I am now on my way home to California after a wonderful experience speaking at Louisiana College. It was a truly memorable experience and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone who was at the conference. On the flight from Louisiana to Los Angeles, I looked out the window and saw the vast Arizona desert . I took a picture. Flying over the desert, I couldn't help but think about how early pioneers crossed this country in covered wagons. In a way, I feel my path to success which I spoke about at this talk has been like one of those long and challenging explorations through uncharted territories. At the time there were no paved roads for us to follow and my family had no idea of what success would look like for me.
When I started preschool, the teacher told my mom that I should be pulled out because she thought I would never be able to accomplish anything meaningful in life. She was just one of many naysayers in my life who told my family and I to just give up trying because I was a hopeless case. I am sure that many of the pioneers who embarked on these missions through uncharted territories were told that they would never make it and that they should not even attempt such a challenging expedition. But these brave adventurers did not allow the skeptics to dissuade them from making the quest. In the same way, my family and I never allowed the naysayers to discourage us from pursuing success. When we embarked on this long path we had no idea where it would lead us or what challenges we would face. We just knew that we had to try.
When I was starting school, not much was known about autism. There was no autism spectrum back then. The definition of Autism was still very narrow. As I had said in my biography, I did not receive my diagnosis of High Functioning Autism until I was 12 years old. Early elementary school was very much a journey through a vast unknown wilderness. Along the way I faced many challenges and sometimes seemingly insurmountable setbacks. I mentioned in my talk about how when I was 12 years old a school psychologist recommended placement in a certificate program for high school meaning that I would not receive a diploma or be qualified to go to college. Around that time, the pediatric neurologist gave up on my case telling us that she had tried all the medicines and therapies that she knew without success. To make things worse that summer, I was kicked out of a summer day camp because the head of the camp did not understand my disability. But even in those dark times where everything looked hopeless, we did not give up. Rather, we kept moving forward one step at a time just like the pioneers did.
Our persistence during those tough times led us to new beginnings and even better things. After all those resources failed, we found new resources which led us to a big turning point in my life. It was around this point that I met Dr. Lynn Koegel at the Koegel Autism Center who gave me my diagnosis of Autism. The Koegels made a huge difference in my life and their therapies made it possible for me to keep going forward. I went from a small self contained classroom in elementary in high school to college prep classes in high school and then on to UCSB for college. Similar to my family's persistence, the pioneers did not give up when times got bad. If they did suffer a major obstacle such as someone on in their group dying, they just kept trekking forward toward the Pacific Coast. In my intro speech at the presentation to Louisiana College, I pointed out how having success takes hard work, determination and time. That was the case for the pioneers back then and I enjoy thinking about these comparisons today.
For those who are on the spectrum including parents, friends and professionals, I want to emphasize that the long pathway to success is not going to be easy. Even achievement brings its own set of challenges. Success on the Autism Spectrum is a long and challenging journey with many ups and downs. Like anything else in life, though, if you keep working at it, the rewards will be well worth it in the end. So NEVER give up and DO NOT allow anyone to tell you that you will never be successful. Like those poineers, you have to believe in yourself. I BELIEVE IN YOU!