Life With Autism - by Michael Weinstein
Life With Autism
By Michael Weinstein
I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 years and 2 months, not PDD, but full-blown autism – “low-functioning” since I could not speak. This diagnosis was followed by the accepted “treatment” of autism for many years, along with years of speech therapy and occupational therapy. None of it worked. I spent kindergarten through the 6th grade trapped in an all-autistic classroom with 4 or 5 other boys. We were kept away from the rest of the students in both primary and middle school for the most part. Sometimes, a mean “normal” boy at school would call me names like “retard” and shove me down on the ground or hit me. The school officials tested me and said I had an IQ of less than 70 and would never get a high school diploma, so I spent a lot of time learning how to wipe off cafeteria tables, sort utensils, and make little arts and crafts projects. Although I understood everything that was said to me, I could not indicate in any way, verbally or non-verbally, that I understood them. My parents worried constantly about what would happen to me after they died.
Finally, at the age of 11, I started to communicate non-verbally. When it became obvious that my IQ was not less than 70, we moved to Austin, Texas because there was a middle school there that allowed non-verbal autistic students who communicated via non-verbal means to be in regular classes. I entered that middle school in the 7th grade and was placed in two regular classes, science and history. When the school officials saw that I was capable of doing the work in those two classes, I became responsible for my grades in science and history. I had homework for the first time. I took tests for the first time. Unlike the students in my previous schools, the other students at my new middle school treated me like a regular person. I had friends for the first time in my life, some autistic, some “normal”.
That was when I realized several things. I was not retarded at all, but I was very handicapped by my lack of ability to speak. People assume that if you cannot speak, then you must be retarded. Most people who are trained in special education know nothing about autism, although they think they are the autism experts. If you cannot speak, you have to fight for everything you want to do academically. Sometimes you win that fight, but sometimes you lose.
I worked hard in the 7th grade to catch up in math, then took the credit by exam test to place out of 8th grade math so I could take Algebra I in the 8th grade. Reading was never a problem. My best friend’s sister talked me into getting tested for QUEST, the Texas gifted and talented program. I qualified on the talented part but hit the ceiling on the gifted part. Further testing a couple of years later showed I had an IQ of 192. The school principal said that I was a genius trapped inside a totally uncooperative body. That was a perfect description of my autism. She also said that my parents and I should give serious consideration to my taking the GED then, totally skipping high school, and going directly to college. My parents decided that it would be better for me to go to high school. I disagreed with their decision at the time, but now that I am finally learning how to speak, I am glad that I will be able to go to college as a verbal person. I just finished the 10th grade, taking all “normal” classes except for Honors Chemistry and Honors Algebra II, and made all A’s in everything, including Latin. Next school year, I will be taking nothing but Honors/AP classes except for Latin (Latin has no Honors/AP class).
My mother thought we could try using a software program designed to teach reading by using phonics as a way for me to learn to speak. That is what we are working on this summer, and it is actually working. I am slowly learning how to speak. I have no doubt that when we finish the entire program, I will be able to speak well enough to be understood by everyone. I plan to get my high school diploma and then go to Texas A&M and major in pure math. After graduating from Texas A&M, I will get a PhD in mathematics and hopefully become a math professor. I want to go to Texas A&M because they have the Corps of Cadets. Some of the different Corps are non-ROTC Corps – perfect for me and others who are “4F”.
This is my message for the world: Most people with autism, including those labeled as “low-functioning” because they cannot speak, are not retarded at all. That means that most non-verbal people with autism understand everything that is said to or about them. Most people who are trained in special education know very little about autism, although they think they know everything about it. If we had stayed in our old state, I would have been two years away from earning an “Attendance Certificate”, not a high school diploma, and “looking forward” to years working in some menial job and living in a group home. I am so happy that my parents did not give up on me and took a chance that a school in Texas might be the place for me. It was perfect. I have friends. I take all regular classes, except for Honors and AP classes. I will earn a real high school diploma, and I will go to college. I will succeed in learning how to speak. I now have a future. I now have a life worth living.
Michael (Mike) Weinstein is a 16-year-old student who was diagnosed with “low-functioning” autism at 26 months of age. When Mike was 11 years old, he began communicating by pointing to letters to spell words. He and his family moved to Austin, Texas. There Mike maintained excellent grades while mainstreamed and won 1st place in chemistry at the Austin Regional Science Fair and 4th place in the Texas State Science Fair. Mike now types to communicate and is making excellent progress in speaking. He is in the 11th grade at iCademy, where he takes mostly Honors and AP classes. He continues to maintain a straight-A average in high school. After graduation, Mike plans to attend Texas A&M and major in pure math. His goal is to earn a PhD in mathematics, do research in mathematics, and become a math professor.
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