“He was such a gentle, kind boy. Everybody loved him, and that’s what is so sad, because he didn’t love himself. He was so busy loving everybody else that I think he forgot about himself somewhere along the way.”
Luke Draycott stood out not just for his exceptional abilities but also for his relentless determination, his kind heart, and his care for others.
An aspiring director, Luke had just received two unconditional offers to study Film-making at university – including an offer from his first choice. He had a passion for film and creativity, and it didn’t go unnoticed.
Luke had always been passionate about film, performing and drama. He was a member of the Dylan Thomas Theatre in Swansea and had performed in a number of productions including Dick Whittington. He was also Assistant Director for Godspell at Pembrokeshire College but tragically died before the first performance. His teachers would always comment on his passion and his abilities. He wanted to be a director, and his mum has no doubt he would have been a great success.
Despite his undeniable talent and the bright future that lay ahead, Luke struggled for many years to find the place where he felt he fitted in. When he was 13, Luke was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism (ASD-1, formerly recognised as Asperger’s Syndrome). While Autism brought with it an array of distinctive talents, it also presented formidable obstacles, particularly in his social interactions.
His mum Lou, reflects on the struggles that haunted her son, “When he was a child, Luke was so happy within his own skin. He was able let his imagination run and live in his fantasy world as children often do but as he got older and social skills became more important, he started to become aware of how different he was and how society expects you to behave in a certain way, which he found really difficult.”
“Luke found it difficult to integrate with other people who weren’t autistic and would often say to me that the only time he felt really comfortable was with other autistic people.”
“He became really paranoid about offending people or saying the wrong thing. He worried constantly about upsetting people and would ask me if I thought he had said something wrong or upset someone. He would always blame himself when that was simply not the case. He was very aware he was different and felt he didn’t fit in.”
The burden of trying to fit into a world that he felt didn’t always understand him weighed heavily on Luke. As he came into adulthood, he began struggling significantly with his mental health. At 18, Luke became depressed and told his mum he was experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Lou says, “Luke had a very difficult year when he was 18 when he struggled with his mental health, and opened up to me about having suicidal thoughts. It was heartbreaking and difficult, but we managed to get him support from Mind and counselling, and together, we were able to help him through this.”
While Luke accepted support for his mental health from professionals, his college, and his family, he continued to express challenges finding his place in the world to his mum.
“He felt he could no longer live in our neurotypical world, where he felt misunderstood by society and found interacting with other people too challenging,” Lou shares.
On March 22, 2022, at the age of 22, Luke took his own life.
“Luke was the kindest and most considerate person you could ever meet. He was always thinking about other people, always helping other people, always putting himself out for other people. He was inherently kind, and felt all the injustices in the world. He was highly intelligent, talented, and high functioning, but in his own words, “normal enough to know he would never be normal,” according to the view of our neurotypical world.
“Being autistic meant he had so many unique strengths, but all he could see were the challenges. He couldn’t see the many gifts he had, which were in part due to his autistic mind.” Lou says.
Talking about Luke’s talents, Lou continues, “Luke had many talents. He was very intelligent; he was a fantastic artist – truly creative. He had a photographic memory, especially for film. He loved Star Wars and Batman, and he would sit right through to the trailers at the end. His knowledge of film-making, the people involved and what made a good film was extremely impressive – sufficient to gain him two unconditional offers to study film at university.
“When he was in primary school, he could tell you the name of every dinosaur. He would even correct the teachers if they got something wrong about a specific dinosaur! He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the things that interested him.
“He was incredible, and he had an incredible brain.”
Luke’s teachers remember him as “an exemplary, intelligent, focused, articulate young man who consistently performed at distinction standard.” Pembrokeshire College echoed this sentiment, describing Luke as a true gentleman and a charismatic young man, who excelled in all his endeavours. His ambition and determination to master his craft were second to none, and on A Level results day 2022, five months after he died, he was posthumously awarded a Distinction in his UAL Level 3 Extended Diploma in Performing and Production Arts.
In the face of the immense pain of losing her son, Lou was determined to honour Luke’s legacy and fulfil his wishes. Making a request to his mum before he died that she should do what she can to spread awareness of the misconceptions and challenges that exist for autistic people, Lou is committed to sharing Luke’s feelings about being autistic with the world.
“While I think understanding and awareness of Autism has come on leaps and bounds since I was young, I think for Luke, the challenges that he faced as a young adult became too much for him to bear”.
“Luke’s final request was that I pass on the difficulties he faced as an autistic person to the wider public in an attempt to help others understand what autistic people experience and how it can affect them. He wanted people not only to be aware but to understand. So, towards the end of last year, I started thinking about what I could do to reach as many people as possible and get his message across.”
To raise vital awareness in Luke’s memory, Lou committed to completing 12 marathons throughout 2023, including the notable TCS London Marathon.
“As a runner, I knew doing one marathon probably wouldn’t garner enough attention, so I decided to do a marathon a month in memory of Luke. As it worked out, I wasn’t able to find an organised event each month, so I’ve ended up doing 12 in eight months!”
“The running has also been so good for my own mental health. I’ve always advocated for the benefits of moving your body and how it’s good for your mind. I think if it hadn’t been for running, I wouldn’t have been able to cope with the grief of losing Luke. It saved me from falling into a black hole of misery.”
Lou says Luke’s final wishes urge society to rethink how it views Autism. He told her, that “we should stop referring to Autism as a gift or a superpower because this way, we can address the root issue of the difficulties that those with Autism experience. Providing overly positive labels sets a standard that many neurodivergents cannot achieve”.
Luke felt that if everyone understood how and why neurodivergent and neurotypical minds function differently, it would be possible that we can start to bridge the divide between Neurotypical and Autistic.
As we remember Luke Draycott, we urge people to consider the importance of understanding and acceptance. Through Lou’s efforts, we have an opportunity to learn, empathise, and work towards a world where neurodiversity is celebrated and the divide between neurotypical and autistic individuals is bridged. Luke’s legacy lives on, inspiring us all to make a difference.
To donate to Lou’s fundraiser, visit: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/lou-draycott