“My 5 year old son was just diagnosed with PDD-NOS and has no speech. Will he ever be able to speak?” 

While the young mother stood before me in tears, I felt trapped; trapped because I couldn’t tell her that everything was going to be alright.

When I look back at my life, that 6 year old boy, going into first grade with so much anger, and so many emotions, it was almost too much. I knew back then I was mad. I was lashing out because I didn’t know how to communicate in an appropriate manner. That was almost 16 years ago. I was that 6 year old again. What would it take for her son to be able to speak one day? Would he be as lucky as me?

So, I surprised myself. I hugged her. I hugged this complete stranger for what probably ended up being 5 minutes. No words were said. I could only hear her sobbing and I almost joined her several times. I knew I couldn’t answer her question, but by telling her about my journey, I could give her hope.

I reflected back to the journey that I had had led me to where I am today. The therapies, the special need classrooms, the accommodations, the hate, the ignorance, the awareness, the drama, the acceptance, the struggle, the tears, the heartache, the strength, the friends, my mom, my dad, and above all else the love that has made my journey worth every second.After we hugged I told her my story. I told her about that 6 year old boy and how he became who I was today. 15 minutes later tears of uncertainty had become tears of hope for not only her but for her son.

This is why I speak. Each time I share my story I pray that I’m making an impact on a parent, a family, a friend, etc. for the future of the autism movement. I may not be a scientist, or an expert in the field, I just know what it’s like to grow up–and thrive with autism. So, if you have autism, especially those young adults out there who are trying to spread awareness at the college level or beyond, tell your story.

It’s time for all of us to listen.

*I shared this story with my friend Laura Shumaker on her official website here as well. Thanks Everyone!*

You can also read this post on Autismspeaks.org