This April was the seventh anniversary of my becoming a national speaker and author. For Autism Acceptance Month, I decided to reflect back on my journey with autism and the lessons I’ve learned and the hardship I’ve endured.
By Ron Sandison
Every milestone and major event in my life took me longer then my peers and brothers. I graduated from high school at 20. I was 35 years old before I had a long term relationship, 36 when I moved out of my parents’ home, 37 when I got married, 41 when I became a father and my first book was published, 43 for my second book and 46 for my third book Views from the Spectrum: A Window into Life and Faith with Your Neurodivergent Child. My third book currently is an INDIES Book of the Year Awards Finalists.
On April 13, 2006, I was single, living at my parents’ house and underemployed working part-time at Corky’s Skateboard Shop for $5.25 an hour. I felt discouraged and defeated. I began questioning, “Where is God? What did I do to find myself in this dark predicament?”
I found inspiration in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
My journal entry for 4/13/06 stated—work on your people skills and pray for God to develop people skills in you.
I listed seven ways to improve my people skills in my journal.
1. Seek first to understand then to be understood.
2. No monotone—Ron, you sound like a robot.
3. Timing of words. Proverb 15:23, “A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—
and how good is a timely word!”
4. Have eye contact when talking to people.
5. Pronouncing “TH” and “L” words.
6. Pray and seek the Lord.
7. Develop a strategy for people skills—model friends who have good social skills.
For the next two years, I focused on developing social skills. During this season of my life, after, a church service, a congregant, gave me a piece of paper and told me, “I believe this message is for you.” It stated, “God has a job for you in a field that you would never expect, and this will prepare you for the ministry.”
A week later, I was hired at Havenwyck Hospital, working in the mental health field; where I now been employed for fourteen-years.
Looking back on my journey I’ve learned five important lessons.
1. Don’t take things personally.
The horse principle states, “If one person calls you a horse that person is crazy. If two or three people call you a horse you’ve a conspiracy. If everyone calls you a horse, you better saddle up for the rodeo.”
For example, your friend Bill says, “I hate your new hoodie it makes you look like a thud.” While the girl you like Chrystal say, “Your new hoodie looks great on you.” Using the horse principle, I would determine, “Wear the hoodie. Bill is only sharing his opinion.”
You crack a joke at work; the room is so silent you could hear an ant sneeze and five offended women inform you, “That’s a sexiest joke, please don’t repeat it.” The horse principle would access, “Saddle up for the rodeo!!! Five women are not all wrong so don’t tell inappropriate jokes in the workplace.” When it comes to offending, one offended person is too many.
While using the horse principle I ask myself, “Does this person’s opinion matter?” When it comes to personal things like style, it does not matter as much as if you offended someone and could lose your job for the comment or joke. I listen carefully to advice from a close friend or someone with a lot of experience on a subject.
2. Filter comments and jokes by asking three questions: Is it true? is it kind? and is it necessary?
Is it true – what I am about to say is the statement based on facts, rumors or opinions. A comment like, “I think Nate stole the company computer because he’s always on the internet at work.” Is based on opinion not facts and is a slanderous accusation against Nate’s character and could get you fired.
Is it kind – don’t make statements that will hurt people’s feelings. Don’t tell a woman that her new dress makes her look fat. Even if she asks you. Instead, say, “The jeans look better on you than the short red dress.” Temple Grandin says, “Where people are involved, err on the side of being too diplomatic, rather than too honest.”
Is it necessary — be economical with the truth and spare people, the unnecessary details. Don’t join a conversation when people are gossiping and avoid sharing excessive information about your favorite topics but give others a chance to speak.
3. Rating my emotions on a one to five scale so I can control them.
Working in the mental health field, it does not bother me if a patient makes a derogatory comment toward me but I get real upset when I have problems figuring out electronic devices or directions to a speaking engagement. Rating my emotional/stress level helps me to stay calm and put things in perspective.
1. I feel fine—nothing is bothering me.
2. I feel a little agitated—I can still handle myself & my feelings.
3. I feel nervous—on edge— my mind is beginning to race with thoughts and worries.
4. I feel really upset and anxious—I am losing control of my emotions.
5. I feel completely overwhelm—I am experiencing a meltdown and cannot control my emotions, thoughts, or body.
4. I became a fierce advocate for autism – a force to be reckoned with.
My successes in academics and employment required me to advocate for accommodations. By staying cool, calm, and collected people are willing to provide me with accommodations. I received accommodation in college for extended time on tests and from my landlord to have an emotional support pet Rudy. An effective advocate builds connections in the autism community, a social platform, and helps others on the spectrum to advocate.
4 Things to Share When Requesting Accommodations
- A request — I need extended time on tests.
- A diagnosis — I have autism and it causes me to experience severe test anxiety leading to sensory overload which causes my mind to go blank and forget the answers to the questions.
- A reason you need the accommodation – extended time on tests helps me stay calm and focused on the assignment and to do my best. When I have a time restraint I become anxious and hyper focused on the sounds and sights around me.
- Benefits of the accommodation — when I have extended time I perform my best on the test and need less help learning the material in the classroom.
5. Take life as it comes and enjoy the moment.
For years I struggled with an all-or-nothing mindset. This mindset caused me to feel anxious and not celebrate my accomplishments like our 3,200-meter relay team setting the school record or graduating with a Master of Divinity with a perfect 4.0 GPA. When I accomplished a goal, I was always off to my next big thing and experienced fear that I would fail to complete the new task at hand.
Looking back on my life, I would’ve invested less time striving for perfection and more of my energy enjoying the moment with family and friends. My favorite memories of high school and college were not my academic success or track victories but the fun times I had with my friends. Like, dorm movie night with Jeff and Dave and my college missionary trips to Cameroon, Bulgaria and Madagascar. Now that my hair is a little grayer, I have learned my goal is to complete a task, not to do it perfectly but enjoy the process.
Post-COVID, I am enjoying each speaking engagement and time with my family, I quit thinking ahead to the next big thing. God has empowered me on my journey with autism, my milestones delayed were not denied.
As the famous English preacher Charles Spurgeon says, “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society ofAmerica. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom, published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes. Ron’s third book Views from the Spectrum was released in May 2021.
Ron frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016.
You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at email@example.com