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Miss Sandwich carnival queen Alice Watson calls for open debate on autism

By Eleanor Perkins

Sandwich’s carnival queen is opening up about life with autism in a bid to raise awareness.

Alice Watson, 15, of Dover Road, is eight months into her role as Miss Sandwich.

Having spread the word about her condition among the carnival community, she is now taking it a step further by launching her Star*t Being Aware campaign which aims to raise money for the National Autistic Society.

Miss Sandwich Alice Watson. Picture Andrew Watson

Miss Sandwich Alice Watson. Picture: Andrew Watson

Autism is characterised by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people. It affects more than one in 100 throughout the UK.

It was therefore a big step for Alice to go forward in this year’s carnival selections.

She said: “I’ve always looked up to the queens and princesses and my friend Kelsi Endean, who is queen in Deal, said I should go for it.

In a week we found a dress and I wrote my speech. I just threw myself into it.

“In my speech I promised to stand up for those with disabilities like my own. Now I’m doing it, it feels like I’ve achieved something, like a really huge dream.”

From a very young age Alice’s mum Wendy Watson knew that something was not right with her daughter’s behaviour. She would not socialise with others and she did not like loud noises.

When Alice started at Eastry Primary School, it was noticed that she had a processing issue. In Year 2, she was diagnosed with dyslexia and dyscalculia.

It was not until Alice became ill with glandular fever at the end of Year 7 that her mum says her autism really showed its face.

While she is recognised as being on the spectrum, Alice does not have a diagnosis – but after more than a decade, her family feel she may finally be being listened to.

A diagnosis is important to them because it means Alice will be given an education, health and care plan, giving her extended educational support until the age of 25.

Alice said that being Miss Sandwich makes her no longer feel invisible. She said: “When I’m inside at home I feel quite down, but going to carnival helps. I’ve made friends that I think will always be there for life.”

The busy carnival schedule sees her and her court travel around Kent almost every weekend to charity events and parties.

As queen she has a responsibilty to look after others as well as meet dignitaries. She is also learning leadership and organisational skills.

Alice Watson, raising autism awareness. Picture Andrew Watson

Alice Watson, raising autism awareness. Picture: Andrew Watson

She said: “I thought it would be really simple – just wearing dresses and looking pretty, but there’s so much more.

“People think it’s a beauty contest but it’s not. You have to meet and socialise with people and bring people together. You’re judged on how sociable you are.”

Her fellow court representatives had been very understanding about Alice’s needs and she feels she has opened their eyes up to the condition.

Having met Discovery Park’s corporate relations manager Kimberley Anderson, Alice has been made an ambassador of the business park.

They have pledged their full backing to the teenager and will support her in each of her charity events, including a 50-mile relay bike ride at Betteshanger Park on Saturday, November 11.

The court will be riding in heels and crowned helmets in exchange for donations. Financial director from Discovery Park Vicky Seeley will also take part.

Alice will also star as the snow queen in this year’s King Street Christmas party, where she will unveil an autism tree.

Ms Anderson said: “I was really impressed by Alice. I’ve never met a young person like her and I hope to support her in the best possible way.

The fact that she has autism has almost been a strength eventually.

Being carnival queen and attending Great Oaks Small School in Ebbsfleet, near Minster, has helped her greatly and she wants to speak out about it.

“She wants to raise awareness that you can have certain learning difficulties but it doesn’t stop you in life and Alice is here as our ambassador, and we wish that more people of her generation would speak out. She’s an inspirational person.”

From March, Alice will spend another year with the court as deputy queen.

She aspires to one-day be the face of her own company and design clothes.

She would encourage anyone who feels they do not fit in to go to the selection on March 18, 2018. She said: “They look for people who are different. They’re very accepting and helpful.”

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