An Exclusive Look at AUTISM with Brian Tashima
Encouragement speaker Derrick Hayes gives an AUTISM Interview by asking six questions through each letter in the word AUTISM to give readers an insightful perspective from parents, experts, entrepreneurs and other leaders in the field.
Today’s AUTISM Interview is with Brian Tashima who is the author of the Joel Suzuki series, a set of science fiction/fantasy books for kids and young adults that feature a protagonist on the autism spectrum. For more information on Brian and the Joel Suzuki series, please visit www.joelsuzuki.com.
A is for Awareness – When and how did you first become aware that something was different?
I had a feeling that something was different about my son very early on—from the time he was a baby, in fact. He seemed intelligent and aware of his surroundings, but when I spoke to him, oftentimes he would look at me with a distant stare, as if I wasn’t there. When he got a little older and we took him to meet other children his age, I noticed that those children would be speaking in complete sentences, like little adults. My son was still speaking in single words and sentence fragments.
There were positive differences as well, however. When my son was two years old, he taught himself how to use a computer just by playing around with it. After a short period of time he was able to do things that I myself wasn’t able to do, and I’m fairly computer literate. Also, even though he still had struggles with communication, he could memorize and recite long strings of numbers as well as lines of dialogue from movies and TV shows.
U is for Unique – How has this experience been Unique for you and your child?
Our experience has been unique primarily because no two people on the autism spectrum are exactly the same – there’s a popular quote by Dr. Stephen Shore who said: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” While they may share characteristics, there are always differences. And I think that this applies not just to those with autism, but to people in general, so it’s a good lesson to keep in mind.
T is for Tools – What tools are there now that were not there in the beginning that could help other parents?
Within my son’s lifetime there’s been a dramatic increase in resources and awareness. There are autism support groups everywhere as well as literature and information that can help parents who are new to this. I am on the board of directors of Autism Empowerment, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for families in the autism community. There is still more that can be done, but I think we’ve come a long way in the last nineteen years.
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I is for Inspire – As a parent when you look at your child or children what inspires you?
The fact that they can do so many amazing things. As I previously mentioned, my son taught himself how to use a computer at a very young age. A few years later he even built his own working computer just by watching videos on YouTube. He’s also a fantastic artist who can paint photo-realistic pictures as well as draw cartoons.
S is for Support – Are there things you struggle with or have struggled with and what types of support do you still need?
Social interaction has been, and continues to be, a challenge for my son. He’s never really had any close friends. Also, he recently started looking for a part-time job but found that the process was more difficult than he expected—partially, I believe, due to his issues with communication. He didn’t want to use his condition as an excuse, however, and he continued to persevere, applying for many different positions while taking advantage of interview training provided by his college until finally he was able to find something! I’m very proud of him.
M is for Manage – What keys to success can you leave with parents so that they can better manage their day to day efforts?
For parents of kids on the autism spectrum, I know the challenges they face can vary widely. After all, that’s why they call it a spectrum, but I think, in general, they should try to seek out resources and support groups, communicate with their child’s teachers, and above all, try to stay patient and positive. I strongly believe that with enough guidance and support, kids on the spectrum can grow up to lead lives that are just as fulfilling as anyone else’s.
Derrick Hayes is an author, motivational speaker and paraprofessional in the Muscogee County School District in Columbus, Georgia.
This article was featured in Issue 75 – Helping Your Child with Autism Thrive