story 3 January 2023 By Laila

2022-23 Youth Ambassador Laila wants to be the voice for disabled young people

Youth Ambassador Laila never felt she’d achieve anything. Diagnosed with autism aged just seven, school was a struggle academically and socially. Badly bullied, she eventually broke down in year 8 and spent nine months out of education until enrolling at Rossendale, a school for pupils with additional needs. It was the support she received at Rossendale, and through the DofE, that changed everything for her. 

“I am autistic – I bet you will say “you don’t look like you have a disability”, but it is important to understand that not all disabilities are visible. My invisible disability is empowering to me and is not something that I am embarrassed about. My journey started when I was seven, when I got my diagnosis. At the time, the doctors just gave me a leaflet and expected me to deal with this invisible disability by myself. Not the best help in the world!”

“Things got worse in high school and I got really badly bullied for stupid things. After that I enrolled in a specialist school for children with special needs and this school helped me massively to understand my disability more and realise that I can do everything someone without a disability can do too. Through this school, I also found out about the DofE, which has helped me massively with my confidence, as well as to just enjoy what I do every day a bit more. I am now working towards my Gold Award and have started activities like climbing, skiing, horse riding and teaching children in a local primary school!”

“I applied to be a DofE Youth Ambassador because I want disabled people to be seen, not as someone disabled, but for themselves. Maybe they will need extra support, but there are so many empowering, inspiring people with disabilities, and they are overlooked. If people only opened their eyes and gave a person with disabilities a chance, I know most would take that opportunity and do their best with it. It’s heart-breaking to see friends who feel they can’t do things; disability shouldn’t be a barrier. I’d like to see more specialist schools offering DofE.”

“Being a youth ambassador feels empowering. The fact that people will listen to me, that I can speak for others with disabilities, will have a massive impact on me. Lots of people with disabilities feel ignored and I want that to change.”

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