The inspirational girl, 15, who found her voice on the dancefloor and 'made sense of an unpredictable world'

By the time she was 18 months old, Olivia Young was already dancing. By the age of three, she was competing on stage.

When she performs, her mother Jeni says, it's like everything fits into place.

"When she's on the stage and when she's performing, she's like a different person," she told LancsLive. "Everything has a time and a place, so it's so predictable and she's alive, she's comfortable."

But unfortunately, life isn't always straightforward. Olivia, now 15, has been living with autism all her life. At the age of eight, the condition saw her spend a year out of school.

It was her passion, her mum says, that helped her to improve her co-ordination and life skills. Yet beyond this, it saw her through some of the toughest times in her young life.


Jeni, from Bacup, said: "It's when she's off the stage, that the world then becomes unpredictable. People don't have a place to stand and you don't know what they're going to do or what they have to say that's the bit that's difficult for her."

Jeni has another older daughter, 17-year-old Lexi, who also lives with autism. "Lexi didn't get her diagnosis until she was about 10," she explained. "But we knew from when she was about seven, it was all falling into place for Lexi."

Olivia has a passion for performing
Olivia has a passion for performing -Credit:Jeni Young

In 2009, Jeni was nearing the end of therapist training and had just learnt her cousin's daughter was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a condition which is now thought of as part of autism spectrum disorder. With an avid passion for research, Jeni started to look this up and suddenly, the penny dropped - "this is Olivia."

It was when her daughter was younger that Jeni first noted her autistic traits. The mum added: "When she was in a dance class, she could co-ordinate. When she was out of the dance class - and this was before her diagnosis because she was diagnosed just before her fifth birthday - she would bump into things, she would have no co-ordination.

"We used to laugh about it in a way, we'd say 'how can you be so coordinated in there and then bump into everything?'"

At the age of eight, Olivia was unable to attend school for over a year, a period of time where the youngster "struggled really badly."

"We knew things were bad because she stopped engaging with dancing," Jeni explained. "She was unable to leave her room, she couldn't feed herself, she just really had a bad time."

It was then a local primary school teacher, whose daughter was a dancer, turned Olivia's world "upside down - in the right way".

"She did home visits, engaged her in dancing, conversations and managed to get her into her school, nurtured her and brought Liv back to life and her passion for dancing, singing. Without that environment and that support from that person at that time, she wouldn't have been able to get back on her track.

"Not being able to be involved in dance would had just ruined her world - and her teacher knew that."

When Olivia was three-years-old, the family found out she didn't have much vision in her left eye which was affecting her co-ordination - but this was just the start of her diagnoses. Olivia also struggles with situational mutism, Tourette's syndrome, functional neurological disorder (FND), anxiety, hypermobility syndrome, chronic fatigue and postural orthostatic tacycardia syndrome.

"There are days where Olivia has no function of her body and she literally cannot move any of her muscles," Jeni said. "There are times where she can't speak so with her FND, it will just take over completely.

"There are times where she has no control from the neck down and other times where it's her limbs and she has no control of her limbs, so she can't stand up. Sometimes she doesn't have the ability to move them or even feel them, other times it's from the waist down so it can be really difficult and frustrating in that respect.

"It can last between a few hours and the last time, it was a week long."

However, due to her hard work, determination and passion for the arts, Olivia has managed to secure a part-scholarship at the prestigious Joffery Ballet School in New York to train in pre-professional Jazz and Contemporary.

In order to help achieve her daughter's dream, Jeni has set up a Go Fund Me page to get Olivia across the pond in August, something that's financially difficult for the family.

With enough funds, Olivia will travel to New York in August by herself and live and train in the Big Apple, but will need money for accommodation, travel and food. Jeni writes on the fundraiser: "If there is one thing in life that makes sense to Liv, one thing she can communicate fluently in, its dance.

"Liv is flying the flag for the neurodivergent community showing how with the right support, anything is possible."