Everyone with autism is different

From left to right (Derrick Moose, Matt Silver, Ian Jeffrey, Lori Saley) Photo by Zane Perkins.

From left to right (Derrick Moose, Matt Silver, Ian Jeffrey, Lori Sealy) Photo by Zane Perkins.

The month of April is Autism awareness month and as always, Western Carolina University is spreading awareness through special programs.

Autism is a disorder that now affects 1 in 69 children born every year. It is something that deserves to be brought to people’s attention. Everyone with autism is different. You are never going to get two people with autism that are the same. There is a huge spectrum that covers a wide variety of characteristics. Awareness is key.

On April 14 the Office of Disability Services held a “Diversity Dialog with Autism” event in the Killian Education Building in Room 102 at 5 p.m.

A panel comprised of WCU students as well as faculty and community members was put together in order to discuss autism and the effect it has on people. Each member of the panel was either on the autism spectrum or included a child with autism.

Lori Sealy, who was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism is a professional musician, also has a son with autism. She was diagnosed seven years ago. She discussed how autism is affecting her as well as her son.

“I always knew there was something different about me,” said Sealy. “I have always known that my brain and my body did not always function the way everyone else’s did. While every individual has uniqueness in the way autism manifests, there are also certain common denominators as to what autism is. There may be certain social, or communicative struggles. As far as me, all five senses hit me like a flash flood. My hearing is really ramped up. I can hear when people brush their hair or the way they breathe. When I was a kid and I would go into a restroom, I would have panic attacks but my parents wouldn’t understand why. I could literally tell my parents in great detail every conversation someone in the restroom was having.”

Sealy also describes her struggles in her blog post. She discussed her everyday struggles with Autism and some people label her a “lunatic” or “cuckoo” because they don’t understand what she goes through on an everyday basis.

Matt Silver, a junior and natural resource management major at WCU, discussed how he deals with autism and how it affects him personally. Silver was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was two years old.

“Through childhood it was difficult. It was kind of like I had to constantly work on honing my senses. If you’ve ever seen heat waves rising from the ground, it was kind of like that for me every single day. Basically, I can feel people’s heat. Also, I can hear things from long distances but from up [close] I can’t hear a single thing. I have to hone in on one person at a time. I was constantly going to therapy trying to figure out how to deal with it. I cannot even use a pencil, it is like nails on a chalk board. I can’t even use it to write on a sheet of paper, I will have a nervous breakdown from it. I deal with it by taking advantage of the accommodations that I get. I will either use a pen or type out my responses,” Silver says.

Derrick Moose, a junior and graphic design major at WCU was diagnosed at age 9 with autism.

“When I was young, I was in the exceptional children’s program at the school I went to. It’s kind of a miraculous story how I started from the very bottom and then climbed all the way up,” he told the audience.

Moose also discussed how one of his middle school teachers became a powerful influence in his life and helped push him to overcome his disability.

“He told my parents that I was doing great and that I should take regular classes,” said Moose. “Everyone thought that I couldn’t do it. Nobody thought that I could do it but I showed them when I made a 100 in history.”

Another student with autism on the panel was Ian Jeffrey. He is a senior double majoring in forensic anthropology and Spanish. He talked how he used comedy to get over a lot of his problems.

“I find that instilling laughter in yourself and others is a great way to solve a lot of your problems,” said Jeffrey.

The last person on the panel was Dr. Roya Scales, a professor at WCU and the mother of an autistic son. She discussed her struggles in dealing with people not accepting her son and his disability.

“I always worried what would be the future of my child? Will he be accepted into society? I actually stopped going to church because a year ago one of the other church members has a child one year older than my son. We would go do things together with our kids. We would spend the whole day together. I thought we had a really good time but then she wrote in a Facebook post, ’I am glad my child is normal.’ I am an angry mom. I am not mad at my son. I am a true advocate for my son. I do believe he will talk one day.”

This world is definitely a cruel place. There are many people in this world who will do whatever it takes to try and bring other people down. Life is difficult for everyone but it can be even more difficult for someone on the Autism Spectrum. The most important thing is to not let those sorts of negativities get to you and to keep treading forward.

“Doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to graduate high school or be at a University” says Moose. “You know what? I shut them up. I got out of the EC class and I went to high school. I played sports. I went to 9 regionals. I went to college. I showed doctors that I could be great.”

Just because someone has a disability does not mean that they cannot do great things. Just because someone is not deemed “normal” by society’s standards does not mean they have less potential than anyone else. Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientists in the history of the world is believed by many researchers to have been on the Autism Spectrum. This goes to show that Autism is not always a curse but can sometimes be a blessing.

Related story: The Office of Disability Services hosts Autism Week