Autism Warrior: Siena Castellon
Creator of www.QLMentoring.com, a fun and engaging website designed by a teen to provide mentoring, support, resources and information specifically tailored for autistic youth and children with learning differences.
Siena is autistic, dyslexic, and dyspraxic. She also has ADHD. When Siena was 13 years old, she searched online for information about her conditions and discovered that the online resources were aimed at parents and teachers. Siena decided to change this by creating her own website specifically designed to provide support to autistic youth and children with learning differences. On her website, Siena shares the tips and tricks she has used to overcome some of the challenges caused by her special educational needs. She also provides bullying advice.
Siena’s website and autism advocacy have been recognized throughout the United Kingdom. She has won numerous awards, including the Points of Lights Award from Prime Minister Theresa May and the prestigious Diana Award. More recently, she won the BBC Radio 1 Teen Hero Award and was invited to Kensington Palace to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Siena’s greatest accomplishment is turning lemons into lemonade. Like many autistic students, she was bullied at school for most of her life. In fact, she had to change schools three times because of bullying. At a particularly low point in her life, resigned to always being mistreated at school, Siena attended a talk by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Malala on resilience.
As she listened to them speak about how life rarely goes as planned and how good can come from tragedy, Siena resolved to commit herself to improving the school experiences of young people like her. Her website, her advocacy and anti-bullying campaign, have helped hundreds of children feel less isolated and alone.
Siena is passionate about changing the myths and misconceptions around what it means to be autistic. Siena hopes that her autism advocacy will reduce some of the stigma associated with being autistic. Her hope is that autistic youth and young people with learning differences will see their neurodiversity as a strength.
Many of the greatest scientific contributions to society were made by people who see the world differently and who perceive the world differently, people like Newton, Darwin, and Einstein. Siena believes that society needs to become more tolerant and accepting of others and that society can benefit from the talents of neurodiverse youth; can benefit from their creativity, unique insights and innovative approach to problem-solving.
Siena’s goal is to continue to chip away at the stereotypes and misconceptions around what it means to be autistic, especially in relation to autistic girls. Siena would also like to write a survival guide for teenage autistic girls, to help them navigate through the difficult teenage years.
Siena’s dream is to address the gender bias in the current autism diagnostic criteria and to convince the Department of Education to make autism training mandatory for every teacher. Currently, many schools have very little understanding of how to support their autistic students, which means that most autistic students have very unhappy and traumatic school experiences.
Advice for families affected by autism:
Although being autistic comes with challenges, there are many positives to being autistic. Siena believes it is really important for families not to lose sight of this. It is important not to place limits on what an autistic student can achieve, because with the right support and guidance autistic youth can achieve great things.
Siena also believes that it is important for families to keep in mind that autism rarely occurs on its own. A significant percentage of people who are autistic are also dyslexic, dyspraxic and/or have ADHD. In order to ensure that an autistic student is able to fulfill their academic potential, it is imperative that any learning differences are identified, and that appropriate learning support is provided.
This article was featured in Issue 87 – Building ASD Awareness and Communication