This post is by Aaron Likens, an adult with autism from Missouri. 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
There I was, in a suit and tie (very unlike me). I heard my name called out to receive Missouri’s Youth Leadership Award for my work as Easter Seals Midwest’s Autism Ambassador. It was all a blur, really, as I kept thinking, “How is this happening?” I knew I was getting this award but didn’t know what to say when I got to the podium. So I just started talking, which was exactly the same process that got me to that podium.
Eleven years ago I got my Asperger diagnosis and the prognosis back then, at least what I read on the Internet, was bleak. I lost hope in life. What was the point of trying if failure was the only outcome? This is what I believed until I started writing my book, “Finding Kansas”, back in 2005.
In my speech I said, “I’m up here by accident,” and I meant it. When I started writing there was no motive to write a book that would be published. All I wanted to do was to tell my dad who I was and why I was because, back then, I couldn’t express it with spoken words. I discovered myself through writing and one thing led to another and eventually I had a book.
After my book was released, I was invited to give a presentation. This was about as terrifying of an event as possible because, while I may have been able to write my emotions, I thought there would be no way I could speak them. Somehow (I’m still shocked to this day despite the 500 plus presentations I’ve given) I survived that presentation. The reviews were good, and one thing led to another and I got the job title of Autism Ambassador for Easter Seals Midwest.
As I continued my speech, I wanted to justify this term “leadership” because I don’t do what I do for recognition or accolades. I do it because it needs to be done. I do it because there are people out there who are where I was when I got my diagnosis and I know the pain, the despair and the impact of feeling like a complete failure. To illustrate this, I mentioned a presentation I gave the previous week. A big presenting venue I’ve been doing, and one I feel is of utmost importance, is to student bodies. I was speaking to a fourth grade class. After my 20-minute presentation, I opened it up to questions. This boy raised his hand and said, “Yeah, I don’t really have a question but rather a comment. I just want to say thank you because my parents told me I had Asperger’s last month and I didn’t really know what that meant. But now I feel hope after hearing you. Thanks!”
This all started by a wonderful accident. When I concluded my presentation I was speechless. I remembered all those hopeless nights as I wrote my book. All I wanted was for someone to understand.
I now have this “leadership award” tied to my name and I intend to continue pushing forward because there are people out there who were in my place, people like that fourth grader who are just wanting a little bit of hope, a little bit of understanding and the knowledge that they aren’t alone.