restricted access Growing Up: Seeing Myself for Who I Am and Loving It
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Growing Up:
Seeing Myself for Who I Am and Loving It

Last weekend, I traveled to see my cousin. He had graduated from St Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and was being ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. The event was attended by many of my family members. Several of the littlest attendees struggled with all the commotion, some were said to be shy, some didn’t want to be crowded, and parents and caregivers did what they could to make it easier on them. Watching those kids trying to cope with a family event, which was different and a bit confusing, brought back a flood of memories of my own childhood. Nothing was simple about my childhood.

My life has been “interesting” for sure. As a young child I faced many challenges. Until the age of two and a half I was nonverbal. Even though later I would gain speech, my developmental delays and sensory integration dysfunction issues caused great [End Page 202] difficulty for myself and my parents. I was evaluated by professionals and was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder–pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD–NOS) at the age of four.

Thoughts of that difficult time filled my head when watching the children at this family function. My uncles, aunts and cousins couldn’t possibly know my struggles in those years. They weren’t present for all the interventions and therapy sessions I endured. Today, they don’t see me as someone different or disabled. I still have some obstacles to overcome in my development but rather than bemoan where I am or where I have been I have chosen to accept myself as I am. Although some may say I have a disability I choose to embrace my abilities and to celebrate them. I’m glad I’ve stayed on a path that has led me to become an independent adult. I am now a national motivational speaker, a Master’s graduate, owner of a non–profit corporation and soon to be an author.

But what about this word “disabled”? Since I was six years old I seemed to have been tagged with this word by those around me. They all considered autism as a disability. I didn’t even know I had autism until I was 11. But I was very aware of people defining me as being disabled. It had to be the reason I was being placed in Special Ed classes, for the hours I had to travel to doctors and therapies: occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy. I was being called disabled and I didn’t know why. Of course the signs were there for me that I had a problem. In daycare many things confused and frightened me: loud noises, wind, water, transitions. I cried constantly, a lot more than everyone else. I had terrible tantrums (lying on the floor kicking and screaming) to the confusion and consternation of the adults and caregivers around me. I attended two different daycare centers and was asked to leave both of them. I couldn’t even make the transition from the door of a daycare center to my parent’s car without fighting, screaming and crying uncontrollably.

It’s now hard to believe that my difficulty with sensory integration dysfunction, transitions and social interactions lasted for almost 15 years of my life. During those years there were many confusing, frightening and painful episodes for me, my parents and others around us.

Like most kids with these types of deficits, we tried to find splinter skills to help me compensate. I have hyper–mobility of the joints making buttoning and fine motor tasks almost impossible. I also have dysgraphia, which makes it difficult for me to hold a pen or pencil to write. Even with therapy I never learned to ride a bicycle. One bright side to the hyper–mobility was being able to learn to type 100 words per minute.

My sensitivity to water, wind and loud sounds was extreme. I fought my parents each time they tried to get me into the bathtub. I hated going on the swings because I couldn’t feel my feet on the ground...