On 4th January 2016 I relocated to Brussels on a 3 month secondment. In those 3 months I made lifelong friends, we had lols for days, hangovers, a detox diet, so much pizza, I gained 10 kilos, launched an autism awareness project, took LPC exams and witnessed a terrorist attack.

I fell in love with Brussels because it’s such a weird place. You can find anything you want but it is organised chaos. You only have to walk around for 20 minutes and you are bound to go through european, residential, touristy, historic parts of the city. It’s a small town playing dress up as a big city.

On 22nd March 2016 I went to work super early because there was a lot going on. It wasn’t until 9am that I sat down, switched on my PC and looked at my phone which kept getting messaged and missed calls that a colleague said to me – there’s been an explosion at the airport. We knew a group of people from our institution that were travelling that day so we immediately began trying to contact them. It wasn’t until the second explosion hit the news that I stopped and thought that this was something I should worry about. We had colleagues stuck on trains and being diverted, colleagues trying to come back and others trying to leave because they had to get to their children. Our building was in lock down and we had to do inventory to figure out if we would be okay to stay the night. When we were finally allowed to leave, we walked through the city to our neighbourhood, it was such a sunny day. Three days of mourning followed.

I wasn’t scared that day. I couldn’t be scared because we were burdened with so much responsibility. In the weeks that followed, we retold the day’s events so many times and I always remember not being scared. I credit this to that one colleague who was my rock that day, and who stayed late with me when I offered to walk people home. I was scared that afternoon when I had to go buy enough supplies to get me through the next few days. I was scared when I locked the door to my flat and I was alone. For the next few days, every time I heard a police siren I checked the news. Two days after the attack a friend called to say there’s a march and we should go.

The Bourse was overflowing with people, flowers, candles, song, laughter and life.

I love Brussels because there’s surprise at every corner; you never know if the car will stop at the zebra crossing, or what kind of amazing cuisine you’ll uncover during a stroll.   love Brussels because their landmark is a small bronze sculpture of a naked boy urinating.

I love Brussels because it was were I started my autism awareness project for Christos’ 18 birthday (#Project324). It was from there that I asked the team if they wanted to be part of the project, it was there that the cards were printed, cut and mailed to 18 countries. I am so proud that my brother’s 18th birthday project is associated with the city of Brussels.

In a short 3 months, I loved, I lived, I drank, I ate, I campaigned, I advocated, I worked, I helped, I was scared, I was angry, I lolled, I studied, I cried, I learned, I got a pink elephant hat. Most importantly, I was inspired. On this day, two years ago 32 people died, hundreds were injured and millions were inspired. Millions around the world were inspired by the fearlessness of humans.



Happy Birthday Hallee – Autistic Pride Day 2016

Today is Autistic Pride day. Last year I talked about different events happening and what you could do, today I want to talk about one; Hallee Sorenson.

In July last year, Hallee invited her classmates and other friends in the are to celebrate a big birthday – her 18th.

Not a single person showed up.

I’ve said before, for Chris’ 16th and 17th birthdays that he wasn’t going to get facebook posts wishing him happy birthday, he wouldn’t get texts,  go out and celebrate with his friends, ask for money to spend, he wouldn’t ask for expensive presents, or make a big show of opening presents. He is happy with his day-to-day life. But for his 18th I wanted to make it big, so that he would know that it was an important day. I’ve been so preoccupied with making #Project324 work, that I forgot what made me want this so bad.

It was summer last year, end of August and I was reading an article by an autism mum. She was talking about how her little boy was never invited to birthday parties. How he didn’t get play dates, and people didn’t even try. He was verbal and an athlete. Chris is neither verbal nor an athlete. So, I started thinking about Chris and how he has never been invited to a friend’s birthday party. Then I started thinking about who he would invite, and who would show up. Of course, I thought of all our lovely family and then…… no one. I got a chill down my spine, I thought I could never let that happen. No matter how much we accept that Chris’ life, wants and needs are different, his milestones are unique we are still shackled by our society’s norms; like birthdays.

birthday-appeal-trending-large_trans++Adw0VrjqLWSqJHfZ45Ae0UPhGu3d8eCxEbnX1CfWC0cHallee is funny, sweet, caring, smart, an athlete, a jigsaw puzzle champion, a wonderful student, and a best friend to all” but Hallee’s family won’t let autism be part of the way she is described to the world. Hallee is so much more than her diagnosis. Her cousin made it her mission to give Hallee a birthday to remember this year and asked people from around the world to send birthday messages to her home in Maine – Hallee received more than 10,000 cards, notes and gifts.
Why are we less willing to help people that we go to school with than people half way around the world? Why did #Project324 get so many responses and yet none of Hallee Sorenson‘s  classmates, who she sees every day, had the decency to show up to her 18th birthday?

I am sorry that our society failed you last year Hallee. I know that your story, your strength and beauty will make sure that children around the world will get treated with more love and understanding. Your family’s courage is a beacon for autism families all over the world worrying about their kids’ birthdays. I hope you are showered with gifts and cards and love on your 19th birthday and forever. I hope that this is a wake up call to your school and your community and that your message stays with them for years to come. Hallee’s auntie said: “This is all reaffirming that most people are kind and loving and that we all have the capacity for caring about others, even if they’re many miles away.” Maybe next year “most people” will be “all people“.

Hallee is Autistic Pride Day. Her smile, her milestones, her perseverance and her family’s strength and support are at the heart of what we are proud today.

Happy Birthday Hallee, you deserve a love so expansive it weaves constellations, so that you never forget who you are.

Send Hallee a birthday wish:

Hallee Sorenson
34 Wellesley Way
Bangor, ME 04401