why I wrote (and continue to write) stories with disabled characters.

Sim Ling’s story The Outer-Space Expedition; Illustration by Jackie Duck

4) What have you found the most challenging?

Not surprisingly, it is social interaction. I do something a lot of autistic people do called “masking.”  Basically, I pretend to be a “normal” kid and learn how to make friends by watching what other people say or do. I have anxiety, and I always feel really nervous about normal things such as: Who do I sit with at lunch? Who can I do a group project with? Is she just joking, or does she really mean what she says?

5) What would you say to youth on how best to support others with disabilities?

First of all, don’t feel uncomfortable talking about disabilities. Many people around the world live with disabilities, and if you keep trying to avoid the topic, you won’t be able to help support them.

Secondly, take time to really understand how they are feeling. Please don’t assume that you know what they’re thinking. Try to speak directly to them, not to their parents or companion, and seek their opinion on things such as how they want to be referred as (a “disabled person” or “person with disabilities”). It shows you genuinely care about their opinion. Thirdly, be patient. They may find some tasks harder to do and if you want to offer any help, make sure to ask.

6) What encouragement would you say to youth that have a physical or mental disability?

First off, you guys are awesome, unique and cool. Always remember that you are you, and nobody can ever change how great and brilliant you are. If you ever see someone making fun of a disability, have the courage to step up and tell them why they are wrong.

Educate others on what it’s like to have a disability. Besides that, if you have a special thing that you really love, whether it be painting or cooking or coding or swimming, go for it and don’t let anyone stop you! And finally, if you ever want to write a story, take the chance to write about a disabled character like you. It makes a big difference.

The Outer-Space Expedition (page 20-21)
Enjoy colouring the illustrations for Sim Ling’s story yourself!

Write Your Own Story!

Using Sim Ling’s example, try writing your own story that includes a character with a disability. You could even share it with B! by submitting it. Good-luck!