South Shields autism champion is named national 'hero' for work helping those with the condition in the North East
A South Shields ‘hero’ has won a national award for his work spreading awareness of Autism in the North East.
Richard Smith, founder of community interest company Awesometistic, was crowned the People’s Autism Hero and entrepreneur of the year at the national Autism Hero Awards in London on Saturday, November 9.
The 35-year-old from South Shields was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at the age of 32, after years of unknowingly battling the condition.
Despite leaving school with only one GCSE, Richard studied for a degree in engineering, got married and adopted two children, but continued to experience mental health issues and tried to take his own life, because he felt - in his own words - like a “freak”.
Being diagnosed he says was the “best thing” that had happened to him and he quit his job the next day to set up the Awesometistic project.
Through the company he delivers talks in schools across the North East spreading awareness of the condition, training staff and parents and helping youngsters embrace their own diagnoses.
To date Richard has visited more than 100 schools, including 40 in South Shields, in his trademark yellow Ford Mustang and helped thousands of children and families.
“I share my story and tell them how amazing life with autism can be,” he said.
“Everybody with autism is different, it’s about helping them realise that it’s okay to voice their own needs.”
He continued: “The response has been unbelievable, I’m never going to stop doing this, I spent 32 years feeling like a freak and now I have a voice.
“I’m a massive believer that things happen for a reason and I wouldn’t change any part of it. I have found my own path.”
The Autism Hero Awards showcase and celebrate outstanding contributions and achievements of individuals, teams and organisations in the world of Autism.
Richard was the only nominee to be put forward for two awards and received thousands of votes.
“When I found out that I had won I just burst into tears, I was blown away,” he added.
“I’m just overwhelmed that all those people voted for someone like me. “
Find out more about at www.awesometistic.co.uk