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Reaching for the Stars in My Life With Autism

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It all started when I was a baby. My speech was significantly delayed. I did not begin using one or two words until age 2, and I was not speaking in full sentences until age 3. My motor developmental milestones were achieved on schedule. By the age of 3, my deficits in social communications were becoming more apparent. I entered a preschool program in Seattle for special children at 3 and was enrolled in a similar program upon moving to Juneau at age 4, at the Mendenhall Preschool Program.

I received speech therapy through the school district in kindergarten until fifth grade. I was formally evaluated by a neuropsychologist in Anchorage when I was 8 years old and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. I received tutoring through REACH Inc. to assist me with my homework from third grade until graduation from high school. During high school I had an IEP and received special education services related to my autism. In 10th grade I took the high school qualifying exam, which wasn’t easy considering it took me two years to pass, but with the help of a tutor I was able to pass it and graduate with honors.

At the age of 18 I finally had the confidence to obtain my driver’s license. It took me five attempts to get my learner’s permit, and two attempts for the driver’s road test. When I finally passed I gained a huge feeling of freedom and independence.

I was finally able to transport myself and find employment. I have worked four seasons for a local helicopter company called TEMSCO, engaging with fellow coworkers and tourists. I had excellent communication skills with both my team members and tourists from all over the world. With a positive attitude and confidence I worked hard and enjoyed working with both two-legged and four-legged team members. This was a great achievement for me as I was previously afraid of dogs.

At the age of 21 I shared that I was a young adult with autism. Social media allowed me to share my story on Facebook and autism websites. My job at TEMSCO was only seasonal, so last year I set out to find employment again. I refused to give up after applying for 28 different jobs. I decided to ask for help from REACH, Inc here in Juneau. With their support I was finally employed as a page for the Alaska State Senate. My determination led me to my current employment today.

In March 2017 I was invited to attend a Key Coalition dinner. I had no idea this would be exactly what would spark my desire to inspire other people through my life experience with autism. By the end of March I applied for a program up in Anchorage through University of Alaska Anchorage called Alaska LEND Without Walls. At the beginning of May I had an interview with three of the faculty members of LEND, and by the end of May I received a letter saying I got into the program.

I have overcome so much in my life and I never let autism in the way of reaching my dreams. There were times I wanted to give up, but I didn’t. I kept on trying until I accomplished things, no matter what odds or challenges I had to face along the way. Most importantly, I had people cheering my on throughout my journey. I would not be where I am if it weren’t for my family, friends, peers and mentors cheering and encouraging me throughout this. It takes perseverance and determination to not stop trying and realize goals can be achieved. I keep telling myself to have confidence to reach for the stars.

Getty image by Den Belitsky.

Originally published: March 5, 2018
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