Sean Wright, 15, of Royal Oak, stands on the Great Wall of China in July 2018.

Sean Wright, 15, of Royal Oak, stands on the Great Wall of China in July 2018.

Photo provided by Robin Wright


Royal Oak teen honored for spreading autism awareness abroad

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published April 24, 2019

 Sean Wright, 15, of  Royal Oak, poses with  his Honorary Student Award from the  Special Education Network  & Inclusion Association.

Sean Wright, 15, of Royal Oak, poses with his Honorary Student Award from the Special Education Network & Inclusion Association.

Photo provided by Robin Wright

 From left, Sean, Rob, Robin, Molly and Grandma Jackie Wright visit Shanghai, China, in November 2018.

From left, Sean, Rob, Robin, Molly and Grandma Jackie Wright visit Shanghai, China, in November 2018.

Photo provided by Robin Wright

ROYAL OAK — Living with autism spectrum disorder is a unique experience for each individual and their family, presenting both challenges and opportunities.

Sean Wright, 15, of Royal Oak, stepped up to educate his peers about autism spectrum disorder and how it affects him while attending Nanjing International School in China. Over the past year, more than 500 students, staff, teachers and parents viewed his presentation about autism awareness.

In fifth grade, Wright was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and, a couple of years later, a learning disability in written language.

Rick Fischl, Wright’s learning support teacher, asked Wright to co-present an autism awareness presentation during autism awareness month at the school.

“It became where I eventually stood up and read a speech,” Wright said. “I had a video part and a whole section of the presentation was all mine. At the end, people asked a lot of questions that I answered, and it told us that people liked it, so we decided to have a parent presentation and one for teachers and staff.”

Wright said that in the presentation, he addressed topics such as what he likes and dislikes and why, and how his peers can help with those things. In one presentation, he said he often feels like a “fruit loop in a bowl of cheerios” or “a zebra in a herd of horses.”

His efforts prompted Bella Zhang, a Nanjing International School primary school staff member and Special Education Network & Inclusion Association (SENIA) representative, to nominate him for a SENIA Student Award in November.

In an email, Zhang wrote that Wright’s contribution of raising awareness of special learning needs and his skill of self-advocacy met both the school’s and SENIA’s vision to “live in an inclusive world where every individual is supported, resources are accessible, potential is maximized and action is inspired.”

According to its website, SENIA is “a network of educators, professionals and parents across Asia dedicated to supporting individuals with special learning needs,” and the award “celebrates the achievements of a student or youth with disabilities; encourages awareness of the abilities and aspirations of children/youth with disabilities; and advocates on behalf of exceptional children in Asia.”

This past February, Wright received an Honorary Student Award during SENIA’s annual conference in Hong Kong. He found out about the award during a monthly school assembly held to honor academic achievements.

“I was very pleasantly surprised at the time. I was really excited. I sort of underestimated what it was going to be,” he said, adding that he did not expect to be called onstage. “I was really nervous and really happy, and it was really cool.”

Kasson Bratton was the head of middle school at the time of Wright’s presentations, and as the current deputy director of learning, wrote a letter of recommendation for the nomination.

“The presentations were extremely well-received, especially by our students,” Bratton wrote in an email. “They are an aware and supportive group in general, but understanding their classmate’s particular gifts and challenges brought them to a new level of empathy.”

He said he was notably impressed with Wright’s courage to share very personal experiences, and his ability to stand before a crowd and field questions in a mature and professional manner.

In his letter, Bratton said, he highlighted the “amazing” strides Wright has made settling into an international community from his hometown of Royal Oak and broadening his horizons in terms of perspectives, friendships with students from all over the world, travel experiences and trying new food.

“Sean is a go-getter. He leads a popular skateboarding after-school activity, is willing to put himself out there socially, and tries out for a variety of sports teams,” Bratton wrote. “We are so proud to have students like Sean as part of our community.”

The Wright family — Rob, Robin, Sean and his 18-year-old sister, Molly — moved to Nanjing, China, the summer of 2017 because of Rob’s job at Ford Motor Co. The family plans to return this summer, and Sean will enter 10th grade at Royal Oak High School.

Robin said Sean loves school, and his experience at Nanjing International School has helped his confidence, self-esteem and social skills to blossom.

“Everyone is quirky and comes from a different place culturally, so there’s a lot more tolerance and acceptance,” she said. “We like it (here in China). We would stay longer if we could.”

Rob and Robin said they were proud of Sean for taking on a leadership role with the goal of helping others.

April is National Autism Awareness Month.

For more information about SENIA, visit www.seniainternational.org.

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.