I have a neurological trait called Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, which means I learn certain things, such as social interaction, differently, as people with dyslexia do with reading. A problem for many peoples with autism is that they do not have the right social services in schools and other public functions, unlike people without autism, who we call 'neurotypical.’ To me, Buddhism and social action go hand in hand. Buddhist underpinnings include: watching what you say and overcoming anger, hatred, greed, ignorance, envy, and pride. I believe if we reduced the amount of greed in our world, we would not have as many people buying things that cause people to be exploited in order to get or that making or obtaining causes environmental damage. If we had less hatred, we may have less discrimination and prejudice and reduce our tendencies to perpetuate those types of practices. Since ignorance is believed by Buddhism to be the root cause of hatred, less ignorance would mean less hate. I also believed that if more people choose their words more carefully, we would not perpetuate racism, sexism, neuroism, and homophobia. We might not choose to say, "That's so gay." or tell racist or sexist jokes.
When I was about sixteen, I started to learn more about the teachings of Buddhism, which I only knew a little bit about before. One of the teachings I learned about that struck me as most profound was the teaching that we are all one mind. Even though I have considered myself Buddhist for a while, at first I found this teaching a little hard to grasp. My future career desire is filmmaking, while my hobbies include arts and crafts, photography, flute-playing, poetry, collecting coins, pebbles, ethnic musical instruments, and other things, reading, and watching TV.
I was born on August 17, 1989 in Kansas City, Missouri. I grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas until I was fifteen. When I was about nine years old I was a discovered to have a type of autism called Asperger Syndrome. When I was in fourth grade my parents divorced and my mom got remarried and we moved to Mission Hills. I attended Horizon Academy in high school a private school from people with learning disabilities. While I was there I got a volunteer job at a local retailer store called Ten Thousand Villages. In my spare time I learned about the teachings of the fifth century b.c.e. Indian leader the Buddha and they have shaped my life ever since. I graduated high school in 2008.
In the fall of 2008, I went to Johnson County Community College where I earned fifty credit hours in three years. During my first year, I got a job at the nearby grocery store Corinth Hen House. While on winter break of my first year at JCCC, I went to testify to the Kansas legislatures about not having the right access in the Belinder Elementary School. During this meeting I met a fellow autism activist named Elizabeth Boresow.
In my second year, I was interviewed about being an adult with autism by a reporter, Rachel Anne Seymour. During this time, my mom suggested I start a student group for people at JCCC for autistic students. I took her advice and meet Sean Swindler from the Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training. We came up with a plan that this group would be a group where people on the autism spectrum feel accepted for their autism and would be able to socialize and meet people. We also came up with the idea to have peer mentors who would model good social communication and be there in case anyone had an issue they felt was too large for them to deal with on their own and there they would gain experience in working with autistic people. Sean became my advisor and the JCCC Autism Spectrum Support Group got started. In the fall of 2010, the JCCC Autism Spectrum Support Group grew to about twenty people each meeting.
In my third year, I went in front of the Student Senate to ask them to sanction the group and it became approved of by unanimous vote. That same year I was accepted into the THRIVE program of the University of Central Missouri for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. After the year ended, I went on the 11o'clock news on NBC with Chris Hernandez about being an adult with autism.
Today it still irritates me how rarely autistic people have spoken on autism issues which are about them more than anyone else, including their parents and family. Yet I know that karma will come back and give the people who do wrong will bring misfortune to themselves. I just have to remind myself daily. Through my life experiences I believed I have proven the potential that people on the autism spectrum have and that they can do many great things when given the opportunity. Many people try to justify eliminating autism by calling it the end. But for me, it was the beginning to many great opportunities in life that I would never trade for anything else.
For a long time I thought of my autism advocacy as part of my practice of socially engaged Buddhism a Buddhist path that crosses over all sects of Buddhism and considers social action and spirituality to go hand in hand. By practicing the spiritual path, we become better people and therefore grow to have a better impact on the world around us. Thus we are able to help victims of injustice. When we truly care about justice, we can use that as a way to motivate us to be less greedy, hateful or ignorant, the core tenets of the Buddhist path. I believe that from having been discriminated against, I learned what it was like for others to suffer injustice.
When I went to UCM, I started to go back to the time when I first heard of Buddha's teaching, “We are all one mind.” And suddenly this teaching resonated within me as an autism advocate. We should never look down on someone or discriminate against them for their intellectual abilities. We should instead tolerate and respect them for who they are. Ever since I had become an autism advocate, and maybe even before that, I was always able to understand people who lived through injustice. I was one of them. Part of what the Buddha taught is compassion by which he meant, "We all suffer and therefore are no different from one another."