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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