Experiencing Life Differently
People living with autism experience life much differently than the average person. Some describe being autistic as “living in your own bubble” where your perception of the world around you is separated by a thin wall. It can be a challenging diagnosis for people, but many succeed to live normal lives despite the setbacks autism can bring.
A World of Silence
For 17-year-old autistic teen Sef Scott, living with autism was a challenge. Not only did he not speak, but he viewed and interacted with the world much differently. Thankfully, he had wonderful friends, classmates and supporting parents to make things easier for him. At school, he was quite popular despite his silence, communicating in different ways without the use of words.
The Moment That Changed Everything
However, one day Sef did something that completely took his classmates by surprise. After years of silence and nonverbal communication, he took a giant step forward that would completely change the course of his life and those around him. You won’t believe his incredible story.
Loved and Adored
The day Sef was born was one of the best days in his parents’ lives. The minute he was placed in their arms, it was love at first sight. However, as the days passed and he continued to grow, they began to notice some strange behaviors they found unsettling.
A Challenging Diagnosis
After running various tests, Sef’s parents received a world-shattering diagnosis. Sef was autistic. However, that didn’t change their love for him. While unexpected, his parents were up to the challenge. Their son would have all the love and support he needed to succeed.
Autistic children fall under two different spectrums: verbal and nonverbal. Sef was nonverbal, which is defined as “categorized by learning one word or having minimal verbal language.” This made communicating with Sef a real challenge on a day to day basis.
Worried About School
When it came time for Sef to finally attend elementary school, his parents feared for the worst. They knew that kids could be cruel, and they worried he would be tormented and bullied for being different. However, something amazing happened instead…
A Welcome Surprise
Thankfully, Sef’s parents’ worries were for naught. Instead of his classmates bullying him, they actually cared for him. They would hold his hand, help him with his classwork and created a loving community around him. To say his parents were touched would be an understatement.
Popular In School
As the school years continued on, Sef found himself gaining popularity. Everywhere he went he made new friends to enjoy the day with and it was heartwarming for his parents to see other students looking beyond his disability.
A Great Social Circle
By the time Sef started high school he had an incredible close-knit circle of friends. And with senior in full swing, he would soon be looking beyond his secondary education and into college. His parents were so proud of how far he had come throughout the years and knew he would continue to succeed in adulthood.
The Speech Audition
One day, Sef’s mom Vicki noticed a sign inviting seniors to audition to give a speech at the graduation ceremony. This sparked a wild idea that Sef should give it a try. Wouldn’t it be great for her son to surprise the entire school with a speech?
A New Challenge
Sef’s mother knew it would be a big challenge for her son. Not only would he have to audition before a panel of judges, but he would need to write and memorize the speech as well. Vicki decided to approach Sef’s brother about it and together, they formed a plan for Sef to audition. But first, they needed to get him to agree to it.
At first, Vicki was unsure how to approach her son about the speaking opportunity. She didn’t know if it would stress him out or if he would be up for the challenge. She also didn’t want to set him up to fail. However, despite the uphill battle it would be, she decided to run it behind him anyway. What did they have to lose?
An Excited Reaction
According to Vicki, Sef reacted to the opportunity by jumping out of bed and giggling, “Yes!” She was quite surprised by his expressive reaction since he usually remained mostly nonverbal.
The Right Path
Based on her son’s reaction, Vicki knew that auditioning for the speech was in his best interest. “He’s not a demonstrative individual at all, and to have him shaking with excitement, with a huge smile, making eye contact, looking at me straight in the eye and firmly saying yes, it was great.”
Seven Weeks of Writing
Over the course of the next seven weeks, Sef would write and rewrite his speech. He thankfully had some close friends help him structure the speech and of course, his mom and brother were there to help him whenever he needed it. Finally, the day of the audition arrived…
Auditioning Before the Panel
Despite being nervous, Sef stood in front of the audition panel with confidence. He looked the judges straight in the eye and went through his whole speech. And in the end, all of his hard work paid off…he was selected to give his speech at the graduation ceremony!
Rehearsing and More Rehearsing
Not wanting to fail, Sef committed to rehearsing his speech with his family daily. His mother was in awe of his dedication. “I’ve never seen him so committed to something before. For once, he was communicating after spending so much of his life in a silent bubble.”
The Day Finally Arrives
Finally, the day of Sef’s high school graduation arrived. His family was completely overwhelmed with emotion as they waited with bated breath for him to get on the stage and shock his teachers and friends. It would be a defining moment for the autistic teenager.
Stepping Up to the Mic
Nervous and shaking, Sef walked up to the microphone. He took a deep breath and began his speech, full of confidence and vigor. And as he began, a silence settled across the auditorium as his classmates heard his voice for the first time.
Expect the Unexpected
“I would imagine that to the seniors that know who I am that it is entirely unexpected that I would be standing here giving a speech,” Sef began. “Just by my being here speaking to all of you — me — that alone is unexpected. Knowing that I want to be heard — I imagine that is unexpected.”
A Beautiful Message
“Don’t follow someone else’s dreams,” Sef continued, “Don’t waste time on something you never wanted. Do the unexpected. It’s your life that you are living, not anyone else’s, so do what fulfills you. Don’t fear the future, don’t fear the unknown. Will it be unexpected? Yes. Yes, it will. But that does not make it wrong.”
An Eruption of Applause
As Sef continued his speech, there were several moments the audience erupted in applause. It was a stunning display that no one would have imagined could happen. A young man on the nonverbal autistic spectrum, delivering a powerful speech to his fellow classmates.
The Best Friend
One of Sef’s best friends, Luke, was sitting in the audience and was overcome with emotion as he heard his dear friend speak for the first time. “I was really nervous, I was saying prayers the whole entire time,” Luke revealed. “But as soon as I heard him start I knew he had it… When he started speaking it was like all of a sudden the boy trapped inside him all those years got to have his voice heard.”
A Crowning Achievement
After 17 years of living in silence, Sef’s speech was an incredible accomplishment. No one in his family ever thought they would see the day he spoke so eloquently, and they were overcome by how raw and emotional it was. It was one of the best days of the teen’s life.
A Lack of Understanding
One specialist named Brittney who had been working with Sef one-on-one could not believe the confidence boost the speech opportunity brought to the teenager. She also revealed that most people have no real understanding of what life is like for an autistic person. “I feel like people have no idea what it’s like for kids like him,” she said. “They’re overshadowed. But there’s a lot of very smart kids in special needs.”
A Speech for Everyone
One of the most powerful aspects of Sef’s speech is that it wasn’t just targeted at other students with special needs. It was an aspirational message for everyone to do what’s best for them. It was about equality and that’s what made Sef’s words so impactful.
A Final Moment
For Sef’s mom, Vicki, the speech provided him with one final moment to be with the classmates he loved and adored. Although Sef preferred to be alone and would get nervous in crowds, he wanted to give back to all of those who had helped over the years.
Overall, Vicki believes that Sef giving his speech was a powerful tool to transition him from being a teen to an adult. Even though it was a special situation, being able to approach the podium and speak in front of such a large crowd connected Sef with the rest of the world.
In the end, his mother hopes that his speech raises awareness for those with special needs and how they can exceed their limits and embrace their full potential. “Maybe giving the speech in front of the whole room brought an awareness of those around him that maybe doesn’t normally enter his autistic world,” Vicki pondered. “It makes me think that in recent years, maybe he wanted to all along.”
We have a feeling Sef is going to go on and do amazing things.