This is a guest post by Michael Nunnelee, a 23-year-old with high functioning autism. Michael is a college student, currently working on a double major in Marketing and Management.
Imagine being locked away in a prison that you cannot see or touch. Imagine hearing people talk to you, but not truly being able to listen. Think about the daily comforts of routine you take for granted and imagine it being an obsession, think of how frightening it is to hear words like change, different, and out of order. You are on the inside looking outward at those trying to free you from this seemingly inescapable prison of the mind, and in order to break the invisible shackles and dissolve the hidden bars, you have to learn to rely on those you can’t communicate with.
My name is Michael Nunnelee, I am 23 years old, I have a certificate in audio engineering and I am currently working a double major in Marketing and Management. I have been in 2 bands and played successful concerts and booked a concert for a Seattle band in Spokane. I have been in advanced leadership roles throughout my high school career and also a camp counselor for a leadership camp. I seem to lead a somewhat normal life, but here is the catch: I was diagnosed with classic infantile autism when I was 2 years old. My mother was told by a specialist at a Children’s Hospital in Seattle that I would probably never speak much and might end up in a group home setting. My diagnosis was later changed to high functioning autism when I was about 7 years of age.
As a child I was a prisoner of my own mind. My siblings and parents would try and communicate with me and I wouldn’t be able to communicate back. I wanted to so badly say what I was feeling, doing, and wanting to do. No matter how hard I tried and how much I desired, I could not. I was not supposed to carry out a normal life. Despite those who didn’t think I could do it, I overcame my prison and broke out many years ago.
I couldn’t have done it without my wonderful siblings who did their best to work with me, my mom who never gave up on me even when all seemed lost, and my teachers. Without their guidance and knowledge of my condition and how to improvise, I would have been lost to the depths of a bitter darkness that has no name, face, or feeling. This is in no way a means to communicate a hopeless tone or to hold my own accomplishments above anyone, this is a message of hope. I managed to overcome multiple trials and tribulations because of early intervention and undiminished will.
In some instances, it is possible to help your loved ones overcome this trial. I do not look at what I went through as a curse, but rather a blessing. A blessing that taught me that perseverance, drive, and the will to never give up are virtues that will guide me through this life. Dealing with autism has prepared me for many of life’s struggles. Even though I will face many more, I will hold my head up high and not be afraid because I have overcome a great challenge and I am willing to face many more.
Remember, autism is not exactly like what you see in popular film; there are many different forms. Some of it can be debilitating, while others have symptoms that can easily go unnoticed in daily life, and many are able to live normal lives. If you have a loved one going through autism, it is never too late to help them. The best way you can do that, besides special instructors or adaptations to learning styles, is to reassure them that you love them with all of your heart and soul. After all love is something that everybody needs regardless of physical, mental, or emotional limitations.
Family Services provides resources and information. If you have a question, contact the Autism Response Team today. If you’re concerned that your child may be affected with autism or if you’ve received a diagnosis, browse the Tools for Families section, where you’ll find our 100 Day Kit, and the Autism Video Glossary. If you’d like to do a quick search for service providers near you, select Find a Local Resource and browse the Resource Guide.