As a nonverbal autistic boy, I am attacking the idea that autism is a bad thing that should be eradicated. For me, autism is a different way of sensing, moving and interacting with the world.
Autism is something I was born with. It is all I know. When I was younger I could not communicate well. I could not express my thoughts even though I had so many. It was not until I was 9 years old that I started to be able to show I had a smart mind under my autistic exterior. It was the year I learned Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) and began to spell on a letterboard. I now write a blog to tell others what autism is like from the inside.
People need to hear more about autism from autistic people themselves. Autistic people don’t like being assumed emotionless and uncaring.
When people talked about my concerning behaviors in front of me I would feel embarrassed and pent-up shame. I was made to feel horrible for my autism. People pitied my family and me.
Teachers were well meaning but believed I could not understand much of anything because I could not talk or write to communicate that I was smart and understood everything going on around me. I became like a pet to train, as everyone tried to make me act normally with candy rewards.
For me, autism is how God made me to get around in the world. Autism lets me see the beauty in nature that people often miss. Autism allows me to think thoughts about other ways of perceiving the world. Autism gives me a close relationship with God.
To help me best, please see me as an equal human being as you. This means treat me the way you want to be treated.
Having a regular education and a school that includes me is important. Many of my autistic friends still are segregated from regular students and are learning at preschool level.
Do not underestimate us. Our minds are bright but many times our bodies cannot follow the instructions from our minds. For example, my mind might want me to hold a pencil to write a note. But nothing works. My hand can’t grasp correctly. I can’t coordinate the fine movement in my hand to form letters. I can’t find my hand in space. I only make soft scribbles.
People see my body acting awkwardly. They mistake my body’s actions for evidence that my mind is dull. I believe many of my autistic peers have the same problem.
I have been lucky that my parents never made the mistake of giving up on finding a way for me to communicate. I appreciate the value of communication because it allows a person to be known.
Before communication, I felt like a caged animal because I had no say in my life. Since finding my voice, I feel more human, as people listen to my words. Most people forget how lucky they are to be able to talk. I was not one of the lucky ones. But I was fortunate to learn to type to communicate. Through RPM, I learned to show I could learn normally and communicate.
It has been three years since I learned RPM. During that time I was able to switch from an autism school where I learned basic letters and numbers up to 5, to a regular public middle school where I am included in regular classes. I am with good teachers who understand me. I also have been able to try more new things like riding a bike and playing soccer.
I am much more happy now that I can communicate. I would like to see more nonverbal autistic people have the same opportunities I have.
Philip Reyes is a seventh-grader at Heim Middle School.