Autism changed my family and gave me a reason to be proud.
By Matthias Ervin
When I was three years old, I started staring at my reflection and I remember it being really satisfying. I can remember I would get locked in and go into my own world and did not care about anything or anybody around me. It was just me inside my mind. My parents realized I spent most of my time by myself, that I had stopped talking, and I was in my own world all day, every day. I went to the doctor and my parents were devastated when the doctor told them that I had autism. The doctor advised my parents to look into institutions that accept young children because that is where I would end up living as an adult. They said I would never talk and that I wouldn’t end up doing anything successful.
My life and my family’s life was about to start a new journey to help me get better. My family’s mindset was to make sure I did everything my twin brother did. My six siblings and I no longer had a normal childhood. I had to work from the time I woke up until I went to bed doing therapy. Every day, my siblings had to take turns helping with my therapy. That became the new normal. No one thought “autism” could honestly be happening, and my parents were determined to do whatever they had to do to help me. My parents hired people to help me out with my home therapy program. I remember some things about that time in my life, but there are so many things I don’t remember. I remember I would wake up every morning and start my therapy program. What I can remember is being mad all the time, especially at my twin brother, Micah. I remember being mad at so many things. Could you imagine trying to talk and not be able to say anything and you get so mad you just want to punch everyone because you are so frustrated? I was pretty violent during that time I lost my voice, but I just wanted to be able to talk and couldn’t.
Another thing I do remember is when I was a kid, I did not give eye contact to people because it just felt weird. I would feel an urge to look around, retry, and refresh. I had a system I would do to try and look people in the eye, but people scared me. As an adult, I still have a difficult time looking people in the eye. If the conversation is important I can look at people because I know that it’s the right thing to do and respectful, but I don’t like looking at people in the eye because it still makes me feel so uncomfortable.
Over the course of time and with a lot of hard work, I got out of my own world and entered the real world and started realizing there was a bigger world than living in my own head. Autism made me feel locked in my own body, like I had expressions to show but couldn’t and had to hide my expressions from reality. I remember living “in the real world” felt scary. It was scary because it was new and I did not like new things. I had to learn to get into a whole new comfort zone. As my brain kept changing, I started to enjoy spending more time with my twin brother and I liked to be around a few people. I had to be forced to be around new people. I was not used to being around people because I had spent so much time in my own world. New people and places made me uncomfortable because I couldn’t handle a lot of noises at once. If there was a lot of noise at once, I would shut down and have to walk away to find a quiet place. I have had to learn how to focus on one sound, because I hear every sound around me and that makes it hard for me to concentrate. Sometimes, my behavior comes off as rude because I zone out paying attention to something else happening around me and I realize the person is staring at me waiting on an answer. I am not trying to be rude, but I can see how people would think I am.
Socializing has always been difficult for me. I can talk to people, but I don’t like it. People that I don’t know still make me uncomfortable to talk to, my body feels like it wants to find a way out. I do not like telling people bye because I don’t like the attention on me. I am not trying to be rude, but sometimes I just have to walk off.
The way I think and feel today is still different than others. My mind races fast. I think a lot in my head, I still get distracted a whole lot. I learn easier by images and pictures. If I look at an image once I will always remember it. Pictures make more sense to my brain than words. I like when things are read to me. Most of the time, I can’t understand things that I have to read on my own because I overthink it and I just don’t know what it means. I flash back images in my head to help me remember things.
Today I am 19 years old and I can say that I am proud because I proved that doctor wrong that told my parents I wouldn’t ever talk and I would live in an institute. Hell no! I am not going to live in an institute. I can talk, and I have a lot to say. In my high school career, I won three state wrestling titles. I am one of two wrestlers in the state of Kentucky to place at the Walsh Ironman National wrestling tournament. Currently, I am a senior in high school taking two college courses and I am a mentor to my peers in the special needs class. In the fall, I am going to the University of Chattanooga to continue my wrestling career in a Division 1 college. I am the first person in NCAA history to wrestle in a Division 1 college with a diagnosis of autism. I am the man. It feels awesome. I believed in myself and didn’t give up. At the end of the day I am just thankful for my family and my team that has pushed me to where I am today. Autism taught me to always believe in myself and taught me not to listen to critics. I can achieve as much as I set my mind to. Autism changed my family and gave me a reason to be proud.