This is Ash's story, brave and soft soul, who contacted me some time ago on Commaful with a special request: spreading awareness about disabilities, such as autism, and the mistreatment autistic people have to go through daily.

We’ve kept in touch almost daily in this period: to shed a light on this topic, Ash accepted to share his story here on We Heart It through this article and we also came up with a poem idea to post on Commaful (I’ll leave a link to the poem, “I Once Had A Friend...”, at the end of the article: please, feel free to check it out. It would mean the most to both of us.)

THE INTERVIEW

"Can you give us a brief introduction of yourself?”
“My name is Ash, I'm a boy, and I live in Georgia, USA. I'm 14, about to be 15, and I've got two siblings.”
"How did it all start? How did you get to know you were autistic?"
"The symptoms showed very early on, but we were so broke that my parents didn’t even consider it. I learned about my autism in 8th grade, and learned that I wasn’t a lazy kid who wasn’t good at remembering important things yet could get into the good classes with ease. Rather, I was just a kid with autism and a special interest in learning."
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"How did you and the people most close to you react to it?"
"My parents were devastated, but I actually learned that there wasn’t something wrong about my brain or about me as a human being: it’s just that I think differently.
I don’t show a lot of emotion except for when I smile to avoid getting anyone around me worried about how I’m doing. Maybe that’s the reason why many people can’t understand that I, too, have been hurt and that it has never been easy for me."
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"As regards my family, they treat me like they would treat anybody else, whether autistic or not, and expect the same amount of effort from me that you’d expect from any normal person, but autism makes everything twice as hard.
I want them to ease up on me since I already work all the time on trying to get good grades, but I’m too afraid to tell them."
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"Have you ever been treated poorly just because of your disability?"
"Yes, I have. By 2nd grade, I had already started being verbally and physically abused because of my autism, even though I knew nothing about it yet. In 4th grade, all that even led me to stuttering. Also, I was always excluded from any activity I wanted to join in.
Every time I did, I always ended up regretting all my attempts to stand up for myself against my bullies because they would never stop and rather, would always continue to take it out on me, even more than they did before.
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Though this is the first year I haven’t been put through any of the sort anymore, everything I had to go through because of my bullies in the past years still pops into my memories from time to time. I can say that now, I’m finally able to heal, but I do have PTSD from all of it, which kinda sucks because I was destined to have it anyways.
Besides, the bullying gave me social anxiety disorder, and so now I can’t really talk to a lot of people without getting nervous and not knowing how to deal with the situation."
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"What’s something you’d like people to understand about autism that still hasn’t been understood by people, but that you think is fundamental to know about?"
"People mistreat who they don’t understand, and that’s why I’ve had such a hard time. I had to grow up at 6 years old, also learning how to take care of the whole house, and of a newborn baby.
I think the biggest thing people should know about is stimming, meltdowns, and shutdowns.
Every autistic person has at least one stim to help calm ourselves, but we can’t control the stimming itself. It could be anything: dancing, playing with something, making noises, putting something in our mouth, or closing and opening our eyes a certain way.
We all come with something called sensory processing disorder, which makes it harder for us to take in our surroundings. It’s like trying to flood a computer with too much code at once.
It becomes slow, lags, or even stops working completely. To offset this, our body makes us do stims, which switch our focus onto something else, creating less info to take in. People think we’re stupid and unaware, when we’re really just trying to keep functioning.
If we’re held back from stimming, the stimming doesn’t work, or there’s too much sensory information to offput, we go into a meltdown or a shutdown phase.
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A meltdown isn’t a tantrum because we can’t help it, and it’s scary for us to have to go through that. We lose control of our actions and our body just lets out all of the pent up frustration, fear and sadness we’ve been carrying around, then strips us of all our energy.
It’s like having a panic attack you can’t stop no matter what you do and then get tired for 2-3 days.
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A shutdown means that you completely stop working, as if someone just shut off a switch.
We experience shutdowns when we feel a meltdown coming on, but hold it back even if it means physical and emotional pain, then we can’t focus on anything or anyone. We space out, don’t hear you, get stuck in our heads, stop feeling things...
It’s like our body gets too tired to do anything, but inside, you’re just panicking."
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"What are some common misconceptions people still have about autism?"
"People with autism don’t need to be told to “chill out” or “to calm down and quit making a scene” during these times. They need someone to help them get through it until it’s over, and hopefully shorten the amount of time this happens.
Common things people tell me about autism is that we don’t feel love or empathy, we’re stupid, we’re just faking having a serious condition, that we’re just lazy bums using our families to get away with not having to work.
The “you don’t look autistic” annoys me a lot. Like, what am I supposed to do? Get a Dora haircut, wear ill-fitting clothes, round out my face, and walk around without paying attention to anything all the time? That’s just an autism stereotype and it’s not funny, nor cool in any way to have to deal with it."
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"What’s a message you would like to give to non-autistic people reading this?"
"If someone you know who’s autistic is having a meltdown or shutdown, take them to a nice, quiet, safe place, with as little color, light, sound or odd patterns as possible.
Talk to them as if they were a person having a panic attack, give them something they enjoy to stim with (such as a fidget cube — which is my favorite of all times —, a string, a toy car, a rubix cube, and so on) and give them a tight hug from behind but only if you have their consent to do so.
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Never touch someone who’s having a meltdown or shutdown without their permission: it could just overwhelm them more and worsen the whole situation, to the point where we can even feel our skin burn. This has actually happened to me before and it felt really, really scary.
If they want you to be alone, leave, but if they don’t want to be or can’t be, stay with them.
People like to say that we’re broken, but we’re just as whole as anyone else, just a bit different. Once people can understand that, only then could we truly be free to be ourselves without being afraid."
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A MESSAGE

Ash’s story was very moving for me to hear and to write about: in fact, I’m deeply honoured he picked me to write about it.

It’s true: most people don’t want to understand who’s different, and thus, they keep on hurting others, again and again, without ever even thinking about how they would feel if they had to bear through the same abuses themselves.

There are people who don’t want to understand, yes; but then, there’s also us. There are people who actually care. And who show it daily, by little actions - that’s true -, but little actions that can literally change someone’s world at times.

Thanks to Ash, the way I could show my support today was through publishing this article here on We Heart it and “I Once Had A Friend” on Commaful.

If you feel like it, please like this article and share it and also, give a read to “I Once Had A Friend...”, of which I’ll leave a link down below. It would mean a lot.

Everything you do to spread more awareness about social injustice and discrimination matters.

https://commaful.com/play/kgirl/i-once-had-a-friend/

For this same purpose, bringing awareness to social topics such as racism, bullism, violence and abuse on women and children, discrimination, I decided to start a collection devoted to raising awareness about these themes. Check it out here:

If this is the first time you stumble upon one of my articles, check out my profile/follow me for more. Also, thank you for reading so far. And thank you for caring.

Last but not least, if you have a story to tell, whether regarding a past experience, of any kind, that affected your life today, a personal disability you have, any abuse you had to go through and feel like sharing, drop a message either on my We Heart It or on Commaful, where you can find me as @kgirl.

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Copyright Disclaimer: I do not own any of the images used; thus, they belong to their rightful owners. You can find the pictures used in this article in the following collections:

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