Meet the young Leeds poet giving a voice to people on the autism spectrum

A young Leeds poet is ripping up stereotypes of people on the autism spectrum with her moving verse on life with Asperger's syndrome.

Tuesday, 7th September 2021, 4:45 am

Ella Sanderson, 22, has co-created a BBC Introducing Arts radio segment with presenter Huw Edwards, where she discusses neurodivergence, poetry, religion and being human.

The programme, now live on BBC Sounds, features four of Ella's most-performed poems: Wired Different, Delete Her, Disability in Employment and Washing Machine Brain.​

Determined to be a voice for others on the autism spectrum, Ella wants to raise awareness of what life is like for people with Asperger's syndrome, hoping to change perceptions and make society more inclusive for neurodivergent people.

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Ella Sanderson, 22, discusses neurodivergence, poetry, religion and being human in her poetry

Ella, of Menston, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “Asperger's is a form of autism - your brain is wired differently to a neurotypical person.

"Nobody on the autism spectrum is the same, although we have similar traits. One person could have lots of issues with noise, another person could have issues with clothes, or sensory issues. It’s like a rainbow, we’re all different.

“Sometimes I have meltdowns if a lot happens that is out of my control - I can’t cope with it. Just like I wrote in my Washing Machine Brain poem, my brain spirals out of control in a loop."

Ella's journey into poetry began when she joined Ilkley Writers, where she was encouraged to start writing by local poets Becky Cherriman and Michelle Scally Clarke.

Ella wants to raise awareness of what life is like for people with Asperger's syndrome, hoping to change perceptions and make society more inclusive

She had a natural flair and was soon performing at open-mic nights across West Yorkshire, something that once seemed a long way out of her comfort zone.

Ella added: “Becky and Michelle biggest inspirations, they started my journey and without them, I wouldn’t be a poet.

“With poems, I like how short they are. What I write is short, snappy and to the point - so they fit my Asperger's.

“It’s given me a platform to talk. I find chit-chat hard, but I can get all I want to say out in a poem.

Ella has co-created a BBC Introducing Arts radio segment with presenter Huw Edwards, where she performs some of her poems

“Lots of people with autism are mute and can’t speak. The people who can speak, like me, are often shy and struggle to get their words out.

“A lot of neurotypicals don’t know much about autism and awareness is one thing, but also helping people with Asperger's and autism to be included.

"I want to be a voice for others."

Being featured on the BBC has been a dream come true for Ella, who also performed as part of the BBC Words First competition with spoken word pioneer Malika Booker.

She opened her BBC Introducing Arts segment with a reading of Wired Different, which asserts that people with autism have a place in society as much as anyone else.

"Sometimes we’re told we’re a wrong mark on a page, that we shouldn’t be here," Ella said.

"Society isn’t built for us, so we’re always trying to wear a mask, or trying to fit in.

"But people with autism shouldn't be rubbed out."

After cementing her place in West Yorkshire's poetry community, Ella was left unable to perform for much of the pandemic - but that didn't stop her work.

She performed through virtual open mic nights and recently got back to the stage at Leeds Poetry Festival, held at Left Bank in July.

Ella said: “I was really nervous to perform again, but everyone came up to me afterwards and said how well I did. That really boosted my confidence and encouraged me to keep going.

“It was great performing on Zoom, but I missed my parents and family coming along. When I go to live open mic nights my parents take me and watch me, but on Zoom they’d be watching TV in the lounge! It didn’t feel like as big a deal.

“Coming out of lockdown, I’m excited to do more events in person."

Ella discusses inequality in her writing, hoping to prompt change that will help people on the autism spectrum to be included in society.

She hopes her frank account of life with Asperger's will encourage other young writers to follow their dreams - even if other people try to hold them back.

“Just start by writing your thoughts on a page, free-write and get everything out there," Ella added.

"Once you’ve done that, you’ll see how powerful it is having all your thoughts down on paper. A weight is lifted off your mind.

"With other hobbies - if you want to do it, just try it, even if people say you can’t. You might find you can do it.

“When people read my poetry I hope that neurotypicals will think, ‘oh, that’s what autism is like, and this is what I can do to help somebody with autism’.

“If they have Asperger's, I hope they think, ‘it’s hard, but I can keep going - because Ella has kept going’.”

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