In our first interview, we spotlight Emmy Thamakaison and her co-founder, Vienna, of SENIA Youth, in Bangkok, Thailand.
What is your story? What first prompted you to get involved in the work that you do?
My passion for exceptionalities is rooted in my colorful personal background of learning differences: All of the children in my family, including myself, have been diagnosed with ADHD and I also have a history with depression and anxiety. Because of this, instilling the importance of inclusion in today’s society has become a priority and goal I spend most of my time fulfilling. One project that was inspired by my experiences with exceptionalities is “JJ’s Squiggly Mind”, which is an English-Thai picture book about ADHD that I wrote. This book aims to act as a freely accessible resource for youths with ADHD and destigmatize this exceptionality and other learning differences overall.
As I progressed further into the field of exceptionalities, I realized the lack of youth activism oriented towards special needs. Working from “JJ’s Squiggly Mind”, Vienna Sparks and I strived to spark a youth-led inclusion movement by starting SENIA Youth– the first sustained youth-led international inclusion network that aims to connect inclusion clubs together from across the world. We have worked to build an online community and social media presence to foster a digital community dedicated to spreading ideas and awareness surrounding inclusion.
Please provide a detailed description of the impact you/ your organization has made so far.
Vienna Sparks and I have started SENIA Youth in late February. We currently have six SENIA Youth chapters around the world and am working to expand our presence even further. We have published an article under SENIA Youth in the EARCOS Triannual journal and have keynoted at the SENIA conference. We have run campaigns for mental health and exceptionalities awareness for SENIA Youth. Personally, I have published a children’s ADHD picture book called “JJ’s Squiggly Mind”, which is the first child-friendly picture book and educational resource in Thailand, and am working on my second book about depression. I have also founded and developing Squiggly, a resource hub and platform for children and adolescents with ADHD.
Why is mental health advocacy important?
Because mental health is an extremely crucial and determining factor in all of our lives. Taking care of our mental health is just as important as taking care of our physical and emotional health! Advocating for people with exceptionalities is also equally as important as advocating for mental health. Whether it be autism or depression or anxiety, it is incredibly probable that you will develop or meet someone with a learning difference of some kind. With the prevalence of exceptionalities, it is therefore crucial for us to be inclusive of neurodiveristy and realize that not everyone has the same cognitive function. We cannot exclude other simply because their brain works differently to what is considered to be “normal” and we should rather see the differences as variations of cognitive function. Thus, I encourage you all to see the importance of mental health advocacy and being inclusive within neurodiveristy.
How did you grow your organization so much? Any tips for aspiring youth activists?
We grew SENIA Youth by reaching out to a wide range of communities and establishing a strong line of communication through different contacts. I feel like an extremely important skill to have in activism is knowing who to talk to, what you should say to them, and how you can use this contact in order to amplify your message and your impact. If you can develop and refine skills involving social communication, you will have a higher chance of succeeding as a social activist.
Anything else you'd like to tell us + our audience about mental health?
Again, I would like to stress the importance of inclusion within neurodiveristy. As our world becomes more dependent on technology, exposure to diversity of all kinds is inevitable. It is therefore important for you to be accepting of everyone despite their differences in race, sexuality, and most importantly, mental function. We need more youths to see the importance of mental health and being inclusive of all mental variations. I would like to urge you to become advocates of mental health and exceptionalities yourselves and join the movement for inclusion within neurodiveristy.