How Autism has impacted my life | World Autism Day

This is how Autism has impacted my life.

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When I went to college I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do other than the obvious: be at the opposite end of the state as my parents. My interests have always been writing and business / marketing (and coors light). I decided against business when I took a gander at the math requirements, I decided against journalism when I took a creative writing class that sparked a headache, rather than my fancy, and there wasn’t a major for coors light. Needless to say, I needed to get my shit together. I realized through one of my PA’s (caregivers) that SIU had an entire major dedicated to disability studies. “Are you kidding, that’s a thing?!” was my reaction. It immediately excited me and I decided to take my first rehab 101 class (intro to disability). I obvi aced it seeing that I’m disabled and all, everything was common sense. But for the people taking this class, much of the material was new to them. You can say I had a leg up on everyone with my real world disability experience. After that class, I knew this field would be a perfect fit for me. All my life, anything I could do to use my brain to help others made me fulfilled. We so heavily praise physical actions and labor, so I jumped at the opportunity to help anyone with anything where I could, with my intelligence. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and autonomy as I’m sure physical tasks give able bodied people. In my major courses I received close to a 4.0 and ended up receiving a prestigious scholarship in my department which goes to show how passionate I am about rehab counseling and advocating. The excitement to apply the skills I learned in the field was growing with each class I took. For the rehab services major, a semester long internship is required to graduate. Finally, I was ready to dive in and dip my toes into what my career might look like after I graduate.

I need to add in that my success in college was no thanks to my high school or IEP team, when that’s their job. It was actually suggested to my mom that I attend community college despite my distaste for that. They did not help me one once transition or apply to college. All that to say, do what’s right for you! People all my life has tried to tell me what’s best and guess what? They were mistaken. Always advocate for your own goals and dreams. Even “professionals” can be wrong. Back to my autism story!

I knew I was interested in working with people that had intellectual and developmental disabilities. I ended up applying to do my internship at a sought after rehab center for adults with various types of intellectual and developmental disabilities, and got it. When I was hired, my supervisor agreed with my well-worded and assertive proposition that having a physical disability and working with people that had intellectual disabilities would be an asset, which I’m hoping will be clear by the end of this.

The facility consisted of around 13 residents that ranged in age, most of them in their 20’s. There was a day program where the residents would learn  vocational skills so they could gain the independence to have a job and the evening program where the residents would transition to the independent living side of the facility. I was immediately interested in the independent living side and was hired to work on that program, although I ended up working with both programs regularly.

My passion for disability advocacy flourished the day I started. Here I was, physically unable to do any of the things I’m teaching the residents to do, and I’m doing it successfully. On the independent living side, the residents learned basic skills like cooking, cleaning, organizing, money management, hygiene, etc. The most challenging BUT fun thing I had the opportunity to facilitate was cooking. There were cook teams that were comprised of four residents and each night we’d cook dinner for around FIFTEEN people. Helping four residents, some of which were very inexperienced in the kitchen, cook a party sized meal had me... a bit shook. But, I dove right in. I worked alongside graduate assistants and observed before I really started doing my thing. What I observed was that some grad assistants would “baby” the residents and do a lot of the cooking tasks for them. I decided that would not do (partly because I physically cannot help) and I decided to squirm my little eager intern way into taking charge of cooking amongst almost every part of both programs. I had to use my communication skills to convey to the clients how to cut things, use knife safety, bake things, convert measurements, etc. The residents immediately knew there wasn’t going to be any free-bees with me and they ended up respecting me for that. I let them discover how to do things that were right for them and learn tasks on their own accord. Most importantly I teated them like who they were: grown ass & capable adults. The clients saw me, having a disability, attending college and helping them. This really showed the clients that if I can do it, they can too, even if our disabilities were different. It was a level we connected on that the other people that worked there couldn’t relate to which made it special. 

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One of the clients I connected with the most had Autism. He was the funniest, most driven, smart, and witty person I had ever met. He knew that the goal of him being at this facility was to eventually get his own job and place to live, and was eager to learn. We shared many belly laughs. One of my favorite jokes that he said was, “Alex what’s your last name again?” I said “Dzimitowicz” which is pronounced gym-a-tov-ige. To which he said “gin and tonic?” The wit was off the charts and I knew he was one day going to have a very independent and successful life, which made me that much more passionate about my work. After working with him and other residents with Autism, I knew I wanted to work with that population. It was something about how their minds worked that I found extremely relatable as I seemed to connect with those residents the most, wherever they fell on the spectrum. I cherished my time at my internship and knew that this was what I was meant to do as I was basically running the joint at the end and was asked to stay on after I graduate as a grad assistant. My final evaluation of my time at my internship was a glowing interview of praise. I was ready to do my life’s work. I ended up deciding to move to the city of Chicago to pursue my career instead of attending grad school.

With a fiery passionate, unique asset (my disability), and young spirit, I started applying to rehab jobs in Chicago. I applied to Best Buddies and Misericordia amongst other facilities to no avail.

Money was becoming very tight and my spirit started to become dull.

That’s when I started what I do today: being a instagrammer, disability advocate, and spreading awareness and self love through my online shop. I have the best of both worlds, I can do my own thing and advocate for whoever I want on my own terms. Take that people who didn’t hire me (had to make my still sometimes petty thoughts known, sorry not sorry).

While I don’t work hands on with the Autism community, I’m still involved.

That’s why every year I sell and design specialty autism t-shirts (don’t forget to check them out) and dedicate April to celebrating all the beautiful minds on the spectrum that made my passion for disability advocacy what it is today: undeniable and unstoppable.

Instagram: wheelchair_rapunzel