Ben Howard has dreamt of being an entertainer since he was six years old. Over the past 13 years, he has taught himself to not only sing but to write songs and play the guitar. Some of the challenges Ben faced with his autism meant that pursuing long-term singing goals felt out of reach for him and his mum, Victoria Howard.
Nevertheless, in February with the help of the Achieve My Dream program, Ben was able to attend professional singing lessons once a week for three months. After the program launched at Achieve in 2019, Ben was one of the first round of applicants set to turn his dream of being an entertainer into reality.
The experience has been life-changing. “It’s made me realise singing is a wonderful passion to have and how much I love singing,” says Ben. “I’ve always wanted to prove everyone wrong, that I’m not just a normal autistic person but I am special, talented and gifted and I want to share my talent with the world.”
Victoria, Ben’s mum, says the lessons have brought so much joy to their lives by helping Ben continue his love of singing. “It’s just so lovely especially when I get to hear him sing,” says Victoria. “I can hear the happiness in his voice. As a parent it makes you feel so enriched.”
The program has also given Ben much more than he expected. “It has given me happiness and confidence. I have a lot more confidence in entertaining and in life skills,” he says. “Before when I would need to go to the shops, I couldn’t do everything on my own. Recently, when I needed something from the chemist, I did it myself and usually I would need mum’s help.”
For Victoria, she has seen firsthand the opportunities that are now more available for everyone in the community as well as changing attitudes. “There were less opportunities years ago for people with disabilities to achieve their dreams,” she says. “Years ago, people weren’t invited or included to join in on certain things, which could have helped to achieve their dreams. There was an issue with acceptance.”
But Victoria agrees things are changing through more inclusive programs that provide the opportunity not just for more acceptance but understanding. “The general public are more accepting now because more organisations are putting people with disabilities more out there, so people can understand,” says Victoria. “It’s a human right that everyone should be included.”
From Ben’s side, he feels that people with disability should have the same opportunities as everyone else in the community. “Every person with a disability should be able to achieve their dream and do what they want with their life,” he says. “You don’t have to worry about winning or losing. You just need to take a few deep breaths and enjoy what you like to do. Never give up your dream!”
The Achieve My Dream program takes inspiration from what an individual has always dreamed to do or experience in their lifetime and helps to make this possible. New applications for Achieve My Dream will open later in 2020 as social restrictions ease.