Until I was 2.5 I was completely non-verbal. When my parents were looking towards the future it was very uncertain. The numbers when I was diagnosed (in the early 90’s) for autism were 1 in every 1000 being diagnosed. Today, autism is the fastest growing developmental disability. My early struggles with autism included sensory integration dysfunction, twirling, echolalia, motor skill challenges with hand-eye coordination, dysgraphia (a hand writing disorder), and overall communication delays.
25 years later though, after finally saying my first words when I was around 3 I can now tell you a lot has changed. I’ve overcome many of my challenges through years of occupational, physical and speech therapy. Today I hold 6 jobs as a young adult on the autism spectrum which include…
A full-time employee at Autism Speaks,
An author of three books,
A film consultant whose worked on 4 films,
One of the only nationally certified public speakers with autism in the country,
A non-profit founder that gives out scholarships for students with autism for college,
And the host of my own cable television show.
Along the way I’ve done volunteer work to help mentor students who have developmental disabilities. I’ve also consulted for parents who have children on the spectrum.
I realized my strengths from an early age and ran with them. That came with getting my autism diagnosis when I was 4. When my parents were starting an early intervention plan for me they were also setting up a plan for myself looking towards having my dreams come true. I now want to open up possibilities for others who are growing up on the autism spectrum like me.
My advice for those reading this is that you need to stretch the kids in our community to see what they are capable of. Sure, the spectrum is wide and some may have to overcome great obstacles to progress but why can’t we push forward to have that be possible for everyone? Progress should be our #1 universal goal in our community. We are learning so much more about autism everyday and how to provide supports to help our kids shine.
With stretching you also need to find their strengths! Temple Grandin has a great quote where she writes…
“Kids have to be exposed to different things in order to develop. A child’s not going to find out he likes to play a musical instrument if you never exposed him to it…”
Finally, my last word of advice is to prepare your kids for the future as soon as possible. Teach them vocational skills and make sure you participate actively in parent and support groups that will help you build on local resources you can take advantage of for your child. If you don’t have those groups contact Autism Speaks Autism Response Team who help answer thousands of questions each year.
I’ve been grateful over the years to work with many remarkable individuals at Autism Speaks who truly care about employment opportunities for adults with autism such as Dave Kearon, Leslie Long and Lisa Goring among others. There’s currently a job portal at Autism Speaks called TheSpectrumCareers.com, a first of its kind initiative that is trying to connect employers with those on the autism spectrum.
I hope this will be the start of a movement to help employ those with autism while educating our employers about some of the unique abilities our community has. With October being National Disability Employment Awareness Month I hope you will pass along this article on your social media channels and than print and post in your local areas to help spread awareness.
Today, 90% of individuals with autism are unemployed or unemployed. Our children with autism are going to grow up to be adults with autism and we have to be re ready for them. It will take as many of us as possible to turn these numbers around. Thank you.