Read below for a guest post from Ron Sandison.
In the summer time, I love to swim and read a book at our apartment complex pool. On one occasion, as I entered the pool area, the lifeguard said, “Please hand me your pool pass!” I handed her my pass and chose a chair in the shade where I could recline. The breeze was perfect as I read Dancing with Max. Two hours later, she announced, “The pool will be closing in ten minutes. Please, gather all your belongings.” She neatly placed everyone’s yellow pool pass on the check-in table. As I approached the table, she smiled and pointed to my pass at the edge of the pile and said, “Your pass is this one—unless you want to be someone else!”
Many children with autism and Asperger’s due to severe disabilities and social struggles wish to be someone else. Your child may dream of being a superhero, star athlete, actor, model, or just typical. Sean Barron stated in his memoir, There’s a Boy in Here, “My own worthlessness overwhelmed me. I spent an awful lot of time wishing I were a different person. Why couldn’t I be normal?”
A new generation of young adults with autism and Asperger’s has emerged, providing a fresh voice of hope and encouragement to parents who have children on the ASD spectrum. Young adults like Clay Marzo, a professional surfer; Mikey Brannigan, one of the fastest high school mile runners in the nation; Anthony Starego, a placekicker who contributed two field goals to help his high school football team in New Jersey win a State Championship; Miss Montana of 2012, Alexis Wineman, receiving the People’s Choice award; and Miss Florida Collegiate, Rachel Barcellona. By their extraordinary abilities and unique talents, these beautiful individuals are redefining the world’s perception of autism as a debilitating neurological disability.
James 1:17 says,
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
In infancy, Rachel Barcellona achieved her developmental milestones at a regular pace, speaking at nine months. When Rachel was two years old, her mom, Barbara, noticed Rachel did not enjoy playing with her classmates at preschool and isolated herself in the back corner. She was extremely sensitive to noises and was terrified of fire drills.
Rachel also suffered from life-threatening epileptic seizures. At age 11, during a violent seizure, Rachel experienced cardiac arrest. Barbara, a nurse practitioner, saved her daughter’s life by her quick response in administering first aid.
A lack of social skills, awkwardness, and epilepsy caused Rachel at 13 to have a low self-image, self-injury behavior, and suicidal thoughts. In middle school, Rachel attended a Christian school where she felt rejected by her peers and school administration. Rachel’s playing of heavy metal music, unusual social behavior, and swearing caused the students and principal to refer to her as “the devil.”
Rachel shared, “I was tormented by bullies. I once made a friend with a stray dog, and a boy who loved to tease me, killed the dog in front of me—the dog was my only friend.” She still loves animals and has exotic pets such as owls, a chinchilla, and an African desert tortoise.
After Rachel was diagnosed with Asperger’s everyone told her—you will not be successful. Rachel, with the help of her parents, was determined to prove the skeptics wrong. Barbara encouraged her to take drama classes, participate in beauty pageants, develop her singing talent, and build her self-esteem by volunteering as a Big Sister.
Proverbs 22:29 states,
“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.”
Rachel does not allow autism to hinder her from accomplishing her dreams. She was crowned as Miss Florida Collegiate and Miss Largo Outstanding Teen. She is an international spokesperson for the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD-USF). Entering her senior year at Dunedin High School, Rachel has a 3.60 GPA. She plans to attend the University of South Florida to become a neuropsychiatrist.
Rachel encourages young people with autism and their parents with these words,
“I believe that autism is not an excuse for anything. Everyone has a mountain to climb and autism has not been my mountain; it has been my opportunity for victory. However, I did not always believe that. People always told me that I could not do much of anything and that I would never be successful, but my parents never let those people bring me down.
My mother always encouraged me to participate in modeling to boost my confidence… We all have dreams in life and we all have challenges in life but our challenges should never limit our dreams.”
As I picked up my yellow pass and exited the pool area, I realized, “I am glad to be me.” Autism cannot hold me back from accomplishing my dreams. Why would I ever want to be someone else? God has blessed me with His infinite grace and wonderful gifts.
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and Charisma House is publishing his book on 4/5/16, A Concise Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom. He has over 10,000 Scriptures memorized including 22 complete books of the New Testament. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with their pet rabbit, Babs, and cat, Frishma. You can contact Ron on Facebook or email him.