Chloe Hayden, 19, Geelong, Vic
'Mum, the label’s really itchy,’ I said, scratching my back.
Ever since I was little, my mum Sarah, now 42, had to cut the labels off all my clothes. If she didn’t, I’d refuse to wear them.
I also hated the feeling of wool, and was picky about what I ate. Sometimes I wouldn’t eat food that was a mix of colours, or would only eat things that were white.
While I might sound fussy, I just couldn’t cope if things weren’t a certain way.
At night, I’d sit in bed reading encyclopedias. I was an unusual kid, but happy.
‘You’re our quirky little genius,’ Mum always said.
More than anything else, I loved princesses and Disney films. When I watched these magical tales, I was transported into their world.
My favourite was Peter Pan. I watched it over and over again and adored the fairy, Tinkerbell. I want to be like Peter, I thought. I never want to grow up.
But in real life, I struggled to fit in. At school, the other kids would play together, but I just didn’t understand how. It was like there were special rules for interacting that I’d never been told about.
I didn't feel like a princess...I felt like Quasimodo
As I got older, my quirks became more noticeable.
I’d often burst into Disney songs, but now people thought it was strange rather than cute.
‘You’re a weirdo,’ school bullies would laugh. What’s wrong with me?
I didn’t feel like a princess, I felt like Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who most people saw as a monster.
By year eight, I was depressed and anxious. As a result, my grades suffered and I hated going outside.
‘I think there’s something deeper going on,’ my teacher told Mum.
So at 13, I went to see a specialist. When we left, Mum looked upset.
‘They think you have Asperger syndrome,’ she said carefully. Neither of us had heard of it before.
As we looked up the list of symptoms back home, I realised they described me perfectly – difficulty making friends, strong language skills, eccentric behaviour...
After months of tests, the diagnosis was confirmed. Asperger’s is now commonly referred to as high-functioning autism.
It’s a lifelong condition that affects how people relate to others and their environment.
I was worried there might be a stigma, but I was also relieved. Now I know why I am who I am.
At 13, I left school and was enrolled in a home education program. I also started volunteering with people who had learning difficulties.
Always a fan of music, I began performing songs for them. I loved seeing their faces light up as I sang.
When my 16th birthday came round, I had my heart set on one particular gift.
‘I want a costume like Princess Anna from Frozen,’ I told Mum. She agreed to buy me one but didn’t want me to wear it around town.
But as word spread about my singing, I was asked to perform at fundraisers.
‘Can you wear a costume?’ they’d ask. I was thrilled.
Looking in the mirror, with my hair and make-up done like Anna’s, I was so excited. I was living my fairytale!
Soon I found a dressmaker to bring more characters to life. I also styled my wigs and learnt how to contour my face with make-up.
I need my own magical name, I realised. It didn’t take me long to settle on one – Princess Aspien.
One day, when I was at an event, a mother came up to me. ‘How come you’re so good with autistic children?’ she asked curiously.
She was stunned when I said I had Asperger’s.
Looking in the mirror, I was so excited
Parents of children with Asperger’s can be fearful about the future, so seeing someone like me – happy and loving life – was reassuring.
So I decided to spread my message farther. I set up a Facebook page and YouTube channel called ‘Princess Aspien’ and I started a blog.
I wrote all about my quirks, such as how I liked to carry stuffed toys in case I felt overwhelmed, and how I can’t eat food with more than two ingredients.
The positive reaction was amazing. You’re an inspiration, one person wrote. I finally felt like I belonged.
Now, as well as being Princess Aspien, I’m also an ambassador for two autism organisations, Treehouse Geelong and Yellow Ladybugs.
In the future, I want to write children’s books about Princess Aspien to explain life with autism to kids.
While some people might think fairytales are just for kids, they’ve helped me be proud of who I really am.
I’m proof that life can always be magical!
Chloe's mum, Sarah, says:
I’m so proud of everything Chloe has achieved.
She was a quirky, sensitive little girl but her diagnosis came as a surprise.
We soon realised it was actually a blessing. Chloe is a breath of fresh air and a ray of sunshine.
I hope other families of kids with autism will look at her and see what's possible if you can nurture their talents.