A few months ago, I wrote about the Special Education Parent Teacher Student Association (SEPTSA) that started in my school district. The first meetings that I attended went very well, and I learned a lot of useful information. Now, I have been given a chance to speak at the next meeting in April (Autism Awareness Month) regarding how my autism has shaped my life. I was honored to be asked to speak and am happy to have the opportunity to do so. This is also a big responsibility, and I want to make sure I am fully prepared so that I can advocate well for others with autism. I have been asked to address the challenges I have had to face because of my autism and speak about my successes as well. I will cover who and what helped me to cope with and, in some cases, overcome the limitations imposed on me by my autism. There are many aspects of my life which fall into each of these categories, but I am going to focus on what I feel are the most important to me.
One of the biggest areas I want to touch on is how I had to get beyond thinking only of myself, my own thoughts, feelings, and needs and start considering the feelings, needs, and ideas of others. As a young boy, it took time for me to take in and understand that there were others in my environment that warranted consideration. I was not the center of the universe. My parents, extended family, friends, teachers, and therapists all helped me to grasp this concept. Understanding this has helped me to reach out to others and has been a big theme in many of the things I have done including volunteering in a special needs preschool classroom, helping at a Special Olympics  fundraiser, and just getting along and holding conversations with other people in general. I also think that as I opened up to others, I gained the ability to better express my thoughts through my improved speaking and writing skills.
Another big theme that I want to include during my presentation is how even though my autism has created some limitations, I have been able to compensate for and rise above many challenges with help from certain people and therapies. My immediate and extended family love me very much and have helped me to understand many things about the world, my condition, and how to excel both with and despite these elements. This is an ongoing process, but one that has helped me in many ways.
When I was younger, my speech teachers played a huge part in helping me to learn how to express myself and reach out to others in appropriate ways. My special education and regular teachers worked with my parents to come up with the best plan of action for my education, behaviors, and social issues. My one-on-one teaching assistant helped me with all these issues as well and more. A listening program set up by my occupational therapist helped diminish loud noises and calmed me. Piano lessons taught me the value of patience and taking my time to complete a task instead of rushing through it and getting poor results. Many of these people became family friends and helped me out in numerous other areas of my life as I grew older, and I still see many of them to this day. My participation in several special needs sports programs has allowed me to meet many different people, and it has also given me an opportunity to play sports. Earning my GED and a college degree were big academic successes for me which I am personally very proud to have accomplished. Writing this column and my own blog along with starting a children’s book series are also accomplishments I will discuss with the group.
I had many hurdles to get over as a boy and still have much to learn. I still have fine motor issues that make it difficult for me to do everyday tasks such as tying my own shoes, making my bed, and opening certain packages. I also need to work on my cooking skills. I have, though, learned to do many household chores such as laundry and doing the dishes. Over the years, I know my parents worked very hard to get the proper programming for me in school and they worked with state agencies to get the best benefits for me. I also know there is a stigma about autistic people which often colored many of the struggles that my family and I have faced and still face. Even though I feel some people had certain negative assumptions about me and my abilities, I never gave up. Neither did my parents. I worked hard at everything I did and exceeded many people’s expectations. I personally believe there is nothing that I cannot do if I apply myself.
I have a feeling that this speech will be a small summary of my life with autism up to this point in time. I hope I can do it proper justice and adequately answer any questions the members of the group ask me. Groups like SEPTSA serve as an important platform for discussing the problems inherent in serving people with conditions like autism and finding solutions which can work to everyone’s benefit. I am very happy to be able to contribute to such a group.