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How Volunteering At the SPCA Has Helped Me as Someone on the Autism Spectrum

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I typically try my best at everything I do. Often it just doesn’t seem to be enough. During my martial arts test, I put all of my focus into my kick to break a board, and ended up kicking the Grand-master by mistake. In seventh grade home economics, I tried so hard to make a design for a pillow, but I couldn’t grasp how. It was a big mess of fabric and thread. Even homework was challenging. I’d misunderstand a question and put all of my hard work into answering it the wrong way. Everything I did felt like a lost effort.

In 10th grade, I was diagnosed as on the autism spectrum. This means I can have a difficult time with social situations, and I get overwhelmed and overstimulated easily. It also means I have a unique way of thinking. No matter how hard I work at something, I may still struggle to do it the way most people would. Sometimes I just need to do things in a different way.

So when I started volunteering at the Brandywine Valley SPCA in 2017, I again tried my hardest to follow the volunteer jobs for the dogs. Usually this would include activities such as taking dogs out for potty walks, or bringing them to large community events such as parades or on-site birthday parties. I began to struggle again. Most of the dogs had been pent up for so long that they were too excited and strong for me to handle. The community events were so overwhelming for me that I realized I was getting in the way rather than helping.

One day I came across a petrified dog hiding under her bed. Instead of taking the dog out for a potty walk, I sat with her in a quiet room for over two hours, simply showing her love and kindness. By the time I’d left, she was resting in the back corner rather than completely hiding under her bed. She now has a forever home and is doing very well with her family!

When I have the time, I try to spend a few hours loving a shelter dog that just needs some extra attention. Sitting with a calmer dog in a quiet room isn’t the typical volunteer job. But it’s what I feel capable of doing at the BVSPCA as someone on the autism spectrum. So I do it to the best of my ability. Sometimes that’s all the dogs need.

And in December of 2018, the Brandywine Valley SPCA thought so too. I was honored to be recognized for my effort with their Rookie of the Year award. While I was thrilled to hear my name called, what really stuck with me was the cheering that followed. So many people there were supporting me. It didn’t matter if I did things a little differently. What mattered was that I put in the effort.

I dedicated my award to the animals, of course. But it’s also for anyone who has ever felt incapable, yet still tries their best. It just goes to show that each person can shine in their own way.

Getty image by Hedgehog94.

Originally published: March 14, 2019
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