An autistic teenager from Plymouth is fighting stereotypes as a newly-elected member of Youth Parliament.
Alana Jones, from Crownhill, has been hiding her voice since childhood, but at 14 years old she is finally speaking out – about politics, about youth issues, and most importantly of all, about her autism.
In the last few months she has represented her school, Tor Bridge High, as the leader of their debate team in a national competition, worked with local autism support groups, given a speech at the #Vote100 Suffragette flag relay event at the University of Plymouth, and won young hero of the year at the Plymouth Community Awards.
“Quite recently, I was starting to tell people about my Asperger’s/autism,” she said. “I was so scared to tell people. Someone found out through their parents that I was autistic and they reacted badly – partly because they didn’t know what it was and they thought I might change. But since then I’ve told more people and the feedback’s been amazing.
“When people think of Asperger’s or autism they think of the worst of it. There’s a lot of bullying that goes on because people don’t understand.”
Around one person in every hundred is affected by autism – a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. Asperger’s is a disorder on the autism spectrum.
Alana fought her successful campaign for Youth Parliament election on the back of her Asperger’s – celebrating her ‘quirks’ as she and her family call them, rather than hiding them.