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.