In our own words: Reflecting on 2021 and the year ahead
In this blog, you’ll meet Curtis, 31, Miyah, 40, Hudson, 6 and Griffey, 11. In their own words and through personal accounts from their families, you’ll hear about some of their triumphs and struggles in 2021, their aspirations and goals for 2022, and get a glimpse into what the holidays and the new year mean to them.
Meet Miyah S.
I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 11. Today, at 40, I am a self-advocate; the creator of the blog and podcast "Hello World with Miyah," which I pursue to raise awareness and acceptance for people with autism; and hope to one day work in the field of public health with a concentration in health and behavior.
It seems only yesterday that we said goodbye to 2020, which was a very rough year. But like so many, autistic or not, I looked forward to a better and brighter year in 2021. One of the things that I looked forward to is giving a presentation at an autism conference, but I have not had the opportunity to speak at an event in two years. This gave me more time to look into graduate programs. That said, most psychology programs only seem to offer Ph.D. level trajectories. Though I would like to earn a Ph.D., earning a master's degree first would be a much better trajectory at this time.
Though I have three years of experience in an entry level position in public health, I spent the last year working as a receptionist with Georgia State University, taking a break from my studies to figure out my plans to continue my education at the master's level. Recently, I stumbled upon an educational trajectory involving a master’s in public health with a concentration in health and behavior promotion. In this program, I feel I would be able to apply my knowledge and expertise from some of the work I have done. For example, I worked on a project known as the “Autism Plan for Georgia” by collecting resources across the state.
I hope to apply to the Georgia State University’s School of Public Health program by spring of 2022 while beginning graduate level classes next fall. All the while, I hope to have an internship as a research assistant where I can hopefully gain more insight and expertise in my field. I am a woman on the spectrum who looks to not only help myself but others as well.
Meet Curtis G.
My name is Curtis. I am a 31-year-old man living with autism. The year 2021 was a year of many firsts for me. It has also started the biggest challenges of my adult life. I still have the support of my friends and family, but I have begun a level of independence I didn’t think was possible. I would like to share with you my highlights of the year 2021.
The year 2021 was a year of challenges for me. Allow me to share why that was the case. My paternal grandfather passed away this past June, which was very hard for me. This was my first experience of a close family member passing away. I’m proud of how I handled my emotions during this difficult time and was still able to show love and support during his final days. Other challenges I faced were moving into my first independent apartment and learning to drive on the expressway while overcoming my anxiety. Another set of big challenges was trying to build friendships and figuring out how to build a romantic relationship. These challenges will continue into 2022, but I continue to face them head on with my ever-growing skillset.
Although 2021 was a year of many challenges, it was also a year of multiple accomplishments. As I mentioned, I moved into my first apartment, which I turned into my first independent home. I continued my skills and training in martial arts and moved into a new dojo that is not far from my apartment. I also finished my final semester in college, earning a bachelor’s degree in video game art and design, and started driving on the highway more often to get to and from the university, which was something I’ve been working on with my Gateways coordinator. (Gateways Community Services provides support in areas such as employment, independent living, community participating, etc.)
I have several goals for 2022. I would like to find a full-time job where I can use my newly earned degree in the video game/graphic art industry. I would like to continue my research into opening a video game history museum in my home state of New Hampshire, where the first home video game console was invented. I would love to build a romantic relationship at some point. A long-term goal, after I’m doing well in my full-time job, is to buy my dream car, a Tesla!
In conclusion, 2021 was a year of growth and change, all of which is helping me come closer to being the man I want to be.
Meet Griffey L. (through the words of his dad, Richard)
The year 2021 has been a year of physical and mental struggles for Griffey. This year, Griffey had several surgical procedures at Cincinnati Children's Hospital that spanned through the summer up until late November. He has suffered since birth with a severe medical issue that has required multiple detailed surgeries. From 2010 until current day, Griffey has undergone 17 surgeries to help him live a more comfortable life.
With all this going on and school closures still occurring because of COVID-19, he has been missing out on the school district’s programs for autistic children. We have seen regressions, but there is always positive movement when he gets refocused. We are praying for him to get back into school and into his routines so he can have that social interaction he so desperately needs.
Griffey provides us hope and when he's happy, he's the greatest human I've ever met. He's changed the lives of my wife and I, his brother, and all of our family members for the better. We understand more and we listen to others when they want to talk about their children's issues—minor or major. I'm a better leader in my work with my staff because of him, since he’s taught us how to do more than just listen to someone’s words, but to feel their emotions.
In my mind, 2022 can only be better for Griffey and our family. My son wants nothing more than to feel better and be happier, and we will do whatever we can to ensure he gets there. He's never given up. He's never stopped fighting. And his perseverance drives us all to believe in a brighter future in the year to come.
Meet Hudson E. (through the words of his mom, Elizabeth)
Hudson is our second of three sons, and we recently had a baby girl in late November. Hudson shows love and receives love in so many ways. He is a sweet, kind, and gentle boy who loves to keep things orderly, organized, and in their place. He loves to paint, color, play with water toys, complete puzzles, count, and watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. It has been so amazing to watch him grow, learn, and advance. However, that's not to say our autism journey has been all up-hill.
Hudson was diagnosed with autism in 2018 by an academic psychologist in our local school district when he was 3 years old. He immediately switched from his in-home preschool and began attending a county preschool under an Individualized Education Program, which quickly became one of our first shining light moments with Hudson's autism journey.
He responded well to the wonderful consistency, speech sessions, social skills classes, student interaction, and trained adults guiding him. He started to really flourish. He was starting to make better eye contact, respond to receptive language faster, and follow school-like behaviors more than he ever had before. His progression was, and still is, very slow and timid even though we’ve seen improvements. He still wasn't talking very much, other than 1–3-word requests, and he was pulling our hands when he wanted to show us something rather than verbally asking.
He is now in kindergarten and is happily going to school, participating, and showing progression in gaining those school-like behaviors that he was struggling with before. Last year, he refused to step foot in the speech room, but now he attends, sits, and is attentive for 30-minute sessions. In previous years, he would cry when pulling into the school parking lot or would duck down on the floorboard of the car to avoid having to get out at the school. Now, he gets out, holds hands, says good-bye, and happily walks through the gate. Each year brings some struggles but also brings the opportunity for new and wonderful triumphs! We look forward to Hudson's speech continuing to show progression, and we look forward to Hudson being able to engage in a running conversation.
Autism Speaks has been a great resource for our family, regarding ways to keep our family involved in the autism community. We participate and raise money for the annual walks and take advantage of events they have in our area. Our advice to a family with a newly diagnosed child is to make sure you ask questions, use your advocates, use your resources, participate, research, and find what will help your child. They are all different!