Meet Jennie L.
Jennie L., 22
Autism to me means that I’m super. Not different, not disabled, just super. God decided to place me on this world for a divine purpose. Everyone is here because we are supposed to be here. We all play our roles in this world.
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m in my second year of college and hope to one day become a writer. I want to share my story and let everyone know that being different doesn’t mean being less. It took me a while to realize this, but now that I have, I want to advocate for the autism community and people like me.
I was diagnosed with autism when I was in the 6th grade, but my mom, a special education teacher, said she knew I was different from very early on. She said I barely cried as a baby and never seemed to want much affection. I would often throw tantrums when things didn’t go my way and as I got older, I wasn’t very social. I wasn’t fully verbal until around the age of 15, which didn’t help my cause. This led to severe bullying at times and feelings of isolation, sadness and anger – especially before I knew why this was all happening to me.
From as far back as I can remember, my mom has done all she can to help me reach my full potential. From countless trips to meet with doctors and specialists to finding the right schools and always making sure I was receiving the services I needed, she has absolutely made me the woman I am today. I am so grateful to have her in my life.
Learn more about Jennie and her autism journey in this Q&A:
When did you realize what it meant to be autistic?
I remember I felt like everyone else until around the 3rd and 4th grade. I still was pretty unaware of the fact that I was different, though looking back I could see signs as early as kindergarten. I wouldn’t play with the other kids, and I sat under a concrete awning by the bathrooms a lot by myself. Then in 4th grade, I was severely bullied. I remember asking why this was happening to me. I would have meltdowns and beg every day to be kept home from school. The next year, I was moved on to a charter school for 5th grade, which was wonderful. It was in the 6th grade when I was diagnosed with autism by my psychiatrist. I remember having an “aha” moment when I got home from that appointment. I looked up Asperger’s and I cried because it was exactly me. That was the exact moment I realized so much about my life.
What does having autism mean to you?
Autism to me means that I’m super. Not different, not disabled, just super. God decided to place me on this world for a divine purpose. Everyone is here because we are supposed to be here. We all play our roles in this world. Being me makes the world more interesting. It also means that because I am so open about my situation, I can be a teacher and an advocate for those who don’t have a voice. I’m currently writing a book which is all about my world and experiences with autism.
How were you received by friends and peers when you revealed you were on the spectrum?
As I got older, it became more apparent even without saying anything. Though when I did say something, I got a lot of avoidance, stares and whispers. I also received a fair share of people faking to be my friend so they would feel better about themselves for being good to others. Or they would be mean and then try to twist it to say that I misunderstood because of my autism.
In what areas of your life has your autism helped you excel?
I have a photographic memory. I do very well in school. I am a great singer and have hundreds of songs memorized. I love to public speak and spread awareness whenever I can. Also, I absolutely love to write. I am going to college to become an author. I am almost done with my associate’s degree.
What struggles have you faced because of your autism?
Bullying, being stigmatized, stares and being laughed at, but the thing I struggled with the most was having to learn many things that come naturally to neurotypical people. I had to learn not to throw tantrums and to vocalize what I wanted. If I was confused, I had to ask for help. If I was mad, I had to learn to not take it out on others. My mom got the brunt of my anger, unfortunately. Learning how to make friends at various stages of my life was also very difficult, as was learning how to adjust to change.
What services and supports have you received since being diagnosed? How have they help you?
I received occupational, physical and applied behavior analysis therapies throughout my life. Each service has helped me in different ways and helped me to achieve many things I didn’t think I would.
Who have been your biggest supporters throughout your life and why?
My mom because she never had any help with me. She and I are a team. We call ourselves “TeamOneVoice.” She had always been my biggest and most vocal supporter. Even when my family didn’t get it, she has helped advocate for me my whole life and still does. She is my person. I could never thank her enough.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of getting in shape and learning to run. I had never done a sport before I joined the track team in high school. I don’t think the coach or anyone else really had faith in me, but I actually competed in State that year. I didn’t win, but I ran in State. Not one teacher or coach expected that one.
Also, one of biggest dreams growing up was to get asked by a crush to go to prom, and that happened my senior year. I was so excited when I opened my locker and found a sign and tons of chocolate asking me if I’d be his prom date. I remember telling him thank you because I never thought this would happen for me. He made my dream come true.
What are a few of your short-term personal goals?
Be more self-confident, believe in my decisions and let negativity roll off my back.
What advice would you give to a young person recently diagnosed with autism, wondering what the future holds?
The future is bright. Even in the difficult times, believe in yourself. If you need someone to lean on, find that special person to be your anchor. Know there are resources out there to help you. Also know that the world isn’t overly accepting of autism yet, but the more we all speak up, the bigger chance of change. Even if you are treated differently or unfairly, just remember your morals and don’t ever be someone you’re not.
What are five words that best describe you?
Smart. Honest. Goofy. Strong. Hard worker.