Why I Mentor Individuals With Autism and Disabilities
“I wanted to help individuals who felt alone.”
When I first found out I had autism at 11-and-a-half, I often wished I had a role model to look up to who was on the autism spectrum. There were so many questions I had about the diagnosis and it would have been amazing to have someone to talk to who had been through a similar journey. I knew no one who had autism at that time. I didn’t know of the Dr. Temple Grandins and Dr. Stephen Shores of the world. Now as an adult who has overcome many of his challenges and is now a full-time professional speaker and author, I’m blessed with the opportunity to take on the role of a mentor for so many young people on the spectrum and others with disabilities. Meeting people near me in New Jersey, using technology via Skype, and phone calls for those who don’t prefer face-to-face interaction has helped me provide mentoring services to individuals across the globe for nearly a decade.
One of my mentees was Jadyn. Jadyn’s mother Michelle reached out to me last year because Jadyn was starting her first year as a New York Jets Junior Flight Crew Cheerleader. Jadyn had been cheerleading for two years with a local disability squad and now was getting the opportunity to perform in front of 80,000 people at MetLife Stadium as part of a halftime show for the NY Jets. As soon as she told me about her daughter’s story all I could think was “this girl is a complete inspiration.”
I finally got to meet Jadyn for the first time at the Greater Morris Walk Now for Autism Speaks event. I was instantly blown away by how adorable Jadyn was. Jadyn’s smile was infectious to me and everyone around her. We left the walk that day and met a few weeks later at the North/Central New Jersey Walk Now for Autism Speaks. Later that winter we met again at MetLife Stadium to join Jadyn in playing the NY Giants Snow Bowl flag football tournament to raise money for Special Olympics New Jersey. While all of this was going on, I met more and more of Jadyn’s extended family that have circled around helping and being there for Jadyn. I couldn’t be prouder of her for following her passions.
This is why being a mentor has meant so much to me. I know it may sound cliché, but I’ve learned so much more from my mentees than I think I could ever teach them. Whether it’s by helping individuals understand more about their strengths and weaknesses from their diagnosis, encouraging them to succeed in school, helping them find employment, writing a book, getting into public speaking, or just by simply being a friend, I hope I can continue this work for many years to come.