A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to write a column I titled Beyond the Spectrum. It was available online and supported by the Autism at Home Series. I was blessed to share this honor with amazing people who I came to know and admire. This list included Dr. Stephen Shore, Dr. Laurence Becker, William Stillman, Karen Simmons, Thomas A. McKean, Julie Mathews and many more.
While writing this column, I was also fortunate to connect with many individuals who were not net writers. One of those people was a young man by the name of Graeme Croton. He was 24 and had just been given a diagnosis. I quickly realized that we shared a common goal: to understand and help others. As Graeme grew and accomplished more and more we stayed in touch. It has been an honor and a gift to celebrate with him as he reaches new heights. Graeme has accomplished tremendous goals and, I believe, he has only begun! I consider our friendship to be a wonderful gift.
Another gift I greatly appreciate: Graeme agreed to answer the following ten questions about his personal journey with autism, as one of my first interviewees for my column Beyond the Spectrum, sponsored by Welldamentals.com.
1. When and how did you first become aware of autism?
I first became aware of autism in July, 2009 I was twenty four years of age. I was diagnosed with Dyslexia, which brought the awareness of autism for the very first time. I then had to battle the realization process, which can be the most difficult part for any person who is late diagnosed with Autism trying to make sense of things. For 12 months, I battled extreme adversity to secure an autism diagnosis in which I preserved and never gave up.
2. How would you describe autism?
The best way I would describe autism, in my honest opinion, is it’s like a never ending balloon – always expanding bigger and bigger over repeating endlessly. But when anxiety, tantrums or meltdowns happen, the balloon bursts and then the balloon expands over and over again.
3. Would you wish to be ‘cured’ if that was possible?
A lot of individuals and families affected by autism often ask me the same question. We all have our own choices and decisions, as we’re all individuals. I personally wouldn’t want to be cured because autism is a part of my cultural belonging and identity, which I am so proud of. Throughout my entire life, leading up to my diagnosis, I craved only one thing.
I was so desperate to prove to myself that I was alive.
I always felt detached and like a drifter. Growing up, I always knew there was something wrong with me but the hardest part was trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Being placed in a society that didn’t understand me was an uphill battle and tough. Many times society nearly drove me to one conclusion but something kept me focused and motivated to carry on. I held onto one dream and wish growing up. This dream and wish – in my eyes – meant a lot to me. The dream was to gain a cultural belonging and a cultural identity, so I wouldn’t want to be cured of autism – that is for certain. Autism is a part of my cultural belonging and cultural identity.
4. In what ways has autism helped you to realize gifts (yours or anothers)?
Autism has helped me in many ways since my late diagnosed aged twenty five in July 2010. It has enabled me to realize gifts I was totally unaware of having throughout my entire life. One of my gifts people often tell me is I have a way of communicating in a very unique way through words – through the coping strategies I learned to create and design. I also have a gift of organizing things. When I set out to achieve set objectives on a day to day basis, I struggle to give up. Call it dedication, determination or perseverance.
The documentary I recently made on Asperger’s Syndrome is a screening that will take place in 2013. I was able to achieve results with having a visionary mind. I was able to achieve all my set objectives i.e. all preparations, pre-planning, interviews, negotiations as well as directing, producing and writing the documentary.
With my work helping others who have autism I always notice that others’ confidence and motivation hugely improves. I am so passionate in helping others with autism. My work for Project Aspie has a simple message: to raise awareness and to emphasize the great importance people with my condition can offer to communities and to society.
Autistics are entitled to their own choices and decisions and I always encourage Autistics to believe one thing:
‘everything is possible but without willpower there’s nothing’.
5. What has been the most challenging to you with regards to autism?
If I am being honest, I really struggled as a child, teenager and young adult. I never had the right help or support from services growing up. I struggled to fit it and I really found it difficult to find a direction and a purpose in life. Every day was like a never ending rollercoaster full of confusion, difficulties, frustrations and endless painful episodes of isolation.
I was also born with a dual heritage and that was also difficult to live with on a day to day basis with battling prejudices and trying to understand the whole meaning of prejudice. Showing eye contact, hugs and hand-shakes were a huge obstacle growing up and trying to fit in.
6. How have you overcome this challenge? *If you are still working on it, what are you doing?
I had to create and develop draft scripts to help with fitting in as well as mastering eye contact, hugs and hand-shakes. I have always had a huge obsession with observation, listening to music and visualization. When I created and developed draft scripts, I spent large amounts of time in a solitary environment pushing my brain further to enhance ways when I had to get outside the box adapting to new environmental and social situations. I constantly observed and visualized the outcomes of the draft scripts which hugely helped me control my anxiety, tantrums and meltdowns. This helped me a lot when I had to get outside the box, facing new environmental and social situations.
7. What are you the most proud of accomplishing?
My biggest accomplishment has to be making sacrifices and working tirelessly; giving individuals and families affected by my condition courage, hope and inspiration. When I discuss my life story struggle, I always bring people something new whenever I talk about my condition.
Since my autism diagnosis in July 2010, it has been a rollercoaster; one I will never forget. I have truly excelled, however, winning a variety of awards and gaining media coverage in the UK with the work I do for my condition in a short space of time.
But my biggest accomplishment is certainly helping others to have the help I never had growing up as a child, teenager and young adult. My memoir, the ‘Undiagnosed Years’ about my childhood will be titled Before the Diagnosis. It is complete and edited. I hope it will give individuals and families affected by autism the courage, hope and inspiration to learn to embrace autism and look beyond autism to achieve success.
I am currently looking for a suitable agent and publisher for this book.
8. What are you (or what would you like to be) doing to teach / help others?
I want to continue to raise awareness and to emphasize the great benefits people with my condition can offer to communities and to society. I want to continue life coaching and mentoring young people with autism because so many young people with autism so badly need autistic role models and mentors. I can’t stress enough the importance of autistic role models and mentors because I am a great believer in helping others. My passion in autism lies in confidence and motivation which is something I want to broaden and expand.
Project Aspie’s website, Aspirations is an advocacy and support website but I am currently working on developing and enhancing Project Aspie. A big scope will be offering a service to help others to gain the confidence and motivation with my condition which will be starting in 2013.
9. What is the greatest lesson in life that you have learned? *How did this change your outlook?
The greatest lesson I have learned is valuing time and certainly valuing life. Before my diagnosis every day I didn’t value time or life. Since my diagnosis I have had to learn to accept the new life and let go of the old life which I was so use to knowing. I had to learn to accept my past and I had to learn to move forward. It can be difficult if you are late diagnosed with autism as an adult but I am a great believer in moving forward.
10. What do you need help with in order to achieve your goals / dreams?
Honestly, I have learned to live with my condition simply through the coping strategies I created and designed. I try to be as independent as possible and try to stay humble, modest and always keep my feet firmly on the ground. I am very lucky as I have built close rapports with some amazing people in the autism world and beyond who admire, support and respect the work I do who are always there for me i.e. associates, colleagues and most importantly, my family who means the world to me.
For more about Graeme Croton and the amazing work he is doing, please visit his website Aspirations, found at http://ProjectAspie.com
Your comments, questions and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated. Ill-willed comments of any kind are not allowed here. Please be kind. The law of attraction is always at work: that which you sow, so shall you grow. Thank you and have an incredibly blessed day!
Proud to be the mom of two incredibly awesome boys! One just happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome. Both teach me how to be grateful for life every day.
By Rhonda Spellman, Founder of The Creative Cranium Concept®
Creator of The HINT Game®, The Write Story® and more for children!
Reaching, Teaching and Inspiring Those with Special Abilities