Today I have just one request. Please don't tell me I'm normal.
Now I'd like to introduce you to my brothers. Remi is 22, tall and very handsome. He's speechless, but he communicates joy in a way that some of the best orators cannot. Remi knows what love is. He shares it unconditionally and he shares it regardless. He's not greedy. He doesn't see skin color. He doesn't care about religious differences, and get this: He has never told a lie. When he sings songs from our childhood, attempting words that not even I could remember, he reminds me of one thing: how little we know about the mind, and how wonderful the unknown must be.
Samuel is 16. He's tall. He's very handsome. He has the most impeccable memory. He has a selective one, though. He doesn't remember if he stole my chocolate bar, but he remembers the year of release for every song on my iPod, conversations we had when he was four, weeing on my arm on the first ever episode of Teletubbies, and Lady Gaga's birthday.
Don't they sound incredible? But most people don't agree. And in fact, because their minds don't fit into society's version of normal, they're often bypassed and misunderstood.
But what lifted my heart and strengthened my soul was that even though this was the case, although they were not seen as ordinary, this could only mean one thing: that they were extraordinary — autistic and extraordinary.
Now, for you who may be less familiar with the term "autism," it's a complex brain disorder that affects social communication, learning and sometimes physical skills. It manifests in each individual differently, hence why Remi is so different from Sam. And across the world, every 20 minutes, one new person is diagnosed with autism, and although it's one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the world, there is no known cause or cure.
And I cannot remember the first moment I encountered autism, but I cannot recall a day without it. I was just three years old when my brother came along, and I was so excited that I had a new being in my life. And after a few months went by, I realized that he was different. He screamed a lot. He didn't want to play like the other babies did, and in fact, he didn't seem very interested in me whatsoever. Remi lived and reigned in his own world, with his own rules, and he found pleasure in the smallest things, like lining up cars around the room and staring at the washing machine and eating anything that came in between. And as he grew older, he grew more different, and the differences became more obvious. Yet beyond the tantrums and the frustration and the never-ending hyperactivity was something really unique: a pure and innocent nature, a boy who saw the world without prejudice, a human who had never lied. Extraordinary.
Now, I cannot deny that there have been some challenging moments in my family, moments where I've wished that they were just like me. But I cast my mind back to the things that they've taught me about individuality and communication and love, and I realize that these are things that I wouldn't want to change with normality. Normality overlooks the beauty that differences give us, and the fact that we are different doesn't mean that one of us is wrong. It just means that there's a different kind of right. And if I could communicate just one thing to Remi and to Sam and to you, it would be that you don't have to be normal. You can be extraordinary. Because autistic or not, the differences that we have — We've got a gift! Everyone's got a gift inside of us, and in all honesty, the pursuit of normality is the ultimate sacrifice of potential. The chance for greatness, for progress and for change dies the moment we try to be like someone else.
Please — don't tell me I'm normal. Thank you. (Applause) (Applause)