When COVID began, my normal life shifted quickly and I realized that I could not do many of the things I love the most. As devastated as I was, I processed the unfortunate outcomes and made smart choices by keeping my safety as a top priority. Going out of my apartment to get some fresh air daily was resourceful. Luckily, I stumbled upon other things that would make me joyful.
ZOOM – Learning a new, commonly-used method of seeing others face to face. On Zoom, I have attended a wedding, celebrated holidays with family, and socialized with friends.
GAMES – After the bowling alleys in New York were closed for over three months, I found a bowling center in Queens off the A train that met COVID regulations. I have been bowling since I was seven. I also play chess with my close friend and my brother on Game Pigeon. Those games strengthen my mentality.
CHAMPIONSHIPS – Because I was born in Los Angeles, I am a big fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Dodgers. Watching the Lakers win in the Disney World Bubble and the Dodgers win at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. It brought me to tears of pride.
BLOGGING – I established my Autism Journey and Worldwide Expeditions websites, where I am writing blogs about neurodiversity and my travels. More will come.
PODCASTS – I have been a guest on three podcasts relating to neurodiversity: Autism Knows No Borders (Episode 26), For All Abilities (Episode 43), Abilities in Motion (Episode 08). They are accessible on the media page.
WEIGHT LOSS – I did core, chest, and quad workouts in my apartment, plus cardio at the park. Looking at my soul in the mirror told me that I should change my habits. By changing my diet and exercise routine, I have lost thirty pounds in five months.
Even though doing things virtually is never the same as in person, this is a time when we have to make opportunities for ourselves. Little did I know that all of this would happen until I found them. If there is a will, there is a way. Identify activities that interest you, and schedule your routine how it will best suit you. Experiment with different techniques on how you can make the most of the time that you have.
If you have a story that you want to share, reach out to organizations, blogs, podcasts, etc. who are seeking individuals to talk about what they have been through. It may take time to earn an opportunity. While you wait, it is valuable to write or create a website. Lastly, make your days productive. Sitting around and doing nothing will not help your physical and mental well-being. As you all know, where the mask when you are out in the community and keep socially distant.
Visiting a doctor and dentist at least twice a year or more is a part of living a healthy life. It is natural for some people with autism to have anxiety leading up to these crucial appointments. Medical and dental professionals don’t always understand that emotions may be high when they encounter patients with special needs. There are ways for patients with developmental delays to be proactive as well as handle the stress of these necessary appointments.
With much gratitude, my parents have strived relentlessly to get in contact with health professionals who would be understanding and patient with my sensitivities. In every appointment, I always ask my medical professionals to explain the procedures and inform me about the tools they are going to use when I first see them. Sometimes they will allow me to touch the instruments. Both play a big role in reducing the anxiety that kicks in. Doctors and dentists have given me valuable information that have supported me in doing commonly unappreciated tests.
Vaccines and blood tests may sting when the needle touches your arm. Prior to the needle touch, the doctors generally put a little alcohol to disinfect the area of the procedure. It usually takes less than a minute for the blood to be drawn or the vaccine to be administered. A Band Aid will generally be applied where the test occurred. Vaccines are meant to potentially avoid sickness and other diseases as you age. Blood tests are usually done to check for sickness. My two ways of persevering with the injections are looking straight, and making a “determination face” like Kobe Bryant in the photo below. They help me remain steady.
Wisdom Teeth Removal
My dentist advised me to get my wisdom teeth removed. She said, “you don’t want to wait for the molars to push your teeth in a horizontal angle with your gums hovering them. The earlier you get your wisdom teeth removed, the more likely your mouth will heal quicker. If you wait too long, it will be much harder for them to come out and can hurt your face a lot more.” I got all four of my wisdom teeth removed following my junior year of high school. I was put to sleep during the procedure so that I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t wake up until twenty to thirty minutes after the stitches and numbing. Once I recovered from it, I felt very relieved I had gotten it done before going to college.
Having someone accompany you to your appointments is one of the best ways to handle the grind of necessary procedures. Explaining to the medical staff that you are on the autism spectrum can help them understand the way you might respond to certain processes and why you might ask a lot of questions. This is a step towards being a better self-advocate.
Once you have completed your education, the next step is to get a job. It certainly takes time to build a career you believe you will enjoy the most. Never forget, there are ways to receive assistance from mentors who will support you in thriving with the rigorous procedures of preparing and succeeding in the workplace.
The OASIS program at Pace University, where I received extra support during college, established a work readiness model that trains students with learning differences in the process of getting employed and maintaining a job. I participated in employment readiness workshops when I was an upper sophomore and senior. There are programs outside of a school setting that will assist you in preparing for entering the workforce. I would recommend enrolling in one, as the training I received from my internship/career counselor and employment skills coordinators has greatly benefited my success. Below are some of the lessons I soaked up:
Indeed and LinkedIn are two websites I have frequently exploited. LinkedIn is my favorite because it enables people to connect with innumerable employers from all over the world. Like other social media platforms, you can direct message peers with similar career goals, and employers who work for companies that might interest you. I would recommend including all of your positions even as you update your actual resume. While searching, read the guidelines thoroughly to ensure you are a good fit and that you have fulfilled the job’s requirements. Apply for jobs you think you will have fun with. If you don’t have a LinkedIn account, I encourage you to build one. Many applicants are advised to include their LinkedIn profiles on their resume.
Resumes are one-page documents demonstrating the candidates’ background, skills, and accomplishments. They can be formatted in multiple ways. Always put your name, and contact information on top of your resume. Describe your work history in the middle of your document. Make sure your explanations are concise. Additional things to include elsewhere are your accomplishments, education, and skills. It is important to refresh your resume when applying for new jobs. If you are employed, it is advised to review your resume at least twice a year. You can view mine here as an example.
Cover Letter Writing
Similar to resumes, cover letters are one-page documents that allow you to write in further detail your interpersonal skills, proudest accomplishments and work experience, correlating it to the job you are applying for. Here is a template that explains how to draft a cover letter. It is useful to keep cover letters you have written in the past. You can refer to them when you apply for other jobs that require a cover letter.
Interviews are the opportunity for you to learn about the company’s environment and mission, as well as for your potential employer to know more about you. It can definitely be nerve-racking, but I encourage you to approach it like having a conversation with somebody. Over the course of my participation in the work readiness program, I did mock interviews. Considered to be practice interviews, they enable you to be ready for the real one. Another strategy that I have developed when getting ready for interviews is the Computer Interview Practice (CIP). I open a compiled list of questions that are generally asked by an interviewer as well as a list of questions you can ask at the end. One question at a time, I practice verbally communicating concise answers. The PDFs that I attached are the same list of common interview questions that my career counselor distributed to me. When you go to the interview, you should dress in business attire. While speaking and listening, try to make eye contact and have good posture. If you look away and slouch, it can tell the interviewer you don’t have interest in the job.
Getting rejected happens and it is irritating. After it eats at you, the only option is to move on and keep following the same steps you have done before. Taking a walk is a helpful way to persevere with the frustration. If you wish to treat yourself to a pizza party or tasty meal, go for it. Celebrating all of the hard work you put in to get this far can potentially lighten you up when something does not go the way you expect.
Internship/Part Time/Full Time Employment
CONGRATULATIONS! You are now getting work experience. Your new job could be paid or unpaid. Either way, this is an opportunity that can help you enhance your work ethic, administrative, time management, and adaptability skills. When I interned for my grandfather’s organization, I had to do a lot of documenting and data charting. Despite it being boring most of the time, this was a chance for me to improve my skills with Microsoft pages. Regardless of what job level you are in, you will be asked to do assignments that may seem tedious. Treat it as if it is your passion and you are working on mastering a skill that will improve your ability. Practice makes perfect.
Maintaining the job
These are my top favorite tips to perform your job successfully:
§ Be punctual. Your colleagues will feel appreciated when you show up on time. Tardiness is a common problem and every organization will have a different tolerance policy about it. If you are running late because of unpredictable circumstances, do what you can to notify your supervisor.
§ Be disciplined. Issues come up that can possibly prevent you from completing a task. It is annoying and nobody likes it. I firmly believe that if you are assertive about your approach to these outcomes, those around you would be more than happy to succor you and change the due dates for your assignments.
§ Be a good teammate. Being a good team player means actively listening, adapting to different perspectives, asking for clarification if you don’t understand something, and being ready to help when needed. Being a good team player shows you have the ability to work with others. It can lead to building friendships, and new career opportunities. When I was working at Camp Havaya as a counselor, I utilized the insight my colleagues and supervisor gave me when planning evening activities and accompanying campers to other locations.
§ It is natural to feel tired when you have had trouble sleeping or felt nervous. Staying hydrated is helpful. I like to squeeze a ball in my hand and stretch my arms occasionally.
§ Most importantly, HAVE FUN. Every day that you have in your job is a precious day. In the blink of an eye, you will feel regretful if you don’t enjoy the work you have signed up for.
I hope that these guidelines have given you a stronger idea of what to expect when you walk into the world of employment. I encourage you to do your best to find and get involved with a work readiness program that you believe will give you the most support with your career goals and future endeavors. There is a business out there that will be more than lucky to have you to be a part of their team because you have a lot to offer.
There are countless students with an autism diagnosis planning to go to undergraduate school to earn a degree that suits their interests and desires, despite all of the doubts and negativities that plague individuals who have the capabilities to succeed in higher education. As a college graduate of a prestigious university with honors, here is some valuable advice for potential college students with learning differences in achieving a successful college experience.
Things to Consider when Choosing a College
Does the university or college you are planning to apply to offer good support for individuals with learning differences? If you have learning needs, then going to an institution with extra support will make your college experience better. While every institution is required to have disability services, not every university or liberal arts college provides comprehensive support for those with autism, ADHD and other learning disorders. However, there are a lot of outstanding institutions that lead the United States in offering the best college support services. Here you will find a list compiled by the College Autism Network.
Post-Secondary Education Setting
What kind of institution do you think you will feel comfortable in? Is it a large public university or a smaller private college? All institutions will have a different undergraduate student population. Every classroom size varies with maximum numbers. In college classes, there can be thirty students or more.
Think about what you plan to study. There are liberal arts colleges that focus on literature and the arts. I chose Pace because it has an impressive international affairs department and outstanding study abroad opportunities.
Do you want to commute to an institution close to home or do you want to travel somewhere else? Would you prefer to be in a big city or more rural area? Each has their pros and cons. I chose to go to Pace University in downtown Manhattan, where I could enjoy the breathtaking views, with access to public transportation that made it easy to get to attractions such as theatres, museums, and more. The disadvantages of living in a big city include loud honking and large crowds.
As tedious as it gets, these factors must be taken into account while going through the college admissions process.
Things to Consider Once You’re in College
Living On Campus
Living on campus is not for everybody. However, there are multiple advantages to living in a residence hall, such as taking less time to get to class and other appointments, and learning how to live independently.
While these are great benefits for living on campus, there is more to having a good time in the college dorms. Outside of the room, take a small portion of time to join some campus activities or other events that are being planned by your Resident Assistant. RA’s are not only there for your safety, they like to provide entertainment that will help students relieve stress in any particular way. Make sure to explore your surroundings and take as much time as you need to check out your favorite sites close by.
If you have a roommate, be considerate of their needs and wants. Even if you may not become best friends with that person or be roommates again in the future, it is important to respect them and manage to keep the room clean without relying on them to do everything.
For many fair reasons, there are people who are not comfortable with disclosing their differences. There was a time when I felt the same way until I wrote and gave speeches about diverse identities. By doing this, people could better understand how to support me and it made me feel more confident in the learning environments I chose to step foot in.
If you have learning needs that are essential for your academic success, the first step is to visit The Disability Office. Before arriving at college, take a closer look at the requirements to obtain supportive accommodations for your challenges. I had to take a brutal examination administered by a clinical autism specialist and provide the results to the Pace University Office of Disability Services (ODS). They handed me a document of the accommodations I could utilize for my academics. It is most important to be proactive with your instructors on the first day of class. I gave my professors an accommodation document to sign, which gave me permission to use a recorder, have a separate note taker, plus extended time for tests in a non-distractive zone. It is your responsibility to inform them about the way you learn, and get permission to utilize the necessary services.
The transition to a less structured and charged environment after high school can be very difficult for many autistic individuals. Learn time management and organizational skills while in high school. Social interaction is another factor. It is helpful to make friends in class and at other school events. They will always be there to support you. Knowing your advisor and seeking their assistance before the start of the new chapter will help you ease the anxiety that kicks in. Another strategy is discovering if there is a program to assist students in their freshman year with the grind of transitioning to a demanding environment.
Once you know the due dates of your assignments, record it into your planner handwritten or electronically. Plan ahead to begin your homework as early as possible. The earlier you start the work the less pressured and stressed you will feel mentally. It is super hard to finish the work with procrastination habits. Get enough sleep and eat healthy meals. If you need a break from doing work, you can play a sport, take a walk, go to the gym, spend time with friends, see family, then include that in your schedule as well.
Preparing for Exams
Find out the course material that will be covered on the exam. That way, you will know what chapters, or sections you are responsible for so you don’t waste your time on material you won’t be tested on. Asking for the format of a test is a frequent question. If you know there is one portion of an exam you struggle a lot with, spend more of your study time working on it. Although, do balance your study time with formats you do well with so the knowledge remains fresh in your mind. Some professors might give a review sheet. Others may expect you to study from the books or notes posted online. If you get extended time, make sure you schedule your exam hours two weeks in advance with the appropriate department. If you request to take the exam on a separate day, that is acceptable as long as the professor agrees. Remember that quizzes, mid term exams can be spread out in different weeks. Final exams are taken on the very last week.
Making goals for yourself in school will help you reach whatever milestones you strive for. For me, achieving the Dean’s List was the top one because I pride myself on being a person who goes beyond expectations. The Dean’s List is an academic honor for students who exemplify high scholastic achievement based on their Grade Point Average (GPA). Getting good grades took a lot more than completing assignments. Every class I took had different grading criteria made by the instructor and was required to be displayed on the syllabus. I was only graded on homework and exams in mathematics classes. In other courses I was graded on participation and attendance. Do keep in mind that exams are usually worth the majority of your final result. Your grades in the courses and the number of credits you take will determine your GPA for that semester, which is not rounded, and you will discover if you have achieved the Dean’s List. Eligibility and requirements in achieving the Dean’s List varies at every institution.
Preparing for Life After College
Career and Work Readiness
Before your college career comes to an end, I encourage you to seek out things with a Career Services Department that will prepare you for the real world of employment. There is more to life after college and whichever road you choose to follow will determine how your life proceeds. Participate in employment readiness workshops that will help you build a resume, draft cover letters, prepare for interviews, and teach you workplace behavior. They are also a resource for finding possible jobs. You can always stay in touch and visit them as an alum.
I hope these tips are helpful and that you all find the school that you believe will offer you the best education that fulfills your needs and desires. College can be full of once in a lifetime opportunities that may change your life for the better. I encourage you to look at the openings that are out there; they may not come back once it is over.
Being bullied is a major issue that is beyond hurtful, and challenging to resolve. When I got teased, I didn’t feel like going to school again until I discovered the reasons the bullies were mistreating me. The basis of their cruelty came from me having opportunities that made them feel inadequate. This includes traveling the world, making local and international friends at summer camp, my ability to memorize movie quotes and sports facts, and having goals that exceeded expectations. I have perfect examples of the most intense bullying experiences I have ever been through:
I got consistently teased by vicious twin brothers for performing better than them academically. Before they left in the middle of sophomore year, they told me that I was not college material because I had trouble with reading comprehension and that my obsessions would not take me anywhere. Later in my senior year of high school, I was bossed around by a repulsive classmate who told me I should not go back to the places I love the most or to a four-year university. She never gave me the respect I deserved for being more academically and socially advanced, and choosing to blaze the harder roads that I was qualified for. I outsmarted their jealousy and negativity. The bad-mouthing perpetuated until I graduated as valedictorian of my class and wrote history by attending Pace University in New York City. I am beyond proud to be the first student from my high school to graduate college with high honors from one of the most prestigious universities outside of my home state, California, with educational experience abroad and countless accolades.
The lesson I cherish the most from my experiences of mistreatment is staying true to yourself. Remember that the bully’s intention is to do anything that will get a rise out of you. Physical confrontation does not help and leads to inevitable consequences. It is your job to silence them by showing them who you really are. Your dreams are up to you, and the way you move forward with your plans is by persevering with a curious mindset.
When I was young, I could not express myself appropriately. I always liked sitting quietly in a different zone rolling my thumbs like a wheel, and contemplating my interests. The only time I would interact with anyone is if someone approached me and asked a question. Once I felt connected, I enjoyed talking to them, but there were also times when no one came up to me. I realized that I can’t rely on people to come over and that nothing is given. As I grew older, my social skills were still not progressing as fast as I expected. It was my mission to find communities outside of my accustomed environment where I could use the principles I learned in achieving friendships. Having accomplished this task several times, I have created a motto that’s like building a puzzle: Intention to Connection to Attainment. I encourage people with autism to follow this motto as it will help them become more productive in their lives.
Intention: Imagine that there is a large puzzle of 500 pieces laid on the table. Those puzzle pieces represent neuro-typical people who are a part of your world. It is your job to use the strategies that you are learning to express yourself. You are now being a self-advocate outlining your identity, its advantages, and how you use them to conquer your deficiencies. That will lead you to memorable friendships.
Connection: You are able to connect some pieces, but are still having trouble with certain parts. The task is to find similarities you have with the people around you and adapt to topics that you are not familiar with. It may not be easy, but your peers believe in you, and respect you. They want you to ask questions if you don’t understand something. That is how you open your mind to new things you have not heard of.
Attainment: You have successfully completed the puzzle. You have new friends because you are becoming more sociable. You have learned so much about the people you have connected with because you took new ideas and flowed with them, especially when the transition was hard. You solved one puzzle, now you can do another one.
Remember that you will make mistakes when you go through this process. The therapist or social worker you meet with will walk with you as you take these steps. Once you feel prepared, you will be ready to apply this method independently. The purpose of my motto is to guide you to new friendships and have people who can support you through troubling times.
A role model is someone who is an inspiration for the success you want to create. Even though I do consider myself famous for spreading autism awareness in online articles, printed magazines, and having my speech made into a claymation video, there are plenty of other autism advocates who have gone above and beyond. What allows me to navigate my road to success is learning from other autistic people who have been outspoken. There are two famous autism advocates I admire who have followed very difficult tracks:
For my 21st birthday, my grandma got tickets to an event at a Barnes and Noble Bookstore where we got to see Temple Grandin give a brief talk on her recent published book, “Calling All Minds.” Her scientific inventions, creative thinking, visualization skills have positively impacted billions of animals and people. I am very lucky that I not only got to meet her, have a picture with her, read her book, but also receive her autograph. In some of her books, Temple provides very clear instructions and images on how to make a variety of projects. She has spoken at countless venues about her road to becoming the most famous inventor on the autism spectrum.
Dr. Stephen Shore
As a professor of Special Education at Adelphi University, Dr. Stephen Shore has traveled all over the world doing presentations, giving talks, and meeting with leaders who have experience in being around people with autism. At my very first college visit at Adelphi, I met him for the first time in his office. With much gratitude, he invited me to share my personal story of having autism in one of his classes. During the holiday season of 2019, my brother and I attended a conference at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in the Bronx to watch Dr. Shore share his research on the best practices empowering people with autism.
These famous autism advocates are doing exactly what I want to do in the life that I am living. It is traveling the world raising autism awareness as a spokesperson. They signify not only all of the hard work they have done to get to where they are, but what makes their personal experiences become who they are.
Unfortunately, there are people in this world who lack the ability to truly know how extraordinary people with autism are in their own ways. This misunderstanding can cause individuals with autism to lose precious opportunities. With there being so many unkind remarks and untrue beliefs about the nature of the autism spectrum, I have selected my top four misconceptions:
1.) Don’t want friends
Most children and adults on the spectrum like to socialize. The issue is they often make mistakes because they don’t know how to socialize. Having social failures in the past can also make them feel shy. Just because they struggle with certain social cues does not mean they are unfriendly. Don’t forget, they are still learning, and will develop the skills from their therapy sessions.
In fact, my long life best and closest friend does NOT have autism. When I went to sleep away camp in the Poconos, my social skills were improving constantly. It was not only because of the friends I made from all over the world, but also how I shared my story of having autism and how it made my interactions with them a lot easier. During those summers, I carried the lessons from my therapists and used their teachings to understand things that may not be said clearly. Overnight camping was the time for me to be who I was, growing into a fine young man, the only autistic camper in the cabin.
2.) Can’t Learn Anything
Knowing an autistic individual’s learning pace will make your job a lot easier to teach them well. Some learn slower and others learn faster. One method in assisting a person with special needs in processing information is knowing their own interests. For instance, I like sports, traveling, and movies. If someone were to speak to me using a phrase related to what I love, then it would be easier for me to reply with another sentence to the dialogue. Here are some good examples.
Other person: I made plans travel to Europe for two weeks and it was cancelled. It was my first time at bat. A nasty curve ball was thrown at me.
Myself: I am very sorry that your first time going to the continent was cancelled. Don’t forget that that there will be another chance for you to make it.
Other Person: To get over this frustration, I went bowling and I am not good at it.
Myself: Would you like to go bowling with me someday?
Other person: Kobe Bryant Stinks.
Myself: Why does he have five rings?
Other Person: AH HA! I got you. You did not notice I was being sarcastic.
Myself: Oops. My bad.
3. Lack the ability to Empathize
People with autism feel things differently. They express themselves in ways that maybe hard to understand, and it takes time for them to notice your feelings. Many struggle with interpreting people’s expressions through verbal communication and body language. Some don’t make eye contact. Wanting an autistic person to detect your feelings plays a major role in direct communication. Expecting a person with learning challenges to read between the lines can make both sides muddled. Being direct all the time will make it easier for an autistic person to comprehend things because it is straightforward and they don’t have to follow uneven patterns. Two techniques in practicing this are:
Demonstrating a facial expression that was shown to them on an index card. If you have pulled out a picture of the happy feeling and duplicate that facial feature exactly from that card you showed, then the autistic person will know how you are feeling.
Taking one sentence at a time when practicing conversations verbally or non-verbally. If the autistic person says, “I like mathematics because there is one answer to every problem.” You can say, “I am not good at math and I enjoy classes that have more than one answer.” Slowly but surely, you are teaching them how to adapt to opinions.
4.) Can’t go anywhere in life
This is a very common mistake that is made by anyone in general. I highly recommend people to rethink their opinion when they say something doubtful. Autistic people have the determination and motivation to go anywhere they believe is best for them, no matter how different they are. I have one perfect example that demonstrates me exceeding expectations.
The administrators at my school reviewed my learning progress after finishing elementary school. They told me and my parents that I would not graduate high school with a diploma. Instead of feeling deterred, I told them to regather their thoughts and give me a chance. They saw my determination and we shared ice cream at my graduation.
Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder primarily characterized by four difficulties:
Communication with any autistic individual is an ongoing art. While practicing non-verbal communication, they can misinterpret facial expressions. Some can have trouble with pronouncing long words when practicing verbal communication.
Having trouble with comprehending people’s opinions leads to difficulty with making friends. It can take more time for autistic individuals to learn the difference between a question and a statement. Even if they have the desire to interact, it is important for them to practice dialogue by knowing when a question or statement is being said.
Repetitive Patterns of Behavior
It can be comforting for autistic people to flap their hands, jump around, or talk gibberish. It can take their mentors and coaches multiple attempts to get their attention when they get distracted from their tasks.
Generally, autistic people only want to have conversations about things that interest them, such as rocket science, Mario Kart, Star Wars, etc. They usually enjoy activities that will keep them calm. It could be watching movies and TV Shows, or playing video games.
With the autism spectrum being wide with so many variables, every person’s characteristics are different. The key to understanding an autistic individual is observing their behavior, and identifying their areas of interest. All of this plays a role in studying how they fit into the diagram below.
While these characteristics are accurate, sometimes, they are not always helpful. Everyone must acknowledge the fact that every person on the spectrum is unique and always has something to offer. Allowing them to tell us what they are doing to understand the world they are living in will make it much easier for us to help them. One label will not immediately tell you someone’s strengths and weaknesses.