Prize-winning words that build bridges

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Award-winning young writer Preethika Mathan with her brother Ashan. PHOTO: Supplied

At just 13, Preethika Mathan is already making the world a better place for people with disabilities, starting with her 11-year-old brother Ashan.

Her heartfelt essay took out the first prize in a national writing competition, the John Marsden and Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers.

The Year 8 student at Santa Sabina College in Strathfield wrote about her experience of life as the only sibling of Ashan who has autism and relies upon NDIS funding for support to help him to learn and thrive.

Her 3000-word essay, ‘The truth and lies between love and hate’, was selected in the 12-18 years category by author John Marsden himself with the prize including a writing workshop and $500.

With a passion and eloquence that belies her tender years, Preethika also explored the impact that recent NDIS funding cuts and the model’s flaws have had on her whole family. While it was the second writing prize she has won it was the biggest and she has since navigated radio and TV interviews with aplomb.

Preethika and Ashan Mathan have already overcome ‘difficult’ odds says their mother Karthika.

“Non-fiction is a genre that I don’t normally write in so I was really excited to do well,” she said. “I know that I’ve grappled with the mixed feelings that I wrote about in my essay.

“I really wanted to write them down in the hope it would reach people who have a sibling with a disability and let them know it is normal to feel that way about your disabled counterpart. But also I wanted to show the full effect of things like funding cuts and inadequate support on siblings.

“It was so hard to prove that my brother needed support and after that it was always a worry that if he progressed a little bit or we taught him some new language or anything like that he’d move out of NDIS’ model of autism and then no longer qualify for the funding.

“But just because he learnt to maybe say his name or ours and has progressed a little bit doesn’t mean his condition has gone away, and his funding is still crucial.

“It’s a threat that I know not only my family but many who have children with autism face.”

Jane Sulis, Santa Sabina College’s coordinator of outreach and a public speaking mentor for Preethika said she is a talented all-round student.

“Preethika revels in public speaking and uses her skills for others, not her own ego,” Ms Sulis said.

The siblings’ proud mum Karthika Mathan said she is grateful for the opportunities her children are given at both the schools they attend, with Ashan “blessed” to receive support at Hampton Park Public School in Lakemba.

“Preethika’s teachers have just really taken her under their wing to make she has all the resources and support she needs to help her come out on top of a difficult situation,” she said.

Preethika has been reading and writing fiction in her free time ever since reading the Harry Potter books at the age of eight. She is hoping for a career in law or as a political reformer but said that writing will always be a big part of her life.

“Even if just as a Twitter warrior,” she said.

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