Autism Changed My Life. Twice.

October 20, 2011
I was diagnosed with autism when I was six years old.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had trouble socializing with others. Instead of giving people high fives, I gave people hugs (which were always a bit too tight). I tended to stand alone, not because I was forced to do so by my classmates, but because I preferred to be alone with my interests. I felt secure and happy by myself, so I shied away from my classmates, and when I was forced to participate with them, I tried to be as detached from what was going on as possible.

Because of my diagnosis, I was provided a speech therapist in elementary school who, once a week, would coach me on social skills, playing “What If…” games and drilling me on proper social behavior. My mother worked with me constantly, giving me her support throughout my social life. My father pushed me into social situations I really didn’t want to be in, so I could learn proper behavior. In first grade, you might have seen me and thought I had something wrong with me. By the end of middle school, I was just a slightly quirky kid. I had found ways to adjust to the world around me.

Growing up, I have been familiar with the plight of severely autistic people. Those families unable to afford treatment for their children have relied on autism charities such as Autism Speaks, the Autism Training Center, or the Autism Society of America. The amount of money devoted to autism charities, though, is miniscule compared to more publicized but much less widespread disabilities.

When I was told by the faculty sponsor of my school’s honors program that a large service project for my senior year was required, I had an epiphany: Sleep-In For Autism. I envisioned an organization that would encourage employees and students to donate to their local autism charity for the opportunity to sleep in on the Monday after the Super Bowl, a day that traditionally 4.4 million Americans choose to come to work late or not show up at all. I launched Sleep-In For Autism my junior year because I simply couldn’t wait to get started. I called businesses and schools to drum up support. I emailed autism charities in every state. As the big game approached, Sleep-In For Autism hit a nerve and became a grassroots campaign covering over 30 states, Puerto Rico, and 9 countries. None of the money went through my hands (I encouraged participants to donate directly to the charities), but I estimate Sleep-In For Autism has raised over $10,000 for autism programs and over 60,000 people were made aware of the Facebook page in time for the event. The Google ad I placed the week of the Super Bowl was seen by a million people.

Sleep-In For Autism changed me. The disability itself hinders my ability to organize and communicate, and creating and executing a campaign like this required me to hone my organizational and communication skills to a higher level than I had done before. I had to use any and all media at my disposal to contact people, involve others and coordinate this huge project with no budget, and I quickly learned that the kid I used to be simply couldn’t take on this task.

Looking back, I realize that up until Sleep-In For Autism, I was still trying to stand on my own and hide behind my own interests.
The best part about being a voice for autism is learning to rely on the kindness of others, and in the process finding my own voice. By the way, Sleep-In For Autism happens each year on Super Bowl Monday. I hope you’ll participate this year. Hit me up on Facebook if you do. Just search for “Sleep-in For Autism.” I mean, it’s not like a walk or anything. All you have to do is sleep.





Join the Discussion

This article has 1 comment. Post your own now!

Randomscreennamelalalala said...
Jun. 4, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Oh my gosh. You could be, like, my long-lost twin, exept you're way older than me. 

I have asperger syndrome. I was diegnosed when I was nine. I used to hug people too; it just felt good. I didn't play with other kids at recess, instead, I opted to play with my imaginary friends. My problem wasn't being forced to participate; it was learning not to participate. For example, one time, in the middle of class, I stood up and yelled "I have to pee like a racehorse!", then ... (more »)

 
bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback