My name is Colleen. I am 27 years old and have high functioning autism. I enjoy music, gardening and writing stories. Recently, one of my stories was published in an edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
My Diagnosis & Challenges
I was five years old when I was first diagnosed with autism. While I didn’t fully understand what autism was, I always knew I was different. This is because I struggled with skills that usually come naturally to most people. For example, one of my challenges was making friends. I wanted to play with the other children at school but just wasn’t sure how to join in. Because of this, I would often play independently.
Another struggle I had was in gym class. While most children in my class enjoyed gym class, I dreaded it. This was because I struggled with gross motor skills such as jumping rope and throwing and catching a ball. I wanted to play sports like the rest of the class but whenever I tried, I failed. This made me feel embarrassed and I often felt isolated from the other children.
Something else I struggled with was talking. I had a stuttering issue which made my speech hard to understand. Whenever I had to talk in class, I would stutter like crazy. This made me feel embarrassed and made it even harder to make friends.
All of the challenges I faced lowered my self-esteem. I thought I just couldn’t do anything right. I also felt like I couldn’t tell anyone about my disability. I wasn’t sure how they would react and thought they might treat me differently if they found out I had autism. So I made my disability “my deepest hidden secret” and didn’t tell anyone for years, not even my best friend Katey.
Overcoming My Disability
The summer before 8th grade, I finally decided I couldn’t keep my disability a secret forever and just had to trust somebody. So I took a deep breath and sent Katey a long email explaining my disability and why I didn’t tell her before. I also told her that I understood if she thought I was a freak and didn’t want to be friends anymore. Katey emailed me back the next day and told me she accepted me for who I was and wouldn’t treat me any different than she usually did. This really meant a lot to me. She also told me that I needed to be more self-confident and encouraged me to try new things and set goals for myself. So I thought about it and decided to take her advice.
During the first semester of 8th grade, I set a goal for myself to get straight A's. I had never even made the honor roll before and often got B's and C's, so this was going to be a challenge. However, I worked hard and was able to get some higher grades than I usually did. I didn’t know I had reached my goal of getting straight A's until my homeroom teacher started passing out report cards. She quickly handed out the first few and stopped at one of them. She looked up, smiled and said, “Well well well, Miss 4.0” and handed me the report card. I was shocked and excited about finally making the honor roll and getting straight A's.
Another exciting thing that happened in 8th grade was winning first place in the music category of the school art contest. I wrote a song on the piano called “The Aquadance For Fish” and entered it in the art contest. Two months later, I found out that I had won first place and was awarded a blue ribbon at the awards ceremony. The names of the winners were also read over the PA by the principal. When my name was announced, my entire homeroom cheered in excitement and everyone was coming over to me and congratulating me. It felt really good to be the center of attention and to have such supportive classmates in my homeroom.
I also continued to set goals for myself throughout high school and was able to accomplish a lot. I got the lead role in a play at a local theater, made two honor societies, sang in many recitals and got the Staff For Students scholarship at the end of my senior year. These accomplishments really changed my view of myself and made me realize that I am just as capable of achieving my dreams as anyone else, despite the fact that I have autism.
Who I Am Today
I no longer feel like I’m a bad person and feel confident that I can do wonderful things even though I have a disability. I am also a lot more open when it comes to discussing my disability with others and no longer keep it a secret. In fact, during my college career, I actually did a report on autism for a psychology class and even shared my personal experience with my class. At the end of my report, the class got to ask me questions. One question that really stood out to me was, “If you could, would you get rid of your disability or keep it?” I simply replied that I would keep it. My disability is part of who I am and I just wouldn’t be myself without it. In conclusion, I am proud of who I am and feel like having a disability has made me a stronger, better person.
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Every person in the world is unique in his or her own special way. We believe what makes you different, makes you special! When you become a friend to a person with autism, you can both learn a lot from each other. Let's support people living with autism, like Colleen, during National Autism Awareness Month and always!
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