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Hopes for the future

Every one of the 900 students and several hundred staff at Myers Grove school in Sheffield has heard an impassioned speech written by student David Parry, 14, who has autism.

David, who is based in the 11-16 secondary school's specialist unit for students with autism and communication difficulties, wrote the speech in a mainstream Year 9 English lesson, in which he and fellow students were studying the "I have a dream" speech by Martin Luther King.

David's version had an immediate effect on his classmates, says unit head Sally Rickhuss: "I happened to be in the lesson when all the kids read out their speeches, and everyone was mesmerised by David's. It was such a good speech and he read it so well. He really put the passion into it. The whole class applauded."

From there, David was asked to read his speech in all five year-group assemblies. It was, says Rickhuss, the culmination of work done in the special unit on understanding that everyone is unique and of value.

"Staff were saying they were quite moved by it, while students were much more impressed by the message than if staff had delivered it. It was so obviously from the heart."

I HAVE A VISION

'Ladies and gentlemen I am making a VERY important point here. I have a vision that, one day in the not-too-distant future, autistic and disabled people will be treated as being no inferior to other people.

I have a vision that, one day, terms such as 'crip', 'mong' and 'spaz' will be dropped from people's vocabularies. I have a vision that people will stop talking to autistic and disabled individuals in a patronising tone of voice, as if they are far younger or less intelligent than they actually are.

Thankfully, people have already improved their attitudes towards autistic and disabled individuals. Three or four decades ago these people were being dumped in mental institutions as soon as they reached the legal age of maturity.

Hopefully, people will continue to improve their attitudes towards these individuals until we reach the point where all discrimination against them is eliminated.

Put yourselves in these people's shoes. If you were autistic or disabled, would you want people discriminating against you?

Pity those who pick on people because they are autistic or disabled. Their self-esteem is probably so low that they feel they have to boost it by discriminating against these individuals.

Autistic and disabled people are not there to be discriminated against. All people are equal, regardless of their differences.'

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