April 1, 2016
Autism: My Experience and How The Arc Helped
As a child, I never felt like I fit in anywhere. I struggled making friends, I had a difficult time expressing myself in a positive manner when faced with changes in my routine, or when facing new experiences. I struggled with anxiety and depression; skipped school and struggled to finish high school even though I tested very well. My parents took me to counseling several times growing up, in first, fifth and seventh grade. I was diagnosed with a number of things including depression; oppositional defiant behavior; and at one point, borderline ADHD. I was treated for depression, but, perhaps because of my defiant behavior, refused counseling. By the time I was 25-26 years old, I knew something had to change in order for me to live the full life I craved, so I went in for a psychological evaluation. The results were not surprising…I was on the Autism spectrum. High functioning and very intelligent, but I had the typical social deficiencies that made “normal” social interaction difficult. Even so, it was good to have a diagnosis. Like many people with Asperger’s I was told I could learn, I just had to learn differently.
My first interaction with The Arc Greater Twin Cities happened shortly after my diagnosis when I was managing a small retail store. I was thrown into situations that I was not prepared for, and when I asked for accommodations (clearly defined goals and expectations, along with training and guidance), the company was not able to assist me. I connected with The Arc and utilized their employment advocacy services. The advocate was great – she understood my situation and I felt I had someone on my side who understood my struggles. Shortly afterwards and while searching for a new job, I attended my first Arc Gala. I was so impressed by the work of The Arc and felt like I could be a part of something where I would be understood, and where I could also help others like myself. I went home that night and applied for a position at Arc’s Value Village Thrift Store in New Hope. I’ve now been with the organization for nearly two years.
Some of the things I really enjoy are working with our employment partners, such as Tree Trust and Opportunity Partners, getting the chance to interview (both as part of their vocational training and as applicants for paid positions) and hire intellectually disabled people. Having been in a situation where others did not believe in me, I now work hard to ensure that others have the same opportunities for personal growth and self-respect, both personally and professionally. Very few things in life have brought me the satisfaction that I get when an employee experiences a “lightbulb” moment, when what we’ve been coaching them clicks and they understand what we’ve been working towards.
I am not sure where my journey will end, but I will always be grateful for the work that The Arc does on behalf of people like me.