Autistic Mustang owner Richie Smith shows why condition 'should not be a barrier to success'
An autistic man from South Shields is bringing his Mustang sports car to the Bridges Shopping Centre to highlight his message that the condition “should not be a barrier to success”.
Since being diagnosed as autistic three years ago, Richie Smith, 37, has dedicated his life to raising awareness of the condition, including bringing the iconic sports car into schools to deliver workshops to children to improve their understanding of autism.
However, with Covid restrictions having curtailed his work in schools Richie will be parking his car in the Bridges to promote his campaign.
He said: “My message is that autism is a challenge – not a barrier – and shouldn’t stop anyone from achieving anything. Throughout my life I’ve done things which made me fell weird until I was eventually diagnosed.
"I always felt something was missing and that I saw the world differently. I felt like a freak and used to get bullied for being different and until my diagnosis I couldn’t understand why.
"Although not connected to autism, I’m a straight man but I’ve always been described as the girliest girl as I enjoy dressing in a feminine way. I’ve now got the confidence to decide I want to be Richie on the outside as well as Richie on the inside.”
After receiving his diagnosis, Richie left his job as a teacher at Newcastle College, to set up the charity Awesometisic where he began to look for strategies to engage children and raise awareness of autism.
He said: “I didn’t want any other child to feel the way I did. I approached Lookers Ford about the possibility of getting a sponsored car to promote the charity and explained I needed a car that would really get children’s attention.
"The Mustang really helps to engage the children and relays a positive message that you can be successful living with autism.”
As well as speaking about his own experiences living with autism, the event in The Bridges will also provide Richie with an opportunity to promote his book, ‘The Art of Weeing in the Sink’.
Richie said: “As a little boy this is one of the things I used to do. 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.
He added: “I hit rock bottom and decided I needed to sort my life out.”
After enrolling at Newcastle College, Richie completed a Level 3 BTEC in Mechanical Engineering – where he was named Student of the Year. He then achieved the “highest possible grade” in his Foundation Degree before being offered the opportunity to train to become a teacher at the college – a position he held for five years.
Richie said: “People say with the amount of challenges I’ve had to overcome that I’ve had 10 lives in one. If I can succeed in my life then I’m sure everyone else can.”
The event will take place on February 23/24 between 10am and 4pm.