The coaches delivered a disability awareness programme and following a session focused on autism, Shia felt confident enough to speak out about his own experiences with autistic spectrum disorder.
“Some people don’t even believe that I have autism but through the Foundation working in my school my friends understand more,” says Shia. “Autism isn’t really a big thing for me, though; I just take it and move on because it doesn’t stop me from doing anything.”
Through his work with the Foundation Shia has been invited to meet Zlatan Ibrahimovic, interviewed Joel Perreira and Michael Carrick, whom he wowed with his incredible Manchester United knowledge, and now attends Carrick’s Street Reds, the free football programme funded by the former Reds captain.
Shia also visited Old Trafford for a private tour, during which he followed in his heroes’ footsteps, from the changing rooms, walking down the players’ tunnel and celebrating in the dugout.
“It means a lot to have had these experiences; not many people get to do this, and I’ve got a lucky opportunity,” says Shia. “I wish there could be a UnitedandMe for everyone, but unfortunately I’m the star of the show!”
Born in Atlanta, Georgia in the USA, Shia moved to Manchester as a baby with his mum, who is understandably proud of him: “My mum tells me to keep on doing what I’m doing, because what I’m doing right now is amazing, and if I keep on working hard then good things will happen for me in the future.”
Shia concludes, “Even with autism or no autism, I can still be me. I'm always going to be me for the rest of my life. I want to stay me and not be anyone else. I'm not going to be the tail; I'm going to be the head.”