Graduate proud to be a person with autism
Madison Stevenson’s Story, as told to Liz Bergren
I am not through the door yet when I hear, “Good morning Madison!” from somewhere down the hallway. I smile slightly; glance down at my feet and say, “Good morning.” I rush to catch up with my best friend so we can walk to class together. In a few short weeks, I will be graduating. Of course I am excited to graduate. I can’t wait to go to college. It will be bittersweet, leaving this place. I am comfortable here. It’s hard to explain but I have never felt this way about school before. I have always felt out of place. As though I didn’t fit. I excelled academically, especially in math but socially, I felt isolated and spent a lot of time alone. The Excel Center is different. It isn’t just my school, it feels like home. I can be myself here and not worry about being judged or bullied.
I was four years old when I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I remember feeling confused and asking my mom a bunch of questions. Why did I have it? What did it even mean? My grandmother told me that she could tell there was something different about me, but I didn’t feel different. I felt like me. As I grew older, I started to notice differences between me and other kids. I felt nervous a lot and it was difficult for me to make eye contact or talk to new people. Sometimes, I felt worthless. Like I didn’t fit with anyone.
When I was twelve years old, I met two close friends. In school and at camp, we laughed together. I felt the same way around my friends as I did with my mentor, my behavior analyst. I never felt as though I needed to change who I was around them. Over the last six years, our friendships have grown and strengthened. Still, I have days where I feel lonely and uncertain. Sometimes, it is difficult for me to adjust when something doesn’t go well or how I planned. In those moments, I know I can turn to my friends and God for understanding.
Close relationships with my family and friends have allowed me to feel valued and understood. My confidence has grown and I no longer feel self-conscious about my disorder or how I choose to cope. Stimming is short for “self-stimulatory behavior.” Many people with autism use stimming behaviors to cope when they feel excited or upset. I may rock side to side or rhythmically tap my fingers. Others may pace or rub their hands back and forth. The repetitive movements create a calming sensation. I used to feel as though I needed to hide my stimming. Now, I know that it is just as much a part of me as my smile or my laugh.
In a few weeks, I will graduate high school. A few months after that, I will begin working on a double major in Nursing and Applied Behavior Analysis at Ball State University, eventually serving in a nursing home or hospital. Some people may see autism spectrum disorder as an obstacle to be overcome. I just see it as part of my story that has many chapters. Chapters like a fun and close relationship with my younger brother. Chapters filled with hopes of having a loving husband and two daughters. I have learned to have confidence in my abilities and to embrace who I am and I hope to inspire others to do the same.
I am proud to be a person with autism. I consider it a gift that has transformed my life and shaped me into the young woman I am today. If I were given the chance to change anything…I wouldn’t. This is who I am.