jjslist.com volunteer Ira shares his mentoring story.
I’m a young adult diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome who mentors two teenage boys with High-Functioning Autism.
When I was their age, although I related much better to adults than my peers, I didn’t know any adults like myself. And for these two boys, I’m the first adult they’ve ever met like themselves. I understand them and can relate to them much better than almost anybody else. I have even been able to help even their parents better understand them.
My relationship started when the mother of the boys overhead my conversation to a clerk in a store. When I was new to the community, in my spare time, I’d visit random businesses to get to know my community and, at the same time, try to educate them to better understand individuals on the Autism Spectrum, like myself.
As I was walking out of the store, the mother came up to me to tell me how inspired she was. After the two of us got in touch and met up a few times, she introduced me to her sons who were then in 4th and 2nd grades, and her husband. That family soon became an important part of my life.
Seven years have come and gone since we’ve known each other and lot has changed since for both the boys and definitely myself. The older boy is about to enter his Senior year of high school and the younger boy will be a Sophomore.
It began with the mom and the boys and I all visiting together. But once the parents knew me long enough to trust me, the boys and I got to spend evenings together while the parents went out for dinner as a couple – something they previously weren’t able to do as much. And during the summer, when the boys are not in school and their dad is at work during the week, their mom can exercise, run errands, etc. rest assured knowing that I’m there at the house with her sons.
When I’m at the house, we usually just hang out, work on the computers, listen to music, eat food together, and take it easy. When the weather’s nice, I have fun hanging out with them in their backyard. Last summer I really enjoyed taking the younger boy for a walk to a neighborhood park. And early this year, I had fun teaching him some “life skills” such as grocery shopping, when his mom would drop us off and just the two of us would go into the store together.
I really enjoy doing all of this. We have a lot of fun together, have things in common and can relate. While the boys love their parents, they love having me come over and the parents leave, so the house is filled with strictly “autistic thinkers”. To clarify, the boys enjoy spending time with their parents, and they enjoy spending time with me, but would prefer not to spend time both their parents and myself at the same time, as it’s like two different worlds for them. I totally can totally relate and very much respect them.
Some people might think that the parents have to face twice the challenge of raising not one but TWO sons on the Autism Spectrum and no neurotypical kids. But they are perfectly happy the way it is, as it’s so much easier when both sons have somewhat similar interests that overlap, as opposed to having one autistic kid and one neurotypical kid.
For example, the neurotypical kid may feel neglected that his or her autistic sibling is getting more attention from the parents or that the parents are being easier on their autistic kid than their neurotypical kid.
On the other hand, the autistic sibling may be jealous for the fact this his or her sibling is making friends so much more easily, or that the autistic individual is always seeing his or her neurotypical sibling spending time with friends when he or she doesn’t have even one school friend his or her own age. That can be hard for both worlds.
But with these two boys, that’s not the case as, although they are different from one another just like two neurotypical siblings, they are both on a very similar level. It’s easier for the family to plan outings, trips, etc. that both boys can enjoy, as opposed to only pleasing one at a time.
I really think that our relationship helps build their self-esteem and motivates them much better than when I was their age. As an adult, I still have to face a countless number of repetitive struggles and challenges I’m required to work through in order to get by in my life. But I have hope that these boys will never have to face any of the challenges of my present life, and that their adult lives will be a lot simpler and easier for them to enjoy. I have hope that once they enter the work world, all of their management, coworkers and everyone they have to see on their jobs will completely understand them and try their best to be as supportive as possible.
I feel that since I took the time and training, over the years, to learn the “neurotypical” person’s ways of doing things, I feel it’s time for the neurotypical people to learn about “autistic thinking” and look the individuals strengths.
I am very proud of my relationship with these two boys, it has made a very positive impact on my life and filled a huge void during some of my more challenging times.
About the Author
Ira is a 28 year old man, diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. He has lived independently and worked the same job in Evanston for the last eight years. Ira has become an advocate for individuals on the autism spectrum through volunteer work for local social services agencies, including JJ’s List, and even a bit of his own evangelism. He was recipient of a Distinguished Alumuni Award from National Louis University where he participated in the P.A.C.E. (Professional Assistance Center for Education) program designed to help individuals with special needs obtain the life skills needed to to become responsible employees. Ira is often asked to speak to classes and at conferences for educators interested in learning more about autism and Asperger’s.
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Thank you for sharing your inspiring story, Ira.
What suggestions do you have for a neurotypical people to learn about “autistic thinking” and look the individuals strengths?
I have found Temple Grandin’s website to be quite helpful: http://templegrandin.com/
And the movie about her, starring Claire Danes, is an excellent introduction for people new to “autistic thinking”.
This piece is full of wisdom, insight, empathy, and good advice for individuals living with an autism spectrum diagnosis, for parents/caregivers, for employers/co-workers, and for any person who strives to understand and treat people with respect.
We are always asking people who are “differently abled” to follow the “rules” of neuro-typicals. But it is easy to forget how much effort that takes, and that we all have a responsibility to try to meet people half-way, accommodating them sometimes, as they accommodate us. It is important to try to understand that they may need to do some things differently — at least some of the time.
Thanks, Ira, for showing us what advocacy looks like, and for being such a great role model for others like you who are trying to find their place in the world, and helping others do the same!
Ira – This is a terrific post! I admire the way you turn what some people would view as a disadvantage into a strength and a vehicle for helping others. And, of course, I also admire the more “ordinary” work you have done for me these past few months.
I’m so proud of you Ira!
Ira’s HS teacher
Dear Ira-Thank you for continuing to share your life with us. I am so proud to know you and you have grown so much over the years. What a wonderful thing you are doing for these boys and for yourself:)
Oh Ira, while I was commenting on a recent blog post and moved to looking over previous posts I stumbled upon this and had to read it. As you remember I met you long ago while we attended a portion of grade school together. Events caused us to separate only to be reunited when you needed a tour of the Pace Program and I ironically ended up being your tour guide. I must say I love your quote about a room only consisting of “autistic thinkers” and both through my personal experience and as a current Professional Educator in the local Public School System I completely agree that Society should become better educated on “autistic thinking”. I also want to let you know that just from reading this blog I see so much displaying how far you have progressed and how far you have come, just by the articulacy and fluency alone in how you stated things. I tell you due to busy work schedules and advocacy events by both of us, we truly have not had nearly enough hangout time. Please set aside some time and contact me, I would truly appreciate it. I am extraordinarily proud of what you have accomplished and the work you continue to engage in as well as the standards you continue to strive for ! I can’t believe I am saying it now “What happened to those two boys that attended that school together in Chicago?” Look what time has done,,,,,,I am just a bit upset that I found this almost 6 months after it was written. Oh well as we used to say “It’s not a race” “Better late than never” 🙂
I was so excited to find this. Thank you, Ira , for writing this. Please could someone contact me about the PACE program? Or leave a comment here? I’d like to know how it felt to be a part of it, any and all perspectives – a student, parent, teacher, Eric.
We’re glad you like Ira’s post. Please contact me via email at email@example.com so I can respond to you personally.
Thank you so much for sharing this with me. You are not only a beautiful, talented writer but also a wonderful community builder and volunteer. I will pass this on to those that could benefit from your words.
Those young men you are mentoring are so very fortunate to have you in there lives, hopefully they will not go through some of life’s experiences you went through that were not so positive.