How I found my sense of belonging

Saihan explains how he found his sense of belonging through Sense Virtual Buddying.

My name is Saihan, I’m 17, and I was diagnosed with autism when I was young. Growing up with autism can be a lonely experience.

When I was at my old school, I always sat alone during break and lunchtime. I would just be on the computer looking for something to do and playing games. When games were blocked, finding fun things to do became impossible.

I was always left isolated

Even in my lessons, I’d sit alone. When there was partner work, no one would want to work with me. In the end, I’d just do it by myself. I was always being belittled and I lost confidence. When there was group work, I’d always be isolated and left hovering.

One time, my former peers kept me with them and didn’t tell me to go away because they knew they’d get into trouble. Even though I was with them, they excluded me from participation. People used to run away from me. It’s not good, but it’s life. I accepted it a long time ago.

The only thing I find fun is schoolwork, learning and eating food. Every day, I check my emails just in case there are any opportunities or things to do today.

Sense broke through the silence

Once, I gave a speech about my experience of the loneliness that comes with growing up with autism. My school offered to publish it in their newsletter but then quickly withdrew that offer. They were afraid I might get bullied or there would be some backlash. All I wanted was for my experience and voice to be heard. Ironically, my speech about loneliness was ignored.

Finding Sense was a huge turning point for me. I signed up to the Buddying service which paired my up with my first volunteer, Martin. We did loads of activities together and it was nice having someone outside of my family to talk to. I’d share my dreams and aspirations with him, and he encouraged me to keep moving forward.

One day, he even arranged for me to go to the Sense office to do some work with the one of the teams. I met a number of people who were all really excited to talk to me and hear about my experiences. I was in my element. When I went home later that day, all I could think was what a fantastic time I had and not how my presence impacted everyone in the office.

That was a huge moment for me. Meeting the team at Sense opened doors for me that I didn’t think were possible. I’ve been the face of some huge campaigns and was even interviewed by the BBC. Sense helped me see that by sharing my story, I might help lots of other people out there feel less lonely.

My Buddies keep me dreaming big

Over the years, I’ve had a few volunteer Buddies and each one has been amazingly matched with me. My current buddy, Maria, shares my interest of politics and history and is always really kind and helpful. I learn a lot with her, we recently watched documentaries about Dunkirk and the Ottomans! I still get lonely from time to time but Maria helps me take my mind off things.

With the help of Sense, my mental health, autism and loneliness has not stopped me from dreaming big. Despite everything, I work hard every day of my life to achieve my goals. I hope to one day get into Oxford or Cambridge University and to get a Philosophy Doctorate in Politics, before moving into politics as a career. My dream is to one day be the leader of the Labour Party and eventually Prime Minister of Great Britain. My hope is that I can change how people view disabilities.

Sense gave me a sense of belonging when I was at a point of complete mental breakdown and being ostracised. It helped me to change my views that not all people are mean, and I should persevere as people with disabilities do matter and can dream and achieve their goals.

Find a volunteer Buddy

Our Virtual Buddying service is free for anyone with disabilities looking for a friend in the UK.