Over the course of the past few weeks, I have become firmly aware that April was Autism Awareness Month. My mother had installed a blue light on the porch of my family’s home which symbolizes our commitment to spreading awareness of autism and a few of the neighbors have asked about it. She always takes a few moments to explain. Personally, I think there may be some people who may perceive our house as being part of some huge “blue light” sales special at one of the local K-Marts. However, I recently did my part to help spread awareness of this condition in my area by participating in an interview with a representative from our local Catholic newspaper.
My mother received a call from my former religious education teacher asking if my family would be interested in doing an article regarding how we have all dealt with living with autism. My parents and I discussed it and agreed that this would be an opportunity for all of us to share our story and contribute autism awareness.
I had a slight idea of what to expect when the interviewer showed up at the front door. I had been informed by my parents prior to the interview that the line of questioning would mainly focus on my experiences with autism and my religious beliefs. I therefore had some time to think about what I wanted to share about myself and how autism affects me. By the time the interviewer arrived, I had fully fleshed out my perceptions of autism and my spiritual views in ways that I hoped readers could understand, and I felt like I would be able to communicate these perceptions to the interviewer with little trouble.
The interview went by very quickly in my view. I spent the first few minutes with the interviewer talking about myself, my interests, and the work that goes into writing this column. We then went into my life with autism, detailing my understanding of the condition and how my life has progressed with my autism. We touched upon the adjustments I have had to make in my life and academic career, the special services I received, and other areas related to my education. Finally, we covered aspects of my religious life and how I believe my life is shaped by my spirituality. The tone of the interview was friendly and conversational and any anxieties I had about the interview quickly dissipated. A photographer from the paper then took some photographs of us to add to the article.
After speaking with me, the interviewer spoke with my parents about their life raising an autistic person. While this was occurring, I wrote an original piece of material about my views on autism for publication in the newspaper. I wrote that as a young boy there were times when I felt I was looking out through a narrow funnel toward the rest of the world and that I used to concentrate on minute details instead of taking in the big picture around me. I went on to explain how this made it very difficult for me to communicate with people and for them to understand me. With my parents’ help and some very dedicated educators and therapists patiently teaching me many different skills, I was able to open myself to the world around me, and I continue to grow to this day. I explained that I am no longer afraid to face the world and move on with my life.
About a week later, the interview appeared as part of an article about autism awareness in the paper. Our interview and the piece on autism I wrote ran alongside a profile of another autistic child from a nearby town. A photo of me and my family smiling like hyenas was included on the front page. I was very proud to contribute to Autism Awareness Month, and I feel that I will continue to do so as my life goes on. I have discovered that as an autistic person, I am in a unique position to inform other people what the condition is and what it is like to live with it. If I can help to bring about a better understanding of autism and help others with autism lead better lives, then I would feel that I have contributed something very important to the autism community. I needed a lot of help learning how to do things as I was growing up, and I still have much to learn. I just want to be able to help others as I have been helped.