“I am Autistic and Proud of It” - Researcher in autism and neurodiversity. Multi-disciplinary artist who creates immersive experiences through music, visual art, poetry and performance. Board member of the Disabled People’s Association, Singapore. More than all these, Dr Dawn-joy Leong is autistic and proud of it!
It took Dr Leong more than half a lifetime to realise her dreams. She was only diagnosed as autistic in her early forties when she sought help from a psychologist while on the verge of giving up. However, she eventually found the courage to break free and reached for her dreams in unique ways.
Dr Leong’s journey was filled with tumultuous challenges. She developed a lifelong medical disability at the age of 5. Her social and physical environment was combative towards her autistic hyper senses and medical condition. She struggled with sensory meltdowns in mainstream school and her teacher said she will never become an artist because she did not colour within the lines. Others also used and manipulated her talents for their own gain. However, she did not journey alone. She found mentors and loyal friends who believed in her and helped her.
Dr Leong’s strongest pillar of support is “Lucy Like-a-Charm”, a former racing Greyhound from Australia. She isn’t just Dr Leong’s pet dog, but her autism sensory anxiety assistance dog, creative muse and closest companion of 8 years. Lucy was right beside Dr Leong and helped her surface from a dissociative state when she was evicted from her former friend’s apartment just four weeks before the deadline of her PhD submission. Thanks to Lucy, Dr Leong went on to win the prestigious Dean’s Award for Research Excellence at UNSW, a top award given to only one postgraduate student each year.
Dr Leong points out that she’s not a “natural advocate”, but she believes in sharing her life story to help others. She continues to advocate for autistic people of all ages and across the multi-dimensional autism spectrum. “I want every autistic person not to be ashamed of being autistic, but to embrace self-hood. My raison d’être is this: “It is not my purpose to ‘fix’ what is broken, but to empower beauty in the vulnerable and unnoticed”.
For Dr Leong, she thrives because of her autism, not despite it. Here’s to Dr Leong – for colouring outside the lines and being proud of it!
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