April is Autism Awareness Month

If James Gardner were a superhero, he’d probably be named something like Captain Cheerful.

“I’m fun, and I like to make people laugh,” he said. “I like to tell them different stories, and I like to make them feel better when they’re sad. Knowing that I’m around, they can have a better day, and they can brighten up!”

James, who will soon be 26, was diagnosed with autism when he was 21. He’s got a lot to say about what people should know about him–and about autism.

“I think they should be taking classes. A lot of people don’t have an understanding of people with autism,” James said.

Matt Simpson would agree. Matt, who’s 25, said it is good for people to know about him and people like him with autism because it can help understand others’ behaviors at times.

As an example, he said, security guards in places don’t often know much about autism. So if unique behaviors attract a security guard’s attention, the guard might inadvertently do something that triggers a strong reaction, making the situation worse instead of better.

April is Autism Awareness Month, and these two gentlemen were happy to speak about their diagnosis of autism. 

 

Understanding is important, the two said, because it influences how people view them and treat them. That difference is stark for James. Prior to coming to Mosaic, he said, he felt he was being hidden away or put in a separate room by himself. 

“I felt kind of sad, and I felt angry,” he said, “I know I have a disability, but I’m just like everyone else.”

Matt, too, said he has at times felt the sting of people looking at him differently. That’s hard, because he does not see autism as a disability. 

“I don’t think of it as a disability because anyone can have autistic stuff–we all have challenges. It is not like we can’t do stuff.”

To prove his point, Matt will tell you he knows CPR (he first learned at age 10). He also knows how to use an AED (automated external defibrillator) and has extensive training in fire safety and first aid. Wherever he is, Matt will be sure to know how to keep himself and others as safe as possible.

Safety, he said, is important because “in any situation when something happens, you want to know what to do.”

Both men agreed that it is important to know each person as an individual.

James, for example, said you need to know to be patient with him and go slowly. He said he can get confused at times, and if someone is trying to move him too quickly through something, it is easy for him to start to cry. 

They also said they’d tell someone newly diagnosed with autism that it will be OK.

“Don’t feel like you’re different,” James said, “I’m going through the same thing you are. Don’t let anybody tell you anything different about yourself. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Matt put it more directly: “it’s OK and you will be OK.”

These two men definitely are.

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