Dear Younger Me,
There’s something that you don’t know. Something that our parents haven’t told you about: you have autism. We’re both born with autism, and we were both very shy and quiet back then. I didn’t know what autism was, nor did I know I had it. It was hard to fit in with other people because I wasn’t very sociable; I began to talk at three or four years old, which is a very late age for a baby. If you don’t know what autism is, it’s actually a disorder; people with autism have trouble with their communication, behavioral skills, and social interactions. It’s very hard for autistic people to maintain eye contact when speaking or to talk to someone who they’ve never met before. It makes them uncomfortable. Usually, autistic people don’t feel like talking, so they remain silent. Also, whenever you hear something very loud like phones ringing, AMBER alert warnings, thunder, or alarms, you always cover your ears and cry, right? The reason that happens is because people with autism don’t like loud noises because their ears are very sensitive. My ears are still very sensitive, and I really hate the AMBER alert warning because it’s so loud and scary. Usually, you and I don’t like to do anything new or be challenged because we’re either not going to enjoy it, or we’ll get used to it. Sometimes, I would fidget a lot, like playing with pencils or pens, chewing on things, and playing with my hands and feet.
There was a challenge that both of us had to face: moving to a new house and school. It was a pretty hard challenge because we had to leave our friends, old house, and school. Ever since we first moved to Chicago, Illinois, everything is different, and I don’t seem to like it. I wasn’t happy. I was a very unhappy girl. I don’t want to make new friends, go to a new school, explore new things, just nothing. I just didn't want to do anything at all. As our first day of our new school started, you were nervous and scared; it felt like getting lost in a dark and scary forest. There were so many people you had never met before and you were so shy; I remember you met a new friend, and she was so kind and sweet, and she pretty much helped you for the entire year. Of course for the first few weeks of going to our new school, you would cry almost every day, and didn't want to go to school. Now I realize why that happened because we still want our parents to always be there to protect us. You are not used to doing new things, so we would get anxiety attacks. As a few months passed, staying at our family’s new home isn't so bad after all because I've gotten used to it. I get to go and play at the park in front of my house with my brother and my neighborhood friends; we did so many things like walking my dogs, playing volleyball and baseball and going to fun park events. At school, it changes as well, I am used to it now, and I’ve made a few close friends too. When I was struggling in the first few weeks of school, I met with a social worker. There’s something special about her; she was so kindhearted, helpful, understanding, and she always listened to me whenever I talked to her. My social worker helped me a lot in the very beginning through graduating from middle school, and she helped me with my education. She also helped me to become a new person. What I’ve learned from my social worker is how to handle certain situations, stand up for myself, and, most importantly, express myself.
Being me and expressing myself is the best advice that I’ll always remember and it really works. Throughout the years I’ve changed and it’s because of my social worker’s advice. The moment where I began to come out of my shell was when I performed in a school talent show. I sang my performance, everyone loved it, and people said that I'm pretty talented. I have had many new experiences that made people notice me: presenting my art projects at an art fair in high school where people were so fascinated; a school spelling bee in which I won first place two years in a row; and when I gave a political speech about animal cruelty at my high school and everyone loved my speech, which was very powerful.
High school was a very scary new experience because I wouldn’t be able to see my old friends from middle school anymore and I was worried that I won’t be able to fit in. My parents told me not to worry about negative thoughts, there are so many opportunities, and people will like me. As it turned out, high school was pretty great because I had exciting opportunities, went to fun after-school clubs, got A’s, I’ve met nice school staff, and I’ve made a lot of new, close friends. When it comes to my friends, I was really scared to tell them I have autism, but they didn’t make fun of me or anything. They accepted me and who I am. They know I’m a person who has a very unique personality, and who is very talented too. I always wanted to thank my social worker from middle school for giving me great advice about being myself and expressing myself; she changed my life in a good way.
I just need you to remember this: we’re autistic, but that doesn’t mean we’re nothing or can’t do anything at all. We’re both special. Autistic people can do all sorts of things like other people do. You and I are on a long journey of having dreams and goals that we want to succeed; we are special and we make our families and friends proud. We are unique, smart, light-hearted, kind, talented, determined, and we’re the special child.
From the 826CHI Student Publication: Chaos Comes Naturally