Haseeb standing for a professional photo.

Haseeb Abbasi

International Global Messenger

Before the age of eight, Haseeb was non-verbal and did not respond when called. His parents struggled to deal with what they thought was eccentric behavior. He often kept his toy cars at eye level on a table, turning the wheels repeatedly and becoming very distressed if the wheels ever got stuck.

In the school he attended then, he always wanted to sit alone and avoided eye contact with everyone. His teachers were supportive, but he struggled to communicate and often had meltdowns.

At the age of 12, he was clinically diagnosed with autism. It was then that his mother enrolled him in special education where he passed his secondary school examinations and eventually secured a scholarship.

Under the guidance of a Special Olympics coach in Pakistan, he was introduced to the world of sports. He also spoke publicly for the first time at a Special Olympics event, when the sports director handed him a microphone to introduce himself to his fellow athletes.

He has not looked back since.

In 2013, he was selected to compete in the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Regional Games held in Australia. Just before his trip, his father was diagnosed with cancer and had to remove his vocal chords. Haseeb made a promise to his father to do his best for the Games and returned with two gold medals in cycling, which made his father very proud.

After his victory on the track, he picked up road cycling. When he first started, he could not even sustain half a kilometer on the bike. His goals are bigger now—he trains regularly with the help of professional coaches and can cover 30km within an hour. Haseeb says, “Cycling offers me a magical combination of independence, individual challenge, and social contact.”

Haseeb’s achievements have gone beyond the world of sports. At 17, he made it to the TEDx stage, where he earned a standing ovation after sharing his story with the world. He recently published a book chronicling stories of people with intellectual disabilities and has been visiting schools across Pakistan to share these stories. He is also the host of two TV shows in Pakistan, Lahore TV and Channel 6, where he advocates for people with intellectual disabilities and how to create a more inclusive community.

He is now in the midst of completing his diploma in special education.

Haseeb’s dream is to be able to do his part to foster a more inclusive society. He says, “If you meet any person with intellectual disabilities, don’t pity us, but be accepting and understanding. Like all individuals, we aspire to lead a life with respect and dignity and to be entitled to a broad range of life activities, including quality education, inclusive schooling systems, accessible spaces, and the right to employment. Help us become part of your world, so we can speak up and realize our dreams—so that we can thrive and not just survive.”

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