I believe it is so important for individuals with autism to get an opportunity to be integrated into society. Some of them may never be able to do things that typical people can do (e.g. hold a job, live on their own, etc.) but if they are encouraged to take a leap of faith and do new things for the first time when they are young, it can really help to instill confidence in them and then eventually they may want to try to do even more things for the first time. I am very grateful that I had parents who always believed in me and encouraged me to try new things. I would not have played an instrument or played soccer if my parents did not have faith in me. It’s so important that a child with ASD has parents who not only loves them but also sees the potential in them. It takes a lot of grace, patience, faith, and love to parent a child on the spectrum but when done properly, it will make a lasting imprint on the child. If your child is good at sports, encourage them to join a sports team. If your child is good at playing an instrument, encourage them to join the school band. If your child is good at writing, encourage them to write. The world can surely be blessed by the gifts that they have to offer.
In regards to school choice, I believe all individuals with ASD should attend the same school as their gen ed peers and, if possible, be in the same classrooms as their gen ed peers. Obviously every child on the spectrum is different and if an individual’s diagnosis is on the severe side and a parent believes the child should just be in a classroom for special education students at the local neighborhood school, then that is perfectly acceptable. I am very grateful that I was not on the severe side of the spectrum and that I was able to be in a classroom with my gen ed peers and still receive services inside and outside of the classroom (e.g. speech, OT, extended time on tests, calculator for math, etc.). I’m very grateful for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and that it was passed in Congress in the year 1975. It made it possible for me and thousands of students with disabilities to be integrated with our gen ed peers.
To all parents out there with children who are on the spectrum: NEVER give up on your child. It doesn’t matter how severe on the spectrum they are. They are individuals who are capable of doing a lot of things. You may be surprised at what your child can do. Instead of doubting in them, start believing in them. Acclimate them to society instead of withholding them from society because one day when you are gone, they will be on their own. Don’t give up on them even if they throw a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store and people are looking at you like you’re a crazy person. It takes a lot of grace, patience, faith, and love to parent a child on the spectrum but when done properly, it will make a lasting imprint on the child. If your child is good at sports, encourage them to join a sports team. If your child is good at playing an instrument, encourage them to join the school band. If your child is good at writing, encourage them to write. The world can surely be blessed by the gifts that they have to offer.
In this post I am going to be talking about my first time going off to college. I was 19 years old when I left my mom and dad’s house and went off to college for the first time. The school that I went to college at was Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) down in Fort Myers, Florida. I went to FGCU my freshman year and then I transferred over to the University of South Florida (USF) for my sophomore year and finished out my last 3 years there.
I vividly remember the drive that my parents and I took down to Fort Myers to move into my dorm at FGCU. It was August 2009. I remember the feeling of being both nervous and excited at the same time. However, once I settled into my dorm I felt ready to meet new people in this brand new journey that I was about to embark on. I met new people and eventually felt comfortable in my new environment. For some individuals on the autism spectrum, transitions can be a huge challenge for them. However, I adapted very well. I think because I had gotten used to a lot of transitions that happened in the past my brain became numb to this transition and that’s why I probably didn’t feel very homesick.
The best advice I can give to a parent or a caregiver who has a child on the autism spectrum is to be patient, loving, and supportive when they are going through any major transition. Let them talk to you about any fears that they may have and take the time to listen to them. It’s so important to make sure that their feelings are validated. Also, make sure that they know how to navigate the college campus and how they can utilize services (e.g. meal plans, financial aid, library, career services, Disability Services, etc.).
Growing up was a challenge for me on the autism spectrum. In one of my previous blog posts I mentioned that middle school was a challenge for me. I had a difficult time making friends in middle school and I was bullied a lot. High school was a different story for me. There were a lot of great victories that took place for me in both my academic and social life.
In regards to my academic life, I started out my freshman year of high school taking very basic classes. There was one quarter in which I earned a D in one of my classes. However, as the year progressed I started doing better in all of my classes and got good grades. My sophomore year I started taking several honors classes. Some of the honors courses I took were the following: Biology Honors, Chemistry Honors, U.S. History Honors, and English 4 Honors. My senior year of high school I also took two Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Those were AP Government and AP Environmental Science. As a result of taking these classes and getting excellent grades in them, my cumulative GPA was much higher at the end of my senior year compared to the end of my freshman year. Also, as a result of working harder and getting good grades it was determined that I no longer needed an IEP. At the end of my sophomore year my IEP was dropped and I no longer needed ESE services. For children on the autism spectrum it is quite possible that they can exceed expectations when they decide to take risks and put in hard work.
As for my social life, this was an area where I also saw gains take place. I started socializing with people during lunch and in my classes. Most of the people I hung out with were individuals who took the same types of classes I took and were in some of the same clubs that I was a part of. The best part about the high school experience for me was having fun and getting an opportunity to be a part of amazing events throughout the school year, such as pep rallies, football games, homecoming parades, homecoming dances, and the prom.
The four years flew by so fast and there were many amazing memories that took place. Eventually, graduation day rolled around the corner. In the middle of my senior year I applied to three colleges (University of Tampa, Jacksonville University, and Florida Gulf Coast University). I eventually got an acceptance letter from FGCU right around the time of graduation. All of my hard work paid off and I was ready to walk across the stage to get my diploma. I graduated on May 31st, 2009 with honors. It was the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new chapter for me all at the same time.
In this post I am going to talk about my first time driving a vehicle in traffic. I remember getting my learner’s driving permit at the age of 15 back in July of the year 2005. I was very excited and eager to get experience driving. During the first month I practiced driving locally on my neighborhood streets and in parking lots of shopping centers. This experience prepared me for when I would be driving longer distances. A month later the big test came for me.
The day finally arrived when I would be driving for the first time on a road for a long distance. I remember that day very clearly. At the time my mom was a Real Estate Appraiser and she would travel to locations across the state of Florida to appraise homes. The locations ranged from Tampa all the way down to Fort Lauderdale. On this day we traveled from Tampa to Vero Beach so my mom could appraise a home in that location. Since it was still the summer time and I was not back in school yet, I decided to accompany her on that particular day. At the halfway mark to our destination my mom decided to pull over her car and asked me if I wanted to drive the rest of the way to Vero Beach. I complied and was thrilled since this would be my first opportunity driving a very long distance since receiving my learner’s permit.
When I got behind the wheel I noticed that my mom’s car was running very low on fuel. The fuel level wasn’t on E but it was almost there. I decided to stop at the next gas station but soon realized that there was not going to be another gas station for another 30 miles since we were traveling out of a developed town and into a rural area. The fuel level was literally on E and my mom and I thought the car was going to stall on the road and that we would have to call up AAA. By a miracle we made it to the next gas station and we were able to fill up the car with gas without having to call up AAA. Moral of the story: Don’t ever allow your teenager to drive a car for a long distance for the very first time when you know you’re running low on fuel.
After my mom’s appraisal it was time for us to drive back home to Tampa. I drove back the whole way from Vero Beach to Tampa. At about the halfway mark I almost got into an accident with another vehicle. I was approaching a traffic light and there was a landscaping company truck in front of me with a trailer attached to it. The light turned red and I put my foot on the brake pedal to slow down. However, I accidentally put my foot on the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal. When I realized this I immediately put my foot on the brake pedal quickly and was able to stop the car just in time. I narrowly avoided hitting the truck and was just inches away from getting into my first accident. Talk about my first experience driving a car for a long distance in traffic! I learned a lot of lessons my first year of driving and am a much better driver today as a result of getting all that practical experience.
On my birthday one year I had the amazing opportunity to fly a small Cessna airplane with a commercial pilot. This was when I was around 17 or 18 years old. My mom arranged it all for me to experience this once in a lifetime opportunity. I always loved flying airplanes as a young boy and for me this was a thrill of a lifetime. We went down to the local municipal airport and signed papers before me and the pilot got into the airplane. The pilot and I sat together in the same seat. We then taxied onto the runway and prepared to take off. While we were taking off the pilot allowed me to take control and I helped him with getting the plane up into the air. It felt like I was a pilot in the moment. We then flew over my hometown and actually flew over my neighborhood and I got to see my house from up in the air. The flight only lasted about 45 minutes but it felt like two hours to me. I then thanked the pilot when our private flying session ended. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
When I was 14 years old, a new beginning occurred for me and my family. We decided to pack up our bags, sell our home, and move to a brand new state. My parents decided to move to Florida because we had family who lived down in Florida and we wanted to be closer to them. We also wanted to get away from the freezing winters. I was very excited because I would always come down to Florida to visit my grandparents every single year and the house my parents bought was in the same subdivision that my grandparents lived in. However, I also was a little nervous because I knew that I would be going to a new school and meeting new people for the very first time. As I mentioned previously, transitions can be a challenge for individuals on the autism spectrum. Leaving New York also meant leaving behind all of my classmates from middle school along with people in my family (e.g. aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). After months of packing stuff away in boxes, putting stuff into storage, and selling our house, it was time to depart the Empire State and head on down to the Sunshine State.
I can’t remember the exact date we got in our car and left but it was in December of 2004. The drive took about 17 hours but we got to Florida the next day after staying over in Georgia for a night. When we arrived at our new house, I was excited. The house my parents had bought was a brand new home that was just constructed and we were the first people to live in that house. Over the next few weeks we transitioned really well into our new surroundings and I was happy that we were starting a new chapter in our lives. In January my mom took me down to the middle school I would be attending to enroll me. I then resumed 8th grade at this school. Surprisingly, this transition was much easier than the transition I had made to the middle school I attended up in New York. It took me a couple of days to get used to my surroundings but I slowly adjusted and was able to easily navigate the school campus. My peers were also very friendly to me and no bullying occurred at all.
This blog post is going to be one of the most hardest ones I think I will ever write. The reason why I say this is because I’m going to talk about a period in my life that was very difficult for me. This stage I’m referring to was the transition from elementary school to middle school. To give you a better understanding I will start off providing some context for you. I graduated from elementary school in June of 2003. Back in the day elementary school in my school district up in New York went from kindergarten through 6th grade. Middle school went from 7th grade through 9th grade and high school went from 10th grade through 12th grade. It was very different from how schools are set up primarily today. Also, the elementary school I attended was not my local neighborhood elementary school. It was in the same school district but it was in a different zone. I attended that elementary school because the special education program there was a perfect fit for me in regards to the goals and objectives that were outlined in my IEP. When I graduated from elementary school, I enrolled in my neighborhood middle school instead of the school that was in the zone where I attended elementary school. As a result, I left behind a lot of my classmates that I went to elementary school with. There were a few students who I went to elementary school that attended this middle school but there were a LOT of people that I didn’t know when I entered 7th grade.
My 7th grade year was probably one of the hardest years I ever endured as a student. For one, it was a learning curve for me because I had to learn where all of my classes were, walk to those classes without being late when the bell rang, and learn how to use a locker. Transitions can be very hard for individuals on the autism spectrum but I slowly learned to adjust over a period of time. However, the biggest struggle that I had was making new friends. My peers realized I was different right away. Most of them never had me as a classmate when they were in elementary school and I think several of them knew something was different about me because of the way I interacted and communicated with them. I was not the best at communicating and making eye contact so I think they may have realized I was not the “typical” kid. I would get teased at and kids would make fun of me while I was sitting down at a table at lunch. This would occur whenever I would try to strike up a conversation with the people who sat at my lunch table. There were two boys who I always tried to avoid during lunch but no matter what they would always bully me. One of them actually took a piece of straw wrapper, crumpled it up, put it in his straw, and blew into the straw so that the wrapper would hit my face. This occurred not just once while sitting down at the lunch table but many times. It continued on for the rest of the week I believe. It got to the point where I had to make an appointment with the school psychologist and report the bullying that was taking place. Slowly but surely he started to back off and not do that anymore. Another boy who sat next to me at lunch would take his hand and pinch my arms multiple times while teasing me and calling me names. This left multiple red marks on my arms. I also reported what he was doing as well. Eventually, he stopped doing that. I stopped hanging out with the people who sat at that table and eventually started to sit with some of the students from 8th grade during lunch instead of my classmates from 7th grade. It was a struggle the rest of the year trying to make friends in 7th grade but it got better as the year started to come to a close.
The next year in 8th grade was SO much better for me than my 7th grade year was. I took classes with some new people that I didn’t have in my classes the previous year and also had people in the classes who were in my classes from the year before in 7th grade. Kids were much more nicer to me because they had seen me from the previous year and had started to know me better. It was easier to strike up conversations and I started to develop confidence in myself. It was the best feeling ever. Also, lunch time was much better for me than the previous year. There was no bullying that occurred while I sat down at the table and for the first time I felt like I was free to be the person I wanted to be without having to worry so much about what others thought of me. Unfortunately, I only got to spend half a year with my classmates from 8th grade up in New York because my family and I moved to Florida in December. I will talk about this more in detail in my next post.
One thing that I loved to do when I was a young boy was watch movies. I would sometimes watch the same movie at least 3 or 4 times. It was definitely a stereotypical behavior that I had. Not only did I love to watch movies but I would also, from time to time, quote lines from movies and share those lines with either my friends or family. I will never forget one such instance when I shared a line from a movie while my mom, dad, brother, and I were out eating at a restaurant for dinner. The quote was from the movie Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps with Eddie Murphy. The quote that I shared had a word that was kind of crude. When I said the word my mom and dad gave me a strange look and said “West.” They were both embarrassed because the people sitting at the table behind us overheard and looked at our table with a weird look on their faces. LOL. At the time I wasn’t aware that the word I had said was crude and meant what it meant. I was 11 years old when this occurred. It wasn’t until after my parents explained to me in the car what the word meant that I understood why the people gave us a strange look. My mom and dad would always bring this up whenever we would be riding in the car or if we were having dinner years after this took place.