APRIL is National Autism Awareness Month (see our related story today). From college campuses to Major League Baseball to the Empire State Building, Americans are shining spotlights on autism. While many people envision children when they hear the word “autism,” the fact is that many successful adults have an autistic condition. Today, ReadTheSpirit welcomes columnist Tyler Stocks to tell his own story.
Giving Autism a Personal Voice
By Tyler Stocks
I have Asperger’s Syndrome and remember how hard it was to communicate with others and socialize as a child. As an adult now, I realize that I have been successful because of coaches, counselors, doctors, teachers and my parents who gave me validation.
As a child, I had great difficulty looking others in the eye. I did not like to play with other children and kept to myself most of the time. I had great trouble expressing my emotions and had no sense of humor when it came to jokes. This is common for children with this syndrome.
At school, my inability to communicate made life difficult. I often felt isolated. This got worse over time and I became socially withdrawn.
My parents took me to see a child psychologist who recognized my problems and insisted that I be tested for autism. I was referred to a team of specialists at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. The doctors told my parents that I had Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.
I had severe verbal impairments. In addition, doctors discovered that my brain was delayed anywhere from two to four years. The doctors at Johns Hopkins insisted I participate in extra-curricular activities when I got home so that my childhood would be as normal as possible.
Socialization is essential to overall development among autistic individuals. I am living proof. My success with communication today is due to the interaction I’ve had with so many others.
The audacity of my mother to place me in a public school, rather than a “Special-School,” has been critical to my success. Counselors took time with me; speech therapists believed in me. I was told on a daily basis, “You can become whatever you want to be.”
I interacted with the public, participated in extra-curricular activities. I played sports in high school. My coaches befriended me and shared words of encouragement. The idea of someone believing in me made a big difference. The more I was socialized, the more I prospered.
Today, I am a college student and my professors tell me that I have an expansive vocabulary. But words are not my only interest. I really enjoy history. I enjoy discussions about European history and early church history and discussions about the cradle of ancient civilization: Mesopotamia.
Dates are important as they help me map out events in an organized format. Being autistic, organization is a must. This skill proves valuable inside and outside of the classroom.
Today, I am a published writer. My pieces have appeared in USA Today and the New York Times. I enjoy writing letters to various newspapers and am proud to see many of those letters published.
Growing up autistic has been incredibly challenging but having others push me along and include me in society makes the difference. The key to a successful life for people with autism is being welcomed, rather than marginalized.
Today, I have the skills to communicate easily in my personal interactions and, through my writing, I feel comfortable speaking to the whole world. But had it not been for the coaches, counselors, doctors, teachers and loving parents who believed in me, my story would be quite different.
They helped me to give autism a voice.
Tyler Stocks is a writer who lives in Greenville, North Carolina, where he attends college. His essays, columns and letters have appeared nationwide. He specializes in writing about contemporary global issues, religion and spirituality.
Care to read more?
You may enjoy reading our Holidays & Festivals column today on National Autism Awareness Month.