“I wanted to help individuals who felt alone.”
When I first found out I had autism at 11 1/2, I often wished I had a role model to look up to who was on the autism spectrum. There were so many questions I had about the diagnosis and it would have been amazing to have someone to talk too who had been through a similiar journey. I really knew no one who had autism at that time. I didn’t know of the Dr. Temple Grandin’s and Dr. Stephen Shore’s of the world. Now as an adult who has overcame many of his challenges and is now a full-time job as a professional speaker & author, I’m blessed with the opportunity to take on the role of a mentor for so many young people on the spectrum and others with special needs. Living in New Jersey, technology via Skype, and from phone calls for those who don’t prefer face-to-face interaction, has helped me provide mentoring services to individuals across the globe for almost the past decade.
Of my mentees was Jadyn. Jadyn’s mother Michelle reached out to me last year because Jadyn was starting her first year as a New York Jets Junior Flight Crew Cheerleader. Jadyn had been cheerleading for two years with a local special needs squad and now was getting the opportunity to perform in front of 80,000 people at MetLife Stadium as part of a halftime show for the NY Jets. As soon as she told me about her daughter’s story all I could think was that this girl was a complete inspiration.
I finally got to meet Jadyn for the first time at The Greater Morris Walk Now for Autism Speaks event. I was instantly blown away by how adorable Jadyn was. Jadyn’s smile was infectious to me and everyone around her. We left the walk that day and met a few weeks later at the North/Central New Jersey Walk Now for Autism Speaks. Later that winter we met again at MetLife Stadium to join Jadyn in playing the NY Giants Snow Bowl flag football tournament to raise money for Special Olympics New Jersey. While all of this was going on, I met more and more of Jadyn’s extended family that have circled around helping and being there for Jadyn.
Even though Jadyn has some difficultly with communication today, I couldn’t be prouder of her for following her passions.
This is why being a mentor has meant so much to me. I know it may sound cliche but I’ve learned so much more from my mentees then I think I could ever teach them. Regardless if it’s by helping individuals understand more about their strengths and weaknesses from their diagnosis, succeeding in school, helping them find employment, writing a book, getting into public speaking, or just by simply being a friend, I hope I can continue this work for many years to come.