April is National Autism Awareness Month! Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) now affects one in every 68 children in the US, and activities this month promote autism awareness, inclusion and self-determination for all. This week we welcome Daniel Harper, an “alum” of Kid’s Creek – now an adult and a college student! Daniel has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism and we invited him to write about his childhood growing up with ASD – on Thursday you’ll hear from Daniel’s parents.
My name is Daniel Harper, and I grew up with the relative burden of Asperger’s Syndrome. This issue has affected and continues to affect me throughout my life. Currently, I am able to say that my condition does not malignantly affect me as potently as it used to, though to neglect the past would be dishonest and foolish. The path to the state in which I now reside has been anything but simple and easy, but every single step along the way has yielded useful and practical wisdom for the betterment of my life as an individual living on the Autism Spectrum. I have multiple people and influences for whom to be thankful due to the unprecedented significance of their impacts on my life as an individual with Autism, even if my variant is significantly lighter than what most would be willing to directly classify as ASD.
My earliest memories of Autism making a significant impact on my life can be derived from my earliest experiences in elementary school. Education has always presented me with difficulties, even as recently as my previous semester in college, though the challenges I’ve had to overcome were far more significant in the first few years surrounding my initial diagnosis. Some of these challenges have produced little more than amusing stories, such as the time I claimed my friends were cheating at playing with dinosaur toys by failing to comply strictly with self-imposed chronological regulations for the game. Other challenges, such as functioning without stress and difficulty in a classroom setting, took more effort to correct and resolve than a simple talk.
In many ways, my greatest difficulty would have to have been writing, as ironic as that may seem when compared to present circumstances. Other difficulties presented themselves as well, such as my challenge to understand social norms and accept that I am far from the best in every way. Each of these challenges has affected me more potently at different stages of my life, and the impact of changing my perspective on these issues through the use of education both through professional teachers and those who don’t receive a dime for their work in this particular department.
The different challenges I’ve faced throughout my life have been more than enough to mold me in different ways, and had to be approached in just as many. One apt example of this sentiment displays itself in my quest to understand how best to communicate the ideas that flowed around in my mind, all of which seemed impossible to translate into written word. Progress was slow in correcting this misfortune, though I was more than capable of writing with ease through the assistance of therapy and a miniature digital typewriter. My development into a writer was slow following this as I made a point of writing stories meant to make people laugh, however unsuccessfully, though this trend ended when I made a point to shift my focus toward writing to entertain and amaze. This trend was ultimately defeated in my inspiration to start writing fantasy epics. That being said, this was hardly my most significant challenge.
Beyond writing, understanding social norms was a particularly significant challenge for me to overcome, especially since it was not so easily done through therapy alone. Many of my challenges were overcome through trial and error in interaction with other people. Many of these trials came when I would attend my best friend’s improv shows at his public high school, as interactions on large scales with groups of people were rare in my private school. Many others came when interacting with my fellow members of my youth group, though my interactions still left me feeling like an outsider to a degree. Even this, however, was not my greatest challenge as far as my struggle with Autism goes.
Without even the slightest semblance of doubt, there is no greater challenge that I have faced than coming to terms with the obvious yet weighty fact that my ability is not superior to those of my peers. I struggled with this significantly as a child, especially against my fellow classmates, I would attempt to and hope to be at the top of the food chain in every way, whether it was intelligence, strength, or other means. Unfortunately, this was not always the case, and realizing that I am far from the greatest at everything has been a struggle for me even to this day. I want nothing more than to be proficient at many things, though I often run the risk of sacrificing myself to an ideal I cannot achieve in its entirety. The ultimate lesson that I am not as powerful as I thought I was has been a sobering and challenging concept to accept, but I am learning about myself daily and improving myself in every way I can.
Overall, my journey through understanding myself and my struggle with Autism has been both challenging and yet rewarding in ways unlike what I’ve been able to predict. I never thought for even a minute as a young man that I would not only be capable of understanding the world around me so intimately, but also of working to better it in a way more potent and influential than most. With any luck, I’ll be able to use my talents and abilities to serve myself as a writer, a lawyer, and a scholar. Thanks to the help I have received along my way, from my teachers, to my friends, to my family, I foresee a future bright as the sun.