Greta Benn, 12, who is on the autism spectrum, has been shortlisted as a finalist in the 8-12-year-old category of the Young Songwriter 2018 competition, held by the Song Academy. This is a leading international songwriting competition which celebrates the creative talents of young people. The judging panel includes singers and songwriters including Tom Odell, Imelda May and Guy Chambers.

Greta, who lives in Ham in Richmond Upon Thames, was the only child out of 95 entrants in her category to get two songs on the final 10 shortlist: Head Full of Clouds and Dear Diary. The winners will be revealed on 14 May.

Greta recently started at the National Autistic Society’s Cullum Centre at Hinchley Wood School and has a passion for music and art. She also likes animation and story writing. She has been having piano lessons since she was five years old and wrote her first song two years ago for a school project. 

The purpose-build centre opened in 2016 and sits on top of the main building of Hinchley Wood School, a mainstream secondary school which is rated as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. 

There are currently three NAS Cullum Centres, which are specialist autism hubs we and Surrey County Council have opened at outstanding mainstream schools, thanks to generous financial support from the Cullum Family Trust. The aim of the centres is to help students on the autism spectrum to thrive in mainstream lessons, by providing them with specialist support from trained staff and a calm setting to retreat to if they become overwhelmed. They are run by school staff who have had National Autistic Society training, utilising our charity’s 50+ years’ experience educating and supporting children and young people on the autism spectrum. 

In an interview for the Song Academy, Greta said:
“I am a 12-year-old girl on the spectrum with ukulele and a migraine, who likes to spend time on her own, writing songs, stories and making art. 

“People who are not on the autistic spectrum often think that being on your own is in itself intrinsically sad and something that needs fixing. I’m not spending time alone because I am too afraid to come out and socialise with you. I am actively choosing to be on my own.

“I have always been fascinated with how music works, so I started writing my own… I’m always learning new things about music, and I’m creating. I make music to satisfy myself, and the fact that other people like it is just a bonus.”

Most of Greta’s amazing songs are about the issues surrounding autism. 

Greta believes that the Young Songwriter 2018 competition is an amazing opportunity for young people like her to share their songs. She describes the creative process of song writing as magic and says that the most challenging part of this process is preserving that magical feeling.

Greta’s mum Clara contacted us to let us know about her daughter’s success. She said:
“I would love Greta’s story to stand as a positive example of how much people on the autism spectrum can offer when allowed to thrive in an appropriate environment.

“I know well that ‘autistic’ is sadly still frequently used as an insult by some kids - Greta has both experienced and written about this. I also have plenty of personal experience of well-meaning adults, who cannot conceive of an autistic child being an exceptionally creative girl. Greta and I would like her story to help change these kinds of misperceptions.”

Hinchley Wood School said: “We are thrilled for Greta that she has achieved this recognition for her music!  She is such a positive role model for other young people, and being able to use her passion and talent for music to share her views is absolutely fantastic.”

Mark Lever, our Chief Executive, said: “I’m delighted to hear about Greta’s success. She’s done incredibly well to stand out in a national competition and is an excellent ambassador for our Cullum Centres.

“There’s a huge amount of creativity in the autism community, from artists, to musicians, poets and actors and it’s important we celebrate this. 

“Good luck from everyone at the National Autistic Society, Greta!” 

Here is the link with Greta’s songs

Find out more about our Cullum Centres on our website.