Autistic man Richie “overwhelmed” by response after meeting children with autism at the Bridges in Sunderland
Richie Smith, 37, was only diagnosed with autism three years ago after struggling to understand “why he saw the world differently”.
Following his diagnosis, Richie, who was brought up in South Shields, set up the autism charity Awesometistic and has dedicated his life to raising the profile of autism and inspiring children to “embrace the condition rather than seeing it as a barrier to success”.
The Mustang, which was supplied by Lookers Ford, was chosen as a vehicle for the charity to help grab children’s attention and to “symbolise that just because you have autism you can still be successful”.
Richie, who was in the Bridges yesterday (Febraury 24), added: “It was an absolutely awesome day and I was buzzing after the event. I do lots of sessions in schools and post support videos on my social media platforms and the parents said the kids really wanted to meet me.
"There was one boy who was non verbal who’d seen a photograph of me and had indicated to his parents he wanted to see me. The kids were wanting to ask me about my life and also wanted to sit in the car.
"I want them to realise that having autism doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful career and personal life. I now have a family of my own and they can too.
"Meeting them was quite emotional to be honest.”
And it wasn’t just the children who benefited from meeting Richie.
He added: “Quite a few of the parents also wanted to have a chat about strategies to support their children.”
Richie was also in the Bridges to promote his new book ‘The Art of Weeing in the Sink’, in reference to something Richie used to “do as a little boy”.
He said: “I used to like the colour change when it hit the sink which I now realise was linked to the sensory side of my autism and was one of the things which made me feel weird.”
The book chronicles Richie’s journey from being being abused by his birth parents, including “being left on his own for three days”, failing to connect to his adopted parents and eventually trying to commit suicide.
Richie added: “Writing the book was a really therapeutic experience and allowed me to get everything down on paper rather than just holding it in my head. One lady bought the book and after reading the first three chapters came back down to see me to tell me how proud she was of the challenges I had overcome.
"My message to anyone who has autism is that is should be embraced.”
Meeting Richie certainly appears to have proven inspirational for other families living with the condition.
One poster on his Facebook page said: “It was so amazing to meet you today. Thank you for taking time to chat to myself and my son who now wants to drive an "awesome car like Richie".
"I can't wait to start reading your book. Keep being you because our little ones need someone just as awesome as they are to look up to.”