Meet Ian H.

Ian H., 37

I think more people should talk about mental health more openly in general. I hope that autistic people everywhere, who are affected by mental health challenges, can find support and services to meet their needs.

As is the case for many of us, life has been a series of highs and lows for 37-year-old Ian H. But with each challenge he’s faced, the Connecticut native, who was diagnosed with autism at age 3, would ultimately find a way to overcome regardless of how difficult the journey would get.

Challenges with making friends and staying focused in grade school. Struggling to find the right academic and social fit to further his education after high school. A shocking cancer diagnosis at 20 that resulted in a grueling life-threatening mental and physical battle. And various stints of depression and anxiety. 

But with each seemingly insurmountable obstacle that he faced, Ian leaned on the support of his family and the trusted medical professionals in his life to continue to forge ahead. Ian beat Hodgkin’s lymphoma and went on to graduate from Three Rivers Community College in Connecticut with an associate degree in hospitality management. Today he is putting his degree to good use as a kitchen utility worker in an assisted living facility in Clearwater, Florida.

“Ian’s mother and I are amazed and proud at what he’s become. He’s a resilient student, a hard worker, and a fine young man. We wish for him to remain happy, continue to grow and learn, and maybe even find someone to share his life with."

Read more about Ian’s story in this Q&A:

Ian H. wearing his cap and gown at graduation with his parents

When did you first understand what it meant to be autistic and how did that realization impact your life?

I first understood what it meant to be autistic when I was 10 years old because that was when my parents first told me about my diagnosis. It impacted my life because that’s when I understood that I had a learning disability, but I think I took it in stride. So, when I was in junior high school and high school, I was a combination of excited and anxious about my future, I was looking forward to things like learning how to drive a car and being able to attend college but at the same time I was kind of nervous about what it would be like for me.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

Starting when I was in third grade, some of my biggest challenges were being able to concentrate and pay attention in my classes and being able to do well and get good grades academically. Socially, I always had friends but sometimes I would have trouble socializing and interacting with them because of my autism.

What are some of your biggest strengths?

Well, I have an excellent memory that is near photographic. I am also great with maps and geography. I now have a lot of friends including some who I keep in touch with regularly. I am a good driver and have been driving for many years. I have a great variety of tastes in music that I listen to regularly and I am also good at knowing different songs by various artists and bands.

Ian H. wearing a grey shirt standing on a balcony

What type of services and supports have you received since being diagnosed?

I have received the support of my parents as well as my extended family and friends. Ever since my diagnosis, I started receiving special education services in public schools in Connecticut, starting with a preschool class. Early on in elementary school a paraprofessional was assigned to me and that continued in some capacity through my junior year of high school. I had no direct help in my senior year and moving forward.

While in college I had staff members that I could check in with. In terms of psychological support, I started seeing a psychiatrist when I was six years old and that continued through high school. To this day, I still check in with a psychiatrist once every three months. In both Connecticut and Florida for employment, I have utilized the great services of the respective state’s Division of Vocational Services.

During Mental Health Awareness Month, what message would you like to send to other autistic adults who may be struggling with their mental health?

You are not alone. I’m sure that plenty of autistic people have mental health challenges. In fact, so do people without disabilities. I would also say, there are lots of support services out there to help you so, don’t be afraid to access them and use them.

What challenges have you faced with mental health and how have you overcome those challenges?

I have in the past faced challenges with my mental health such as anxiousness, nervousness, and depression. I have overcome them by talking about those challenges with psychiatrists and therapists. Also, there are ways I have calmed myself whenever those symptoms have happened such as listening to music, watching TV and reading.

Ian H. and his mom

Why is it important to you to advocate for mental health awareness in the autism community?

I think that some people talk about their mental health both in public and in private. My dad told me that the great NFL quarterback Tom Brady was on social media recently talking about how therapy benefitted him. I think people should talk about it more openly because that would be even better. I hope that autistic people everywhere, who are affected by mental health challenges, find support and services to meet their needs. 

I think for autistic people it is harder for us to seek help because some are afraid and/or worried to do it, and some also have trouble communicating about it. Also, not everyone has access to health care services like how my family does, so that can be challenging. 

Why is it important to you to open up about your story and share your diagnosis with the world?

I think it can be true that people are sometimes afraid to talk about these things because they think they will be judged harshly for it. Therefore, it is important to me to open up about my life story and share the details of it with the world, especially with the autistic community.

Ian H. and his dad

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of how well I did in school both academically in terms of grades and about being able to graduate from high school and a two-year community college. I learned how to drive. I am also proud of the fact that I now work at a job that pays well and that I am a good and hard worker as an employee. 

I am also proud of the fact that I am now able to have a decent social life with a lot of friends some of whom I see and keep in touch with. Finally, I have worked with my dad, a longtime writer, on a 50-page book proposal called “Eating with Ian: How a youth with autism finds joy with his father while traveling through life.” It’s a story about our relationship, and my growing up with autism that mixes in dining and traveling on the East Coast. 

How has Autism Speaks positively impacted your life since being diagnosed? 

Autism Speaks is a unifying force in the autism community through its services, supports, and advocacy. Its services helped my parents in my college search. I also know I can always go to its website for help and resources.

The story shared above represents the experience, views and perspectives of the individual(s) highlighted. We aim to share stories across the spectrum and throughout the life span, but the information provided on our website is not a recommendation, referral or endorsement of any resource, therapeutic method, or service provider and does not replace the advice of medical, legal or educational professionals.