Autism Unveiled: Week 1
“Autism is my superpower. It has taught me to overcome my physical, mental, and social difficulties.” Michael Whary
I was diagnosed with Autism at age 2 1/2. My parents were concerned because my speech was not as advanced as other children my age and I did strange things like lining up all of my toys in a row throughout the house, spinning around in circles, and throwing tantrums. Also my motors skills such as running and hand strength were delayed. I also had a lot of trouble with balance. My first neurologist recognized the signs immediately and informed my parents that I was autistic. My parents asked what my long-term outlook might be and they were told that I would most likely never be independent. They said because of my lack of motor skills I probably would never be able to ride a bike, motorcycle, or drive an automobile. This news made my parents very sad as I had an older brother who had died in childbirth 2 years earlier.
My parents immediately enrolled me in speech and OT classes. I don’t really remember too much, but they said I went to classes 5 days a week for 4 years. Early on my parents believed that if they could get me enough training that somehow I would outgrow or no longer be autistic. As I went to classes later I noticed that almost all of the parents believed the same thing. It wasn’t just about helping their children fit into society. It was also about trying to hide the autism from the world. A lot of the kids sometimes felt like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer when his dad tried to hide his red nose.
While my autism caused me to be slower developing than other children in some areas it also gave me some abilities that others didn’t have. I learned my alphabet at 1 year old and could read at a 4th grade level by 18 months. In Preschool the teacher always read a story before nap time to the class, but was so amazed on how well I could read that I took over and was the official story teller for my preschool. It was easy for me to read the words on the page fluently, but I had difficulty having a simple conversation.
My dad had been a star athlete in High School and College, but because of my delayed motor skills I was not able to play organized sports early on. I really wanted to follow in his footsteps because he enjoyed football so much, but it just wasn’t possible. That’s when I went to my first Cub Scouts meeting. It was so much fun and at each meeting I learned a new life skill. From cooking to tying knots and going on long hikes. It was also the first time that I spent a lot of time with “regular” developing children. This was so important because I would copy how the other scouts acted and that’s how I learned to interact and take part in organized events. Because of the physical activity and as I got older my motor skills improved.
I earned the Arrow of Light Award and Cub Scout Super Scout Award. The Arrow of Light is the Eagle Scout equivalent to Cub Scouts and the Super Scout Award meant that I had earned every Belt loop that Cub Scouts offered.
Since I had such a wonderful time in cub scouts I bridged over to Boy Scouts Troop 120. It was not an easy transition as Boy Scouts are “boy run.” This means that I was no longer taking classes from patient adults, but being given orders from older scouts who were in High School. It was difficult because I could not process what they wanted me to do as quickly as regular developing children. I was sometimes overlooked for leadership positions and not given a chance. I did come home very upset sometimes, but I always remember my father saying, “If it’s easy everyone would do it. Its the hard that makes it great.” He always knew what to say to motivate me. I doubled my efforts and slowly I was able to do the jobs that were needed and in turn was given positions of responsibility.
I believe that scouting is very good for autistic children because they learn hands on life skills through merit badges. An Eagle Scout must have 12 Eagle required badges and 21 total merit badges to even be considered. The Eagle required are very difficult. Everything from First Aid, Citizenship, Accounting, Family Planning, and Physical Fitness are learned along the Eagle Trail. I currently have all of the Eagle required badges and a total of 45 Merit badges. I enjoy learning new things and experts in the field teach the merit badges. My favorite was the Aviation Merit Badge. We went to an actual flight school. Learned all about Navigation, Instruments, Weather Conditions, and the different planes. We then got to go up and ride in a small plane and I even got to fly it for a little bit. It was amazing!
When I was thinking about an Eagle Scout Project there were so many options to consider. The Churches all needed help with their facilities, and all of the fraternal organizations like the Elk, Moose, and Veterans Clubs had things I could have helped with, but none of the options seemed quite right.
Then a little over a year ago I came down with a terrible fever and my mother took me to the emergency room. The EMT that was there took my information and when they were told I was Autistic the Doctor asked him to stay in case they needed to hold me down when I got shots. I guess the Doctor had experience with other children on the spectrum. I calmly allowed them to give me the shots and the EMT and Doctor were both shocked when I didn’t put up a fight. The EMT stayed with me and was asking me a lot of questions about being autistic. Then he followed us out into the parking lot and explained to us why he was asking all of the questions. It seemed that his nephew had just been diagnosed with autism and he and his sister were very upset. With a tear in his eye he told us that I was such a well-mannered young man and in control of my surroundings, which gave him, hope for his nephew’s future. He said that I inspired him and he was so happy that he met me.
As I thought about what he had said it came to me that maybe I could help other parents who were also upset. If I could make them understand that autism is not something to be ashamed of and that if their child is on the mid to higher end of the spectrum anything is possible. I want parents to embrace their children for who they are and not carry the guilt that they did something wrong. 1-50 boys are diagnosed with autism everyday and that number will continue to grow. If I could just inspire the new parents who are so devastated by the news then maybe I could make the world a better place.
You asked how I define my autism or how autism is a part of my life. I was never considered an “Aspie” because of my diagnosis. I use the word “autistic” because it is a word most people understand, but in the end it is just a word. To be honest my answer may sound strange, but I am not defined by my Autism. I am Michael Whary. I cannot be defined by any set “definition.” What I have learned is that no matter who you are or what disabilities you have to overcome in this life if you want something bad enough anything is possible! God gave everyone a special gift. A “Superpower” if you will. It is up to the individual to seek out their Superpower and to enhance it to better themselves and others lives. Autism is my Superpower. It has taught me to overcome my physical, mental, and social difficulties.
So then what do I believe? Be honest, caring and even handed. Strive to be the best person you can be and work to improve yourself daily. Always show patience, love, and understanding to others. Try to help others obtain their dreams and in so doing you will be rewarded by others achievements.
Every year we celebrate my birthday with a cake and candles as most people do. When I blow out the candles and make a wish its always the same, “I wish that all of the suffering in the world would end and in so doing their would be peace on Earth.”
I thank the powers that be for giving me this life. I thank my parents for their guidance, patience, love, and understanding. And I wish nothing but good things for others on the Autism Spectrum.
Michael Whary, age 16, Ohio
Michael is part of the Autism Unveiled Project – six weeks of posts by those on the spectrum culminating on April 2, 2015, World Autism Awareness Day.