Meet Mariah Kay S.
Mariah Kay S., 24
I wouldn't change being autistic. Without my autism, I wouldn't be me. Having autism also helps me to accept differences in other people because I am different myself.
I’m a 24-year-old woman living in Wisconsin and I have autism. I was born in Minnesota, lived in multiple foster homes and have faced a lot of pain and uncertainty in my life. It’s been a difficult journey, but it’s made me the caring, sensitive, compassionate person with a love for my family and Christ, that I am today.
I truly believe that everything I have been through in my life – the struggles and trauma, the joyous moments like finding my family and friends and receiving an autism diagnosis – has put me exactly where I need to be in the world. I love animals, enjoy listening to music, reading YouVersion Bible plans, doing diamond art, watching movies, playing basketball and bowling in the Special Olympics and I have an amazing relationships with my boyfriend, Austin, my family and my true friends. I wouldn’t change my story for anything.
Learn more about Mariah Kay and her journey on the spectrum in this Q&A:
When were you diagnosed with autism?
I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 20. I was diagnosed at the Waisman Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin.
What were your initial thoughts when you first received the diagnosis?
I felt relieved and that I finally had an answer to why I was struggling and why I felt so different for most of my life. It was like everything clicked and made sense to me. I learned there was nothing wrong with being different and that everyone is unique in their own way.
Can you share a few examples of things you learned about yourself after your diagnosis?
My entire life, I have found it very difficult just to exist and be myself in the world. If I would have had all the answers earlier in my life, I would of viewed myself and life differently. I would have realized that there is nothing wrong with not being able to fit. Also, even though it may take time, you'll find your circle of people who accept you just the way you are.
How has your autism helped shape you into the person you are today?
I wouldn't change being autistic. Without my autism, I wouldn't be me. Having autism also helps me to accept differences in other people because I am different myself. Autism also makes me more tuned in to emotions, which makes me highly empathetic. My feelings and emotions are very intense and can be overwhelming. There is a myth out there that individuals with autism aren’t empathetic and I find this to be so far from the truth.
What struggles have you faced as a result of your autism?
I felt misunderstood and different for most of my life. I’ve experienced a lot of bullying, rejection and friendship struggles as well. I was very quiet and had a hard time understanding the social rules in games and relationships and understanding jokes and humor. I also struggled with understanding how to relate and connect with others and without experiencing anxiety.
I coped by staying by myself in quiet places. During those times I would read about animals, listen to music and go on the computer. I would also try to compliment others or rehearse scripts in my mind, so I wouldn’t say the wrong thing. Nothing seemed to work even though knew I was a good person. I wasn't perfect and made mistakes, but I was kind, loving and accepting of others.
My main struggle today is the stigma surrounding autism and how society views people with ASD. I love to make new friends and meet new people, especially those who have similar interests, but making friends is a struggle due to people not really understanding and accepting me. I will not change myself or mask who I am for anyone. I’ll continue keep a small circle of friends who accept me for who I am.
In what areas of your life has your autism helped you excel?
Autism has helped me excel in repetitive tasks, creative thinking, observational skills, reliability and in practicing honesty and loyalty. I excel at repetitive tasks because it helps me focus on one thing and gives me routine and predictability. It helps me remain intensely focused on the tiniest of details. I think these skills can help employers view me as a good employee. Being super honest and reliable are always good qualities to have within the workplace and in life in general.
Why has advocating for the autistic community become such an integral part of your life?
I enjoy posting on social media and talking about autism in a way to bring more education, understanding and acceptance to autism. Autism is unique and different to everyone and I believe differences need to be talked about, not avoided. Inclusion needs to be practiced more in the community as well. One in four people or 26% in the US population has a disability and our culture needs to adapt.
What gives you purpose in life?
I love this question. What gives me purpose is my relationship and belief in Jesus Christ. I am a Christian and believe having a relationship with Jesus is vital in growing in character, spirit, mind, soul and love. I do this by continued prayer and reading the gospel. I enjoy reading Bible plans and listening to Christian music. The words in the gospel you read can change your perspective in life and how you see the world in an awesome way. Also, without my relationship with Jesus, I wouldn't be able to love correctly. Jesus is full of love and one of them is displayed by his forgiveness.
Who are your biggest supporters? How have they positively touched your life?
My three biggest supporters in my life would be Renee, my church friend, my boyfriend, Austin and my mom, Llana.
Renee has positively touched my life by including me in her family and showing me what family is about. She has showed me by the gift of friendship and how important it is to have a relationship with Jesus by taking me to church.
Since I met my boyfriend, Austin, I learned a lot about love, patience, accepting differences and fighting for your dreams despite a diagnosis of autism. He is a caring guy and loves to give to others without return. That’s love right there. He has autism like me, which teaches me that each of us are unique and have different challenges and strengths. I have learned to adapt to his needs and be patient. He has showed me to fight for my dreams. Austin is the first radical race car driver to win a championship. That's inspiring to me and so many others.
My mom is resilient, loving, honest and true. She loves her children and I love her smile and her heart. She has gone through a lot in life and her heart has never changed. She showed me how to not let the world or life challenges define your character.
If you could give advice to other people with autism - possibly other adults who were recently diagnosed or simply facing some struggles - what would you say?
Don’t let your difficulties define you. Do not let people’s opinions of you make you change yourself. Differences should be welcomed and celebrated, especially if you are around the right people. The second thing I would tell them is to learn how to advocate for yourself. Don't be scared to share your voice. If you’re unable to advocate or speak for yourself, find an advocate or support group who can be your voice.
What are some of your goals for the future?
I have many. I want to:
- Be successful at my new job at Culvers Restaurants.
- Go to college to learn more about Biblical studies and animals. I have a language, speech and learning disability, so I want to find the right school for me.
- Go on mission trips to learn about evangelism and explore the world.
- Learn how to drive and get my license. Driving is anxiety provoking for me, but I need to learn to fight through it as I need to be independent.
- Be successful in my relationship with others, especially with my relationship with Austin. I plan on traveling the world with him on his racing journey and meet so many others on the spectrum like me.
What are five words that best describe you?
Resilient. Kind. Honest. Unique. Ambitious.