My friend with Autism

Edward Clissold (TheLorian)

The editors wanted Loras College students, staff, and faculty to learn more about our students who are on the Autism spectrum. This article is written by Edward Clissold. Edward is a sophomore majoring in media studies. The editors have done very minimal editing to this story (less than with most). Mostly just some minor grammar, spelling, and punctuation. We wanted this to be in Edward’s voice.

By Edward Clissold

It was a normal afternoon, I was playing around with my toys when Mom asked me if she could read me a story. I was open to it as we would always read stories. This story, however, was different. The book, “My Friend with Autism” by Beverly Bishop, was from the point of view of a neural typical kid. He talks about how he has a friend with Autism and that he finds some things to be difficult even though they might be easier for other people. However, the autistic friend also liked to do things that normal kids like to do, such as play with toys and join in games. As she read, Mom would pause to ask me questions – mostly about if I thought I was like the autistic kid. I recently asked her about reading me the book that first time. She said that I was very matter of fact as I would just respond with “yes” or “no.” I was four years old and thought nothing of it at the time.

It turns out that Mom was trying to connect the autistic kid to me. At the age of four, I was diagnosed with Educational Autism. Although the diagnosis was helpful because it allowed me to get special accommodations, this worried my mom. For a parent, hearing this diagnosis can be difficult.

“Their baby has this diagnosis, and you don’t know what the future is going to be like for your kid and it’s very scary,” my mom, Anna, said. Hearing about my diagnosis initially shocked my mom because I don’t think she knew what to do or where to start. Mom said the book not only served as a vehicle to teach me about my condition but also that there are other kids with autism and other people who understand them.

Around the same time I was diagnosed, I also started my first day of preschool. At first, it seemed like any other preschool class. But I was in a class with other students who had disabilities. There were extra teachers to give us one-on-one support and I would also be taken out of class to do speech, physical, and occupational therapy.

In kindergarten, Mom enrolled me in Hepzibah House, a program that gave support to families. Mom’s work became busier, so she wasn’t around to pick me up from school. I would continue going to Hepzibah at my elementary school until the end of fifth grade.

After kindergarten, Mom decided to enroll me in a different elementary school. This school not only had the same supports, but it was just a half-mile from our house. No bus was needed to take me to school. Throughout my elementary school career, I had the same type of special-ed class – one-on-one with therapies. However, I was also enrolled in elective courses with the more mainstream kids. When I was in fourth and fifth grade, some of my academic classes were mainstream as well.

I also had to go to my therapies. I didn’t mind speech therapy, but I dreaded O.T. or occupational therapy. The therapist drilled me on everything, from tying my shoes to handwriting. It felt like every time I was in that office, I would hear “YOU’RE WORKING” yelled at me repeatedly. There was one time where I was brought to tears and got sent to the office because I wouldn’t cooperate. While O.T. was something I hated, my mom told me that it helped me a lot. I learned how to tie my shoes so I didn’t have to rely on Velcro. The therapist also worked on how I view myself in space so I’m not nervous when I’m going downstairs. I was also taught how to improve my handwriting. I’m still working on that.

When middle school was starting up, I was excited. The new school building had an awesome modern design and I couldn’t wait to experience the new environment. Although I was in some special-ed classes, I was in more mainstream classes. Unfortunately, in seventh grade, I was in a class with other kids who would bully me. One girl even called me the r-word multiple times! My mom told me that they had behavior issues of their own, but all I could think was, how come they picked on me? The class was such a terrible fit for me. I was eventually moved to another mainstream class because of these issues. I was also doing well academically.

After my eighth grade graduation, I moved on to high school. I initially wasn’t looking forward to it. Not only would I be moving to a harder academic setting, but it would also have 3,400 students, more than double the student body size of Loras! When my dad dropped me off at the high school, I remember walking up slowly. He offered to come with me, but I refused as I wanted to turn a new page. Even though my walk was slow at first, I picked up the pace once I saw the upperclassmen mentors forming a tunnel of high fives. I met up with my counselor, and we split into small groups each led by a mentor. From there, high school was exciting. I started to join clubs and some of my classes were interesting as well.

When I graduated from high school, I didn’t immediately go to college. I went to a program run through the high school that was meant to give kids on the spectrum knowledge on how to live on their own. I even took classes at my community college. Initially, I was worried about this program because I was worried that people would think less of me if I had to take a year off before I went to college. While I was there, I met people who were on the spectrum, and they remain some of my closest friends to this day.  

When it came time for college, I was more anxious than ever. During the last weeks of summer, all I could think about was how strange it would be living in a dorm and sharing a public bathroom. It didn’t help that it was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. After my mom left, I went to my engaging differences class. Since then, I have become more confident in myself. I met a lot of friends and I often visit with them. Although I am still a bit shy, I am at least less nervous about myself.

Throughout my school career, I learned a few things about myself. I reflected on the kid from that book Mom read to me, and I realized that I have a lot more in common with the friend (the character who was also on the spectrum) than I initially thought. I may not have a lot of sensory issues, but I do need some assistance when it comes to learning new concepts or activities. Even though some things can be frustrating for me, I can see that, as the book says, I do “many things very well,” just like the autistic friend in the book. I think it’s important for professors and students to see what autistic students may need help with, but, more importantly, also what they like and what they’re good at.

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