Autism Is My Superpower
It does not matter what sixty-six percent of people do in any particular situation.
All that matters is what you do.
John Elder Robison, Look Me in the Eye
My parents were concerned because my speech was not as advanced as other children
at age two and a half and I did strange things like lining up all my toys in rows
throughout the house, spinning around in circles, and throwing tantrums. In addition,
my motors skills such as running and hand strength were delayed. I also had a lot
of trouble with balance.
My neurologist recognized the signs immediately and informed my parents that I was
autistic. My parents asked what my long-term outlook might be and they were told
that I would most likely never be independent. They were told that because of my
lack of motor skills I probably would never be able to ride a bike, motorcycle, or
drive an automobile. This news made my parents very sad as they had lost my older
brother in childbirth two years earlier.
My parents immediately enrolled me in speech and occupational therapy classes. I
don’t remember much about it, but they said I went to classes five days a week for
four years. Early on my parents believed that if they could get me enough training
that somehow I would
outgrow or no longer be autistic. As I went to classes later I noticed that almost
all of the parents believed the same thing. It wasn’t just about helping their children
fit into society. It was also about trying to hide the autism from the world. A lot
of the kids sometimes felt like Rudolph in the movie
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
when his dad tried to hide his red nose.
While my autism caused me to develop slower than other children in some areas it
also gave me some abilities that others didn’t have. I learned my alphabet at age
one and I could read at a fourth grade level by eighteen months. In preschool the
teacher always read a story before naptime to the class, but was so amazed at how
well I could read that I took over and was the official storyteller for my preschool.
It was easy for me to read the words on the page fluently, but I had difficulty having
a simple conversation.
My dad had been a star athlete in high school and college, but because of my delayed
motor skills I was not able to play organized sports early on. I really wanted to
follow in his footsteps because he enjoyed football so much, but it just wasn’t possible.
Instead I joined the Cub Scouts. It was so much fun, and at each meeting I learned
a new life skill, from cooking to tying knots to hiking. It was also the first time
that I spent a lot of time with neurotypical children. This was important because
I would copy how the other scouts acted and that’s how I learned to interact and
take part in organized events. All of the physical activity improved my motor skills
I earned the Arrow of Light Award and the Cub Scout Super Achiever Award because
I had earned every pin that the Cub Scouts offered.
Since I had such a wonderful time in Cub Scouts I bridged over to Boy Scouts. It
was not an easy transition as Boy Scouts are “boy run.” This means that I was no
longer taking classes from patient adults, but being given orders from older scouts
who were in high school. It was difficult because I could not process what they wanted
me to do as quickly as regular developing children. I was sometimes overlooked for
leadership positions and not given a chance. I did come home very upset sometimes,
but I always remember my father saying, “If
it’s easy everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.” He always knew
what to say to motivate me. I doubled my efforts and slowly I was able to do the
jobs that were needed and in turn I was given positions of responsibility.
I believe that scouting is very good for autistic children because they learn hands-on
life skills through merit badges. An Eagle Scout must have twelve Eagle required
badges and twenty-one total merit badges to even be considered. The Eagle requirements
are very difficult. Everything from First Aid, Citizenship, Accounting, Family Planning,
and Physical Fitness are learned along the Eagle Trail. I currently have all of the
Eagle required badges and a total of forty-five merit badges. I enjoy learning new
things from the experts in the field who teach the merit badges. My favorite was
the Aviation merit badge. We went to an actual flight school and learned all about
navigation, instruments, weather conditions, and the different planes. We then got
to ride in a small plane and I even got to fly it for a little bit. It was amazing!
When I was thinking about an Eagle Scout project there were so many options to consider.
The churches all needed help with their facilities, and all of the fraternal organizations
like the Elk, Moose, and Veterans clubs had things I could have helped with, but
none of the options seemed quite right.
Then a little over a year ago I came down with a terrible fever and my mother took
me to the emergency room. The EMT who was there took my information and when they
were told I was autistic the doctor asked him to stay in case they needed to hold
me down while I got shots. I guess the doctor had experience with other children
on the spectrum. I calmly allowed them to give me the shots and the EMT and doctor
were both shocked when I didn’t put up a fight.
The EMT stayed with me and asked a lot of questions about being autistic. Then he
followed us out into the parking lot and explained why he was asking all the questions.
It seemed that his nephew had just been diagnosed with autism and he and his sister
were very upset. With a tear in his eye he told us that I was such a well-mannered
young man and in control of my surroundings, which gave him hope for his nephew’s
future. He said that I inspired him and he was so
happy that he met me.
As I thought about what he had said it came to me that maybe I could help other parents.
I could make them understand that autism is not something to be ashamed of and that
if their child is on the mid to higher end of the spectrum anything is possible.
I want parents to embrace their children for who they are and not carry the guilt
that they did something wrong. According to the CDC, one in forty-two boys in the
USA is somewhere on the autism spectrum. If I could inspire new parents who are so
devastated by the news then maybe I could make the world a better place.
Currently, I am a high school sophomore and enjoy playing the piano and the trumpet
in our marching band and jazz band. I’m also in ROTC and was honored by being inducted
into the Kitty Hawk Honor Society for members with good grades. I take advanced classes
and I am on track to graduate with honors. I currently have a 3.75 GPA. I threw shot
put and discus for my school’s track team and also ran the 100-meter dash. I will
be attending a university upon graduation. I am hoping to get accepted into the Wharton
Business School at Penn, or another Ivy League school, but if not then possibly Baldwin
Wallace University in Berea, Ohio. After graduation I would like to own my own business,
possibly in computers.
How would I define my autism? I was never considered an “Aspie” because of my diagnosis.
I use the word “autistic” because it is a word most people understand, but in the
end it is just a word. To be honest my answer may sound strange, but I am not defined
by my autism. I am Michael Whary. I cannot be defined by any set “definition.” What
I have learned is that no matter who you are or what disabilities you have to overcome
in this life if you want something badly enough anything is possible! God gave everyone
a special gift, a “superpower” if you will. Autism is mine. It has taught me to overcome
my physical, mental, and social difficulties.
Every year we celebrate my birthday with a cake and candles as most people do. When
I blow out the candles and make a wish it’s always the same, “I wish that all of
the suffering in the world would end and in so doing there would be peace on Earth.”
I thank the powers that be for giving me this life. I thank my parents for their
guidance, patience, love, and understanding. And I wish nothing but good things for
others on the autism spectrum.
Autism Is My Superpower