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Why This Young Man With Autism Is Sharing His Story of Overcoming Bullying

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The day I met Ben he was wearing a bold blue suit and an air of confidence, in stark contrast to the other casually dressed, nervous 18-year-old applicants of Jerusalem U’s Core18 Fellowship program. Of course, we accepted him.

Over that fellowship year I got to know Ben better. Got to know his story and his diagnosis — Ben was diagnosed with autism as a child.

Ben graduated the program, and then in late 2017, I was looking for people to cast in a series of short videos I was producing about personal empowerment stories.

And then I remembered Ben. The director and I set up a Skype interview. Ben began: “Many people have nicknames when they’re kids. Mine was ‘retard.’”

As he told us his story, I found myself being just as moved as the first time I heard it. Ben told us about how he was bullied for having autism, and how he drew power and success by focusing on proving his naysayers wrong. And that is how this video was born.

Back on that Skype call, Ben shared his story with us. His challenges and inner demons. He told us about being diagnosed with autism. About being bullied so badly he wanted to die, and about not having anyone who believed in him — not his peers or even his teachers.

Time and time again Ben was told no. That he couldn’t do anything. That he wasn’t capable.

But he also told us about his triumph.

Instead of letting his naysayers break him, Ben used their negativity to propel himself forward. He decided he was going to prove them wrong. He was going to overcome. And that is what he did, becoming the person he is today. He transformed himself from a silent, non-verbal child into that young man in a blue suit, exuding confidence.

We were riveted — entranced by the power of his words. By the power of the deeply personal moment Ben had shared with us.

But most of all, I was blown away by how personally I felt Ben’s story. Though our life experiences and challenges seemed so different, it felt like he was articulating my thoughts for me.

I have seen the video hundreds of times at this point, and I still get chills every time. In my eyes, what makes Ben’s video so powerful is that anyone can relate to it. I’ve never been bullied, never been diagnosed with autism or any other developmental diagnoses, and yet I connect to parts of his story on a deeply personal level.

We made the decision to pilot the series with Ben’s story, and the responses we received have been overwhelming. People are relating to his story on so many levels — people young and old who share similar experiences, parents of children with autism, educators — the list goes on. He has demonstrated to thousands that just because you are labeled a certain way, doesn’t mean you need to let that label define you.

Ben is a strong, powerful fighter. He is an inspiration to me, and I know he is an inspiration to many others.

In his video, Ben’s final message is that when people tell you that you can’t do something, smile and prove them wrong. This is a lesson we can all stand to learn.

Instead of being pulled down, use our challenges as motivation to show our real strength. If we believe in ourselves and our inner strength then we can overcome just about anything.

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Photo by contributor.

Originally published: November 27, 2017
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