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My Life with Autism

by Meaghan Amarillas, Student at CLE Monterey

Meggie at CLE MontereyMy life with autism has been an interesting and challenging life, but I never imagined that I would be advocating for people and kids in the autism community.

It first started when I was in 8th grade. I was not properly diagnosed until I was 14 years old, and I felt like I needed to tell my classmates about why I acted and learned differently than they did. So I wrote a letter explaining my autism and I decided to read it out loud in front of my class, along with my teacher and school principal. When I first went up, I was a little nervous because I don’t always like talking in front of people, but I got over it fast. All I needed to do was read from my letter, and I did. When I was done, I got an applause. That was my first time telling my personal story of autism, and I thought as I got into high school, I could tell more about the autism community.

It was my junior year of high school, and I needed to find something to do for my senior community service project. About halfway through my junior year, I made the decision to go back to my middle school, and teach the 8th grade class about autism and other learning disabilities that many children have.

During the first half of my senior year, I went to teach the class on six different Fridays. I managed to do a whole lesson on autism, which the students really got into. I showed them how to see the world as a student with autism.

Meggie at CLE MontereyWhen I started college, I took a break from advocating for the autism community. My mom, who works at the University of San Francisco as a professor to help teachers become better teachers, asked me to talk to her students and to answer questions on how to work better with a child or young teenager with autism, and how to accommodate to their needs.

Because I did such a great job at the university, I got asked by one of the teachers who was a student in the class to talk to the staff and faculty at her school about my autism and how it works, along with different techniques that helped me have a successful educational career. The teachers, along with the principal, found it really helpful and informative.

I got to go back to USF to talk to a new class of teachers who my mom was instructing, and talked about how to work with students on the autism spectrum, and answering any questions that teachers had.

When I moved down to Monterey to go to CLE, they discovered how good I was talking about CLE and its supports, along with me talking to different people about my autism and talking about different types of autism. They were happy to see a student who was so good at talking about the challenges of having autism. One place I talked about how CLE works was at the Autism Speaks Walk, right in my hometown in the Bay Area.

Meggie at CLE MontereyIn the fall of 2013, I got a call from my mom asking me to come home for a weekend for a special meeting for the school diocese. The superintendent of the diocese was an old principal of mine. I gave a small speech to the principals, teachers, and special education teachers about being a college student with autism, and showed them that it can happen for any student with autism.

Just this past January, I got to join two other students from CLE for a student panel to talk to educators, parents, students with autism, and other program directors about my experiences at CLE, and how its services have helped me become a strong, independent young woman. It included talking about how I graduated from community college and got my AA degree in Social Science with honors, and how I transferred into California State University at Monterey Bay. I also talked about how I learned to use the bus, clean and live in an apartment with a roommate, cook on my own, manage a budget, and how the tutoring helped me become a better student, organizing and doing the work on my own.

Newsletter Articles – April 2016

Denise and Chris Cameron

Frequently I find myself reflecting on Autism and how it has formed me into the person I am today. I didn’t choose to walk this journey; but I was indeed selected to raise this beautiful boy of mine. I can see the transformations in myself that are all positive changes.

Each transition of Chris’s life always produced an enormous amount of stress for me. At times, that’s all that would occupy my mind. I often would get very attached to his teachers, to the extent that I would be fearful for him to move on to the next grade level. I never thought the new teacher would understand him or care for him. Always to my amazement, they seemed to be even more exceptional.

Paula Moraine, M.Ed.

CLE recently had an opportunity to sit down with Paula Moraine, M.Ed. Paula is an educational consultant, as well as a tutor, coach, mentor and author. Her first book, Helping Students Take Control of Everyday Executive Function, was recently followed by her new book, Autism and Everyday Executive Function.

Social skills training at CLE Austin

The common features among individuals with autism-spectrum disorders (ASD) are deficits in communication skills, behavior, and social functioning. With instruction and intervention, many individuals with ASD are able to overcome their barriers in communication and behavior. However, social challenges are often harder to overcome because individuals “on the spectrum” tend to stay behind the curve. As they get older, the skills seeming to be “second nature” to neurotypical peers become more complex, vague, or abstract. In preschool, it is socially appropriate for kids to engage in parallel play and this may be the extent of friendships at that age. Parallel play is a relatively uncomplicated activity. In college, interactions with others become as complicated as dating or managing multiple layers of friendships. Try to break this down into teachable steps; it is not easy. Many experts agree that the core deficit in ASD is in Theory of Mind, or the ability to view the world through the eyes of others. Many social interventions are geared toward teaching this skill, often innate in others, by helping students “read” the verbal and visual cues in others.

Nico at CLE Fort Lauderdale

There’s a common assumption that people with autism are considered introverts, meaning that they aren’t very socially active. I, however, am somewhat of a unicorn, meaning a rare example. I am a highly extroversive young man despite my autism. I am most at ease when I am surrounded by other people who care about me, and vice versa. Unfortunately, this preference has caused more than enough problems for me. It has been brought to my attention that when it comes to making friends, I tend to appear somewhat desperate when I approach people. This usually results in me pushing them away, rather than bringing them closer. As for those who stick around, I realize that some are most likely just being polite and don’t want to hurt my feelings.

The Reason I Jump

Here at the College Living Experience Denver, we have ample experience interacting with students on the autistic spectrum who regularly display non-traditional social behaviors. However, understanding the reasons behind these actions has always been a conundrum.

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This has been a special needs program update from College Living Experience | CLE | Choose Your Future. You may also click here to read the original article on the main program website.