Anya Macdonald: proof that things can get better

To describe Anya as a beacon of inspiration would be insufficient.

The journey to being officially diagnosed with autism can often be a difficult one for people such as Anya, undiagnosed until she was nearly 17, as they struggle to navigate institutions, services, and a wider society which are invariably ill-equipped to offer the critical support on which their lives can depend.

Yet, Anya has overcome this turbulent period of her life to become a shining example of the rich and fulfilling lives that autistic people can lead.

“Being autistic gives me the dedication I need so that I will achieve my goals.”

The lingering effects of trauma caused by undiagnosed autism and misunderstanding can at times be paralysing, driving people into isolation. It is therefore a testament to Anya that she has taken on the mantle of advocate for change, overcoming her initial anxiety around public speaking to speak at an autism summit for local services and at a CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) training event.

“It gives me a unique perspective that not everyone is lucky enough to have. The ability to see, understand and experience the world differently…So, when people ask if I would cure my autism, I say no, because who would I be without it?”

Anya’s work extends further than this, however, with her growing influence and powerful advocacy recognised by the NHS as they invited her to speak at an ‘improvement board meeting’. Her position as a role model for others living through the same experiences as her is “rewarding” for Anya.

She will certainly have further opportunities to improve the services she feels let her down during the time she needed them most and continues to use her past experiences to motivate and effect change for others. This passion for practical, actionable change will be of immeasurable help to the NHS.

“Being autistic makes me the artist that I am and the artist that I want to be.”

Over the last several years, Anya has allowed her creativity to take centre stage. Wildly talented and blessed with a golden touch across all art mediums, Anya has been telling her story through animation via the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) as part of the seemingly never-ending work she does to raise awareness.

Whether she has her eyes fixed on a canvas, a screen, or an audience, Anya applies the same focused attitude to all she does. She is not one to shout about her own successes, preferring to change the world quietly while others throw accolades her way and professionals specifically seek her out for guidance and assistance.

“Being autistic means things can go wrong but I am always able to learn about myself and grow.”

While Anya acknowledges that being autistic can at times cause her to see small flaws and obsesses over them, it is this ability which allows her to identify the larger flaws in the current support system for people with autism and call for immediate improvement. Anya wants to focus on sharing and creating solutions, not just on the problems.

In her own words, she has “to try really hard, maybe harder than others, to achieve what I want to.” This singular dedication to achieving her goals drove her to begin a journey of advocacy and success which has seen her achieve so much at such a tender age; very few people would be able to juggle the work Anya undertakes at the age of 22.

Tellingly, none of her achievements have come at the expense of the personal relationships and lasting impact she has made on those around her. Everybody who has interacted with Anya across the years universally agrees that she is a lovely person and remain in contact to follow the journey of inspiring change which she is undertaking with such success.

Anya IS the light at the end of the tunnel. Having overcome many of the challenges that widespread misunderstanding has put in her way, Anya has learned to embrace being autistic.