Our daughter delivered the following speech to fellow homeschoolers at a Gavel Club meeting last week. We received such encouraging feedback that I asked her permission to post her words here:
“Autism isn’t something you should be afraid of because there are lots of people with it all over the world. Today, one out of every one hundred and fifty people are affected by autism. The only reason I know about this is because I have autism. Autism doesn’t make your life miserable, but it is a challenge to overcome. I have had autism all my life and today I am going to tell you a little about how autism works.
ASD stands for Autism Spectrum Disorder. First of all, what is autism? “Autism is a life-long disability that prevents individual from properly understanding what they see, hear and sense.” What are the characteristics of autism? “Language is slow and the use of words is without attachment to the normal meaning. Those who are able to use language effectively may still use unusual metaphors or speak in a formal and monotone voice.”
Typically, people with autism are concrete thinkers. That means we take everything you say in a literal manner. For example, when my mom used to say “your killing me,” I thought I was actually killing her with what I was doing. In the movie about the life of Temple Grandin, when someone was talking to her about animal husbandry, she saw in her brain two cows getting married.
Another challenge is communication. People with autism hate to stand in front of a crowd, and for this occasion, giving a speech. None like making eye contact, especially for a long period of time, which for me is two seconds. No one knows why this is difficult for the autistic person, but it is. People with Autism also have a hard time making friendships. They aren’t outgoing or are social people. They usually stand off the side and might not say anything or do anything. For many of them, autistic people are very lonely and friendless in teen years and childhood. They enjoy spending time by themselves. I usually feel it easier to be by myself because it is easier to talk to myself and I don’t have to worry if nobody understands me. If you kept up with how often I would socialize, it is very rare, especially in a single day. After school I would spend hours outside enjoying myself.
One huge advantage to having autism is either hardly feeling any pain or feeling it tremendously. I hardly take pain seriously. When I get hurt I usually find a way to bring me happiness. For example, a year ago I was stung by a yellow jacked and sure it hurt a little, but the fun part of all this was that the jacket’s butt was still attached to my arm. People with autism also don’t have very much compassion upon others who would get hurt. Autistic people do take pain differently but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. We do care but sometimes we all need to just man up.
Another easy way to find out someone with autism is that they don’t like physical touch unless if they ask for it. None of them like cuddling and some don’t even like hugging. For a while, I remember not wanting to hug anybody other than family. One word I use to describe my space is “my bubble.” Lots of times I needed my bubble and sometimes I would be ok to get out of it.
Memory is a huge challenge for the majority of autistic people. About 60% to 70% of all autistic people have trouble with memory. Most of them can remember words, but not huge sentences that have three of more different ideas or commands. One example is when your mom tells you to wash and shred the lettuce, peel and cut the carrots, dice the tomatoes and set the plates out for lunch. We cannot think that much. For us autistic people, we can only have a couple of thoughts in our brain at once. If you tried to pack all those things in at once, we won’t remember all of it.
I remember my whole life being ashamed of having autism. Every time I looked in a mirror I was so ashamed of what God had done to me. I remember saying to myself “I am not a masterpiece.” One day, that all changed. I was outside talking to God and out of nowhere I feel like Paul by being stunned by a bright light. In the midst of the light I head a voice saying, “Malorie, I love you. I didn’t give you autism to make you feel ashamed or not to have friends. I made for you a purpose, on purpose. You are unique and special.” After that, I didn’t feel a bit of shame. I believe God wanted me to make this speech and I’m glad he revealed to me the joy of autism a year ago. I am happy and no longer sad when I hear the word autism. Autism isn’t something that makes a person weird or crazy. We are different, and different is good.”