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Autism and Sign Language

This post is by Michelle Vinokurov, a young girl with autism from New Jersey. This post is part of an initiative on our site called “In Our Own Words: Living on the Spectrum,” which highlights the experiences of individuals with autism from their perspectives. Have a story you want to share for the series? Email us at InOurOwnWords@Autismspeaks.org.  

My name is Michelle and I have autism. I was completely non-verbal until the age of six, when I was in first grade. There are many obstacles that I have overcome and there are also some obstacles I am still overcoming today.

My life to me is really special! I began shining as a student with autism when I was in 3rd grade, in my first public school. I knew that I was finally a bright special kid who would have a successful future. Ever since 3rd grade, I hacontinued to work on breaking barriers of my own in school. Like when I was in 3rd grade, I was finally done with occupational therapy and physical therapy! I was in special education resource classrooms until I was in high school. Today, I am a sophomore in high school and I am in all general education classes. Also, I am still in speech therapy in school. 

It was a very long journey for me to be in all general education classes by the time I was in high school. As a sophomore in high school, I have earned honor roll two marking periods in a row with straight A's so far! Now with this last marking period of the school year, I've been on the honor roll 3 times in high school so far and I'm hoping to keep earning more. I know I can do it when I put my mind and heart to it!

This year, I thought I wouldn't pass Spanish either. This was my first time taking a world language class and surprisingly (though my parents do not think I should be surprised by it), I have kept up straight A's the whole year in Spanish! I thought I would not understand Spanish because it took me until I was in first grade to speak English. I really want to thank my Spanish teacher, Ms. Noonan and my older sister and younger brother for helping me to learn Spanish throughout the school year.

I learned as a sophomore in high school that dreams really do come true for someone with autism like myself. My autism has helped me earn a place in a leadership conference called "Dare to Dream!" I was picked along with 14 other students in my school with different disabilities or the same disability as mine to attend a leadership conference because all of us have shown that we can do things like everyone else. We can become successful in our own ways and we can inspire children with disabilities and help them to live the better life that they deserve.

Also, I have been really happy and proud to say that I am learning American Sign Language. The main reason i'm learning is because I have a friend who is deaf. Her name is Alena and she is in my speech class with me. I'm so glad to have a friend like her. She can sometimes just read my lips, but there will be times I have to sign what I am saying, which is fine with me. I am in my school's Sign Language Club and that's where I have been learning ASL. 

Alena is my first friend who is deaf, but she is a really special friend to me. I would not have learned ASL if it wasn't for her and also, I finally found a language that is a visual language that I can understand and be good at because I have a picture memory! In school, I am able to picture study guides in my head and I can get through tests and quizzes. I love my picture memory, and school too!

In the future, I really want to go to college and I want to write a book about my life with autism. I want to be a special education teacher/deaf teacher and share more of my stories for people to know that there is hope somewhere in our world! I really want to thank my mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, my older sister, my younger brother, my younger sister, my doctors and my teachers for helping me live the better and successful life that I have today.

Have a story you want to share for our “In Our Own Words: Living on the Spectrum,” series? Email us at InOurOwnWords@Autismspeaks.org