Meet Madison M.
Madison M., 23
I think of having autism as a journey, not as a disorder.
“When Madison was first diagnosed, my husband and I were worried that she would never make friends, never be mainstreamed, never live independently, nor be able to lead a happy life. But today, Madison has exceeded our expectations by making friends, graduating from college, now living independently and is a valuable member of the teaching staff at Nathanial Morton Elementary School (Plymouth, Mass.).”
“This was all made possible by early intervention, amazing therapists, mentors and teachers, increased access to autism resources, and most importantly, Madison’s own perseverance and passion for turning her autism diagnosis into a positive. She makes us proud every single, day.”
- Jenny M., Madison’s mom
Learn more about Madison’s autism journey through her own words in this Q&A:
How would you compare the person you are today to the person you were before you received your autism diagnosis?
I was diagnosed with autism at a very early age, but my biggest turning point was when I met my peer mentor, Jess. Jess told me to “let myself out, not hold myself in,” and that my differences are what makes me who I am. From those words, my confidence grew in a way I could never imagine, and I started to see my disability and life from a whole new lens. Before I met Jess, I was very shy, reserved, and felt very withdrawn from others. After she came into my life my confidence grew so much, to the point that I became positive about my autism and accepted it as a part of myself. I also started to educate others about autism by doing charity work, which lead to me starting the Autism Awareness Club at my high school, which is still very active today.
How has your autism helped shaped you into the woman you are today?
I think of having autism as a journey, not as a disorder. My sense of style, wearing a lot of jewelry and very bright colors are all part of who I am. I also collect Squeezamals and have always loved to collect the latest toys. If someone has told me that I couldn’t do something, I’m thankful to have proven them wrong. My autism is just a part of me, and I view it in a positive light.
What struggles do you face as a result of your autism?
I also have dual diagnoses of OCD, ADHD, and generalized anxiety disorder, so I get very thrown off if there’s a change in schedule or last-minute plans. I also experience sensory overload with loud noises. For example, a fire drill or being at a sporting event will give me sensory overload. Strong pungent smells along with certain food textures also give me sensory overload. Also, some of my interests are more juvenile, which I think is due to having autism. For example, Paw Patrol is my favorite TV show.
Who are your biggest supporters and how have they positively impacted your life?
My mentor, Jess, is my biggest role model because she inspired me to become a mentor myself and give back to the autism community. This eventually led me to go into teaching.
My aide, Megan, is also a huge influence because she helped me a lot academically, socially, and emotionally when I was in elementary and middle school. She highly inspired my teaching style. Megan introduced a bag full of sensory toys to me which goes around with me everywhere to help cope with my disability. She also became a good friend to my family.
My parents have been huge supporters since day one. They did lots of research and found what therapies were best for my early intervention and how to find the best help for me in order to succeed. They never gave up. My grandparents have also been huge supporters because they helped out my parents a lot when I was receiving early intervention. My best childhood friend Haley and her mom Jolene are huge supporters of mine. Haley’s mom was a second mom to me growing up and she taught me how to make jewelry at a very young age, which became an outlet for me to help cope with my disability.
What advice would you give to other people with autism – possibly other adults who were recently diagnosed?
Think of having autism as a journey, not as a disorder. Early intervention goes a long way, and it has been very helpful for me, as I was always someone who looked forward to going to my therapies and was always willing to do the work. My advice for parents of newly diagnosed children is to never give up, because my parents never gave up and they found what therapies and services were best for me.
When you reflect on your life to this point, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud that I was hired as the Activities Director in the Plymouth School District. Being the very first autistic mentor in my high school’s mentoring program. Starting my own jewelry business at age 14. And all the charity work that I’ve done for the autism community.
What inspired you to venture into a career in education?
My mentor Jess inspired me to be a mentor for autistic children. I became a mentor for several children in school and home-based settings as well as a social skills group instructor at an after school and weekend program for autistic kids called “Aspirations.” I was inspired to continue my work in special education as a career. I ended up getting a degree in special education with an art therapy minor, and plan to get my teaching certification in the future.
What do you enjoy most about the job?
I enjoy working with my students and helping them succeed. I also enjoy planning out my weekly lesson plan themes and the activities that center around it. I also have a very positive relationship with all of my co-workers.
How has your autism journey helped you better relate to students?
I have a very unique way of reaching special needs students because I was once in their shoes. I am very empathetic about their struggles and needs. I push for them to succeed, even if it’s teaching them flexibility. I also have shared with my students that I’ve had similar struggles as them, which makes me more relatable.
What are some of your goals for the future?
A short-term goal I have is getting my driver’s license. A long-term goal is going to grad school and getting my master’s degree in special education, as well as getting my teaching certification.
What are five words that best describe you?
Strong. Brave. Dedicated. Empathetic. Inspirational.