In our world, everyone faces obstacles and overcomes difficulty. The top neuro-psychological doctor told my parents when I was two years old, “Your son has autism, and will never be able to read, write or communicate.” My parents made the right decision to find the best resources around for children who have autism.
People who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulty understanding abstract concepts and communicating with the world around them. There was a notion in the last decade that if one had a mental or learning disability, they were considered stupid. Many citizens fight for the rights of people with learning disabilities. We are just like everyone else — and can do anything we set our minds to.
When I began my academic career at a West Marlborough, Mass. elementary school, my parents worked hard to find the best resources from the New England Center for Children to help improve my behavioral differences. It all began with lots of early intervention. I attended speech classes to improve my speaking skills and occupational therapy to strengthen my fine motor skills.
The middle and high school years were very difficult for me. Students were placed into an educational caste program called “essentials.” Due to my reading comprehension, writing and social struggles, I was bullied and harassed. Peers called me “gay” and often threatened me.
In high school, I was afraid to sit in the classroom and learn because I felt unsafe. High school bullying was worse than in middle school. I struggled to discover who I was as a person. I reached my breaking point — too afraid to leave my apartment and pursue activities. I lost my self-confidence and developed generalized anxiety disorder.
After enrolling in a preparatory high school, I began developing the confidence to understand more about society. I am a lifelong learner who enjoys school. I worked individually with my basic English teacher building learning strategies that enabled me to succeed. Five years later, I comprehended Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. I was introduced to Dr. David Hyerle’s thinking maps. This helped me pass my standardized testing and maintain high honors.
I struggled to accept my learning difference. I felt isolated from everyone else and scared to push forward. I believe that society’s view on my “issues” should shift to “opportunity.” I met a few mentors that inspired and influenced me.
My psychologist and my college professors inspire me. Attending Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla. was the best decision I made. People didn’t believe I could do it. I proved them wrong and realized this environment was comfortable and I met two of my best friends. I discovered that I am someone who finds pleasure in helping other people succeed. I also explored my passion for becoming a lifelong learner.
Society’s view aside, I believe learning disabilities are something to embrace. You can do anything you set your mind to. The message is clear: we must embrace diversity — and people should make a difference.
Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism, Barry M. Prizant. PhD (Simon & Schuster, July 19, 2016)
Autism therapy typically focuses on ridding individuals of “autistic” symptoms such as difficulties interacting socially, problems in communicating, sensory challenges, and repetitive behavior patterns. Now Dr. Barry M. Prizant offers a new and compelling paradigm: the most successful approaches to autism don’t aim at fixing a person by eliminating symptoms, but rather seeking to understand the individual’s experience and what underlies the behavior.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Zachary Jonathan Swist, 20, hails from Marlborough, Mass. He is a freshman at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla., the first college or university accredited to award bachelor’s degrees primarily to students who learn differently., where he is currently an undecided major. He struggled with both reading and writing in his early education. Although he originally wanted to be a teacher, he now wants to write about things relating to disability awareness providing a message that people can attain their goals once they set their minds to it.