Meet Erin C.
Erin C., 31
I just want people to remember that “if you've met one person on the autism spectrum, you've met ONE person on the autism spectrum.”
Hi everyone! My name is Erin, and I was diagnosed as on the autism spectrum when I was 15. I live in Pennsylvania and I’m an author, a public speaker, an autism advocate and an aspiring dog trainer.
I really enjoy helping others by sharing my experiences, but my disclaimer is that I can only speak for myself. (I wish other autistic people would respect me this way, too.) I just want people to remember that “if you've met one person on the autism spectrum, you've met ONE person on the autism spectrum.”
In May 2019, I graduated from Delaware County Community College with an associate’s degree in child development, but I realized my true passion is in dog training. Unfortunately, there is no official school for becoming a dog trainer, so I'm having a hard time finding a way into this field. In the meantime, I'm volunteering at the Brandywine Valley SPCA, and continuing to work at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.
When I was younger, I was constantly bullied, verbally, emotionally and at times physically. Often, I was told to simply ignore the bullies, or to talk to an adult if it became too severe. My advice to others being bullied is; as long as you feel physically safe: ALWAYS rise above. I truly believe that you can ignore, roll your eye, walk away, but the ONLY person you can control is yourself. If you focus on being the best YOU, then others, who deserve your friendship, will notice that.
Finally, I learned when I got older: Some people can change. I know some bullies that became amazingly nice people after high school, and even apologized to me for how they had treated me! However, others don’t seem to change at all… and yet that doesn’t matter. Don’t let scars from the past ruin the good things that are happening in your life today! You control your own happiness.
Learn more about Erin in this Q&A
When did you realize what it meant to be on the spectrum?
Honestly, I think I’m STILL learning this. But I think the biggest moment was the first time I tried going to college in 2007. My parents gave me a book and it had a chapter that listed lots of different symptoms. They told me to highlight the ones that I felt applied to me and we’d give copies to my professors. That helped me to understand that not everyone experiences things the same way that I do.
How has your autism affected your life?
I think in the beginning, it was defining me. Now I see it as just another trait. Sometimes, it’s frustrating, but other times, it’s really helpful. But I haven’t changed - I’m still Erin. Sometimes, I actually have to work a little harder to be who I want to be, because the autism makes it challenging to show my true intentions. But other times, it really helps me see the details or to remember something important.
How does your autism make you unique?
There’s only one of me! But I think what really makes me unique is that I have a lot of different views on topics than what others on the spectrum seem to have on similar topics. I’m not typical like neurotypical people, but I’m not like others on the autism spectrum, either.
In what areas has autism helped you excel?
I have this incredible memory. I can remember moments as far back as being in diapers, but more often I have moments where I recall conversations or events that no one else does. The only issue is that when I get too stressed out, I hardly remember ANYTHING.
The other area that I think being on the autism spectrum helped me with is my work with animals… specifically dogs. I have a natural ability to read their emotions and body language. It’s almost like this sixth sense. It’s harder to do with people but communicating with dogs is almost second nature to me.
What struggles have you faced because of your autism?
Sometimes I’ve had issues with hypersensitivities. Or change in routine. Or challenges with eating. Or even the ability to clean and maintain my living space. But the biggest struggles I think I face are with communication. Because I’ve always been verbal and write well, people assume that this isn’t an issue. But it’s so hard to know if what I’m saying is coming across the way I’ve intended it to. And I often misinterpret what others are saying to me. So, communication is the biggest problem. That, and mental exhaustion over the course of each day.
Who or what have you relied on as a support system throughout your autism journey?
My friends and family have been incredible. A few teachers in grade school were extra helpful to me, as were my professors at Delaware County Community College. My librarian friends from West Chester Public Library are amazing, too. Plus, the autism services I receive through Devereux CAAPP (Community Adult Autism Partnership Program) have also been important. I still check in with them, but I can have my own life. I know I’m leaving out a TON of people in this list, but they all know who they are!
What are your biggest accomplishments?
I think some of my biggest accomplishments include writing my book, “I Have Asperger’s,” and graduating from college. Both of these were things I never thought would be possible, and both took years to accomplish.
What are your some of your goals for the future?
I want to be a dog trainer SO much, but I’m struggling to find a way into the field. Someday, I’d like to have a dog of my own - maybe even an autism service dog. I’m not allowed to have a dog in the apartment I’m in now, though. I also can’t afford to care for one, so I’d need to wait until I’m more stable, financially. In the meantime, I just want to help people, spread kindness and work on making myself the best person I can be.
What advice would you give to a young person, recently diagnosed with autism, wondering what the future holds for them?
Don’t let being on the autism spectrum define you. You are much more than a diagnosis. The diagnosis simply helps others understand you better, or at least explains why they may not understand sometimes.
Why is being a vocal self-advocate important to you? What inspired you to take action?
I want to be the person that I wish I had known when I was younger. I also want to help others by sharing my experiences. I can only speak for myself, but I hope that others might be able to find something helpful through sharing my story. I can’t change the world, but I can change myself and hope that I inspire others.
What are five words that best describe you?
Persistent, kind, open-minded, creative and sensitive.