Matt's Autism - In His Own Words
From Original Blog May, 2010:
The following was written by my son Matt. I came across this school project and after reading it (again) I thought, “Wow – this is Matt in his own words”. I thought I would share this with you as it may shed some light on the nature of autism. These are also things Matt will not discuss verbally unless prompted.
Matt is almost 26 years old and moderately to severely autistic. His major handicaps are in the areas of communication and social interaction. The descriptions of the pages are mine, but the words are Matt’s words. The emotion underlying the words is palpable. His written words tell more about how he felt about himself and the world around him, about his faults and his dreams, then if he were ask to describe himself verbally. Writing it seems is a safer outlet than spoken language.
My editing is minimal. I left in the misspellings and put all the commas and dashes in just as he had them on paper. The comments in parentheses are mine. Matt wrote this In May of 2001 as part of a school project.
Cover page decscription: full of drawings of the things he liked most that year; the Titanic, Trains (of course), the Sears Tower (tallest building), the atomic bomb explosion (history) and Johnny Bravo (a cartoon character).
The table of contents lists the categories he had to cover;
1. a photograph of himself – which was a picture of him and me at the river
2. vital data
3. My people
4. My heritage
5. Who am I?
6. What I do
7. Favorite things
9. Steps to change
Date of birth: I was born Jan 14, 1986. Age: My age is 15.
General Description of Myself: Height: 5 foot 9 inches tall, weight: 160 pounds, hair – short + brown, eyes – bule, nice, gentle, - man, I’m pretty. Little feet, little muscles but very smart.
The people that are important to me are my brothers, Chris + Jacob, and my sister, Sarah. My Mama and Papa are also important. My Ms. Austin is special and my best friend Kevin. Chris is graduating. Jacob loves magic cards. Kevin is in my class! Ms. Austin is sweet! Sarah will be driving! My daddy is nuts! My Mama is crazy! (these last 2 were meant to be funny – but hmmm, it could be true . . .)
Description: I helped Matt draw a family tree with all the members from both sides of our Brady-Bunch type marriage.
Who am I? (Matt was suppose to describe how he saw his personality)
Matthew is an 8th grader. I don’t like homework, But I like high school and my friends. I am autistic. I see and do things different than other people. I work slower than most people. I like to draw anything. Drawing helps me remember facts. I can’t look at people because I feel uncomfortable. I don’t make friends easy. Don’t like change + food texturies bother me. Mama takes care of me at home, Ms. Austin helps me out at school.
What I do (Areas where Matt feels good about who he is)
I like to play sports like golf and soccer. I was at Special Olympics for 5 years. I won 13 blue ribbons. I did 3 science projects and won 2 grand prize, and 1 red ribbon. I like Titanic movie and work on a model the ship. I best thing is drawing. I like to draw carton characters. My favorite place is the Field Museum of Natural History because I like dinosaurs especially T-rex, Brachiosaurus.
My Favorite Things
Music – I like to sing with my favorite songs.
Motherless Child – by Eric Clapton
I Don’t Want Miss a Thing – by Aerosmith
Touch of Grey – Grateful Dead
I’m Eighteen – Creed
T.V. – these shows make me laugh
Three Stooges – I like Curly the best, he’s funny + makes funny noises
Cartoon Cartoon Fridays – Ed, Edd, n’ Eddie, Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Lab, Cow and Chicken, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Mike, Lu and Og and I am Weasel
Movies – I like comedies because they make me laugh
Jackie Chan’s Who Am I?, Wayne’s World, Blues Brothers 2000, + Mousehunt.
Sports: I like to watch all kinds of sports. I want my teams to win.
Baseball, Basketball, Golf, Hockey, Soccer, Bowling, and Tennis
Hobbies: I like these things because they make me feel good. Things I like to do -
Drawing, playing games, listen to the music, ride mt scooter, watching TV, eat at McDonald’s
Changing ( Matt was to describe how he would like to change within 5 years)
I would like to graduate with good grades and lots of friends. My goal is to go to Radford University. I need to work on homework and big labs. I want to college by myself. I want to learn to drive and be a man. I want to be an artist after my finish college. I want to be a cartoonist. I need a good job to make money to support myself + so my mom won’t worry about me.
Steps for Change
I need to feel comfortable with people so I can study at Radford University. I need to talk to people + make new friends. I need to more active in school + community. I need to slow down + make eye contact. I need to learn to talk to people.
Tomorrow. ( 20 years later and Matt is to write a letter to describe what his life is like)
I graduated from high school with you. I’ll so graduate Radford University. I got my degree in Art + Science. I have a new art studio in Wytheville. I like drawing cartoons all day and getting pay. I sell my art in Chicago. I like to travel by car. It’s a pretty trip my family in Rockford, Ill. I’m doing so well and business. I plan to make my studio bigger. If you need help let me know. You’re my best friend. Matt
Well, that’s it. Let's take inventory . . .
If you read between the lines (as I do) then you can see a self awareness emerging in Matt. He was grappling with some very tough emotions. He wanted so much to be like others his age. Matt was only 15 years old. He felt different and alone. He had dreams and set goals. As I read his words my heart ached all over again. Oh, if I could have only made it just a bit easier for him . . .
Matt has had had some very successful outcomes from his lists - he did make good grades and graduated with a 3.8 GPA, as an Honor Student. Matt made friends - a very tough thing for him. People who know Matt love and care about him - he really is "nice and gentle" as he states. Matt's eye contact is much better (once he gets to knows you), he's still picky about food textures, but handles change extremely well (we consider changes in routine as adventures). Although Matt lives at home, he takes care of himself - everything from fixing his own meals to doing his own laundry. He tells Tom (my husband) and I that we are his best friends. I am his intrepreter for both other people trying to decode his actions and for for Matt to understand others.
He still loves cartoons, comedies and drawing. He took a photography class at the college a few years ago but his test anxiety was so bad that he has since shyed away from full-time study. We're working on it (FYI - even with test anxiety Matt received an "A" in the class and he has changed his favorite college from Radford to Virginia Tech).
Matt no longer wants to have a job where he would have to work with others as he is highly susceptible to comments and other people's drama. It would be a very difficult and risky move as one bad day on a job could cause him to regress years. Matt is still emotionally fragile (a fact that is difficult for many people to understand and the one autistic trait that keeps him on the severe end of the autism spectrum).
These words, Matt’s words, were written almost 11 years ago when Matt was still a child in transition to adulthood. His self awareness in these words is obvious - so is his frustration. Since the writing of this essay some things have changed and some have remained static. Learning, whether it is at school or at home, whether he is learning to drive a car, doing his own laundry or even perfecting a new art form, takes time - lots and lots of time. In raising an autistic child one must learn to be very patient and to be very open to changing goals. One must remember that goals are arrived at by small steps. I am fortunate enough to be able to look back and see the tremendous progress he has made over the years and this is why I know that the goals he has made for himself can be reached (if given enough time) - it's called hope.
We continue to work on making his dreams a reality, but as I said, we move slow in the world of autism. The way I see it, if Matt can show so much trust in me, and display such courage and determination every day - without complaint - then what is so hard about my retaining hope and perfecting the art of patience?