As Autism Awareness Month comes to a close, Katie Miller, our staff writer, would like to share a message and her experience as a person with Autism:
No two people are alike, and this is especially true of people with autism. Autism is different for every person who lives with it.
I was diagnosed with autism at a very early age, and because of this I was given a lot of help – with friends, school and at work. While I appreciated the support, it also meant that I experienced the world mostly from the sidelines of my own life until I was about nineteen. A lot of choices were made for me by people with good intentions.
I’m a very emotional person, and logic usually comes as a secondary consideration for me. I often overthink things, for example when I’m sending off any kind of message via email, text or online chat. I am often worried that people may misinterpret my true intentions. I am a very social person, and I can get really fixated on things I enjoy. I like games and try to create friendships wherever possible. Jokes are often hard for me to understand.
Connecting with people through conversation is usually quite easy for me, but I worry about my writing. School was hard for me since I wanted to speak up and be an activist at an early age. I wanted to be included in class, but I was most often taken into the resource room at my school. It was very important to me to get to know my classmates, but teachers and staff thought otherwise. I was sheltered in school and only made friends with other students with disabilities. I remember talking with them about wanting to be one with the rest of the class but never being given the option.
When I graduated from high school, the credits that I’d earned for my “adapted” courses were not accepted by a lot of post-secondary schools. At Kwantlen Polytechnic University, a professor named Fiona Wittington-Walsh (also an Inclusion BC board member) saw my potential, and I was one of the first students to take part in a new pilot program for students with disabilities that she created at KPU called the Including All Citizens Initiative, which supported me to thrive in courses that would normally be inaccessible. I did ten courses over five years and walked out with a Faculty of Arts certificate, and that pilot program is now a permanent pathway for KPU students. It’s a good reminder that just one person’s belief in someone’s potential can make all the difference!
As an adult, I’ve had a few different jobs. Often when my employers have been told that I’m a person with autism, I’ve been treated differently than other staff members. When I wanted to try new things, I was met with “I don’t think you’re ready,” or, “but you’re so good at this other thing…” I just wanted to be given the choice to try new things and see how I did. When I was working at a fast-food restaurant, I wanted to try working the cash register, but I wasn’t given the chance – I don’t think they believed I was capable of more than cleaning tables and doing dishes.
Then at another job, I was finally given the opportunity to try out being a cashier. After practicing, making a few mistakes and learning from them, I can now run the register with confidence! I strongly believe that it’s important that everyone is given the chance to try things at least once. You never know if you yourself have a great employee hiding behind barriers that other people create for them! We all learn from taking steps in life, being given the space to make mistakes and learn from them, and having the opportunity develop, with guidance when it’s needed.
Written by Katie Miller