Accepting Help Can Be Hard When You Have Autism, But So Important
I was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) and eventually autism/Asperger’s during my third year of life, and I didn’t begin to speak until nearly age three. While I don’t remember much of my toddlerhood, the memories of school and social life as a child are very much vivid. Except for kindergarten, I attended special needs schools through seventh grade. I was instilled with the foundation of tools, skills, and knowledge to begin comprehending and understanding the school work, as well as the social interactions and emotions of other people.
No one treated us like we had special needs in the school, and I never realized that I had any. It wasn’t until I mainstreamed to a typical middle school for my eighth-grade year that the realities of who I was, and how people reacted to people like me, were fully apparent. From the shifting of playful teasing to bullying, as well as finally being aware of who I was on the autism spectrum, that whole year revolved around my yearning to NOT be “me;” I just wanted to be like everybody else (in other words, “normal”).
I did well academically in middle school because of the tutoring and accommodations, but when I got to high school, my self-shame warped my mind to the point of my refusing any and all tutoring and help; I wanted to assume “normalcy” as much as possible. As one might expect, it did NOT work out well at all! My academics suffered tremendously. Add to that my diminishing social life and lack of social understanding and I found myself going deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole with no expectation of plopping into Wonderland! But once I was able to put aside my pride, rediscover my faith, learn more about my autism, and see the bigger picture as to my weaknesses AND my strengths, I was finally able to start loving and valuing myself for who I was created to be.
Once I took on the accommodations and tutoring that I needed, the success that I achieved in the classroom translated into achieving accomplishments OUTSIDE of the classroom. We are all a combination of gifts and struggles, but, no matter the function and/or skill level we are at, asking for help is the smartest and the bravest thing we can possibly do in order to go above and beyond what might even be thought possible. By fully embracing all forms of help, my academic success wasn’t the only thing that increased—it was also my self-esteem, my confidence, and my desire to keep achieving more and more! I also grew out of denial into the greatest form of self-acceptance possible.
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Now, having grown from the little boy into the young man typing these words, I have achieved many of my dreams, big and small, and I keep developing new dreams every single day! I graduated cum laude from Notre Dame College with a degree in education, I co-authored a book with my mother (Expect a Miracle: A Mother/Son Asperger Journey of Determination and Triumph), I’m a national public speaker (with a TEDx talk under my belt), I completed a graduate school certificate program earning a 3.57 GPA, and I continue to be involved in regional theatre and choral groups.
My message is simple: GO FOR IT! Go for your dreams and never be afraid to let your true self shine in everything you do. Accept that there are going to be challenges, but never use your diagnosis as an excuse to get out of something that’s difficult. Advocate for what you need in order to succeed! The key to accomplishing your dreams is recognizing that people, whether they have autism or not, need SUPPORT in order to succeed, along with motivation and hard work.
This article was featured in Issue 81 – Building Self-Esteem in Kids with Autism