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‘I hated school, was bullied and didn’t fit in’

LIVING BEYOND A LABEL: Dami Benbow wants to raise awareness of autism so that those diagnosed with the condition can be supported to live fulfilling lives

ONLY A week into his new job after graduating from a Russell Group university last month, Dami Benbow appears to be a young man on the right track.

However, the 24-year-old’s journey to where he is today has been far from straightforward.

Ten years ago, the Londoner was diagnosed with autism – a cognitive condition that affects developmental skills.

“Autism does vary from person to person…just as no person is exactly the same,” Benbow explains.

Speaking with bundles of energy, it is apparent how bright and perceptive on the Leeds University graduate is.

He tells The Voice: “I suppose I am socially awkward, I do find it difficult to talk to people I don’t know. To other people, I speak far too much.

“The first thing people notice about me is that I have a very large general knowledge and will not hesitate to show it when anyone asks the slightest question. Information overload, that’s probably it.

“It’s the way I know how to converse with people.”

Benbow’s new employer is the charity Ambitious About Autism – an organisation he had previously spent two years with as a volunteer youth patron.


He is currently the participation coordinator for its project myVoice, a position he is well-suited to since the former deputy youth mayor of Lewisham is a natural at raising issues about autism, which are close to his heart.

“Autism awareness in our community is incredibly important because most people don’t realise that there is at least one person who has autism that they see on a regular daily basis,” the Lewisham resident explains.

“We have these ideas of autism that are given to us by the media and they generally fall into two categories which work for some people but not everyone.

“They are those who are non-verbal – people with complex autism that need specialist help, and the other category is that of the autistic savant. The categories are true for a few people but not for the most of us.

“Unless you fall into one of those categories, people don’t tend to think you have autism…and just think you are weird or a social outcast.”

Despite the difficulties, the autism advocate has so far lead a life that exemplifies his determination to succeed.

He studied politics and parliamentary studies at Leeds, which included a year-long internship in Westminster where he worked under Labour MPs Harriet Harman and John Trickett.

“I am Labour but I’m not very happy with the party – to be honest who is happy with their political party these days?” the former youth mayor states with an ironic twist. Politics is a possible future career for him, but the charity worker is “not entirely sure yet”.


He says: “I want to see where the world takes me because there are a lot of things out there. I want to know where I could change something in the world and best be applied to do that.”

Looking back on his schooldays, his pain is obvious. “I hated school, I hated sixth form – I cannot think of a day I went in happy,” he recalls.

“I went to a mainstream school in Deptford and it was very obvious I was different. I did get bullied rather mercilessly. The experience of that made me try to temper myself. I try to work on my personality and conversation to make sure I follow what other people are talking about as close as possible.”

However, Benbow cites youth workers in the Young Mayor for Lewisham scheme as having a positive impact on his welfare during those troubled times. “They showed me that I did have a passion for something and that there was a point to life,” he adds.

“By nurturing my passion and talent, it improved my behaviour and grades. It’s incredibly important that young people with autism are supported because everyone has different talents and they need to come out and shine.”

Asked if he finds autism a useful or restrictive label, the charity worker replies: “It depends on the person. For a person with complex autism, the label is incredibly helpful because that person needs that statement to have support.

“I try to avoid using my diagnosis as a crutch as much as possible. I’m very aware that it’s easy to say, ‘I’ve done something wrong because I have autism and therefore it doesn’t matter.’ I’m glad I have my diagnosis because it gave me support in school from my teachers to get good grades to go to university.”

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