Tamar is a 20-year-old who’s majoring in Child and Youth studies at Brock University. She lives with roommates, cooks for herself, socializes with friends, belongs to a club and studies hard just like many other scholars. You’d never guess that she was diagnosed with autism at age 2. Early ABA intervention really helped Tamar transform from a timid caterpillar into a confident butterfly. Here, she shares the highs and lows of her journey.
As a young girl, one of my biggest challenges was overcoming autism. I remember working with a lot of ABA therapists including Shayna Gaunt to improve my fine motor and social skills. I always learned with a few other children; we socialized, played board games and traveled to fun locations such as the movies.
Over time, these experiences with my therapists helped transform my life. However, it was not an easy journey to get to where I am today. While I had always excelled academically, I struggled a lot socially. I didn’t have many friends at school. I recall sitting by myself during one recess, because I was too afraid to ask the other children to play with me. I also ate lunch alone sometimes, which could be very peaceful; but occasionally, I wished I had somebody to communicate with. The scenario was basically the same at summer camp: My sisters were my main friends, as I didn’t feel that I could connect with the other girls.
I feel like ABA kicked in, so to speak, when I switched camps. It was easier than ever before to apply the social skills I worked on in therapy, because the environment was so supportive. At this camp, I felt as though more people accepted me and encouraged me to come of my shell. As a result, I became more confident and developed more social skills.
On the last day of my final summer at camp, I cried because I was scared to go to university. Someone – I can’t remember who – told me that I’d never fit in and that I’d have a hard time adjusting to the environment. That made me very self-conscious and unsure about whether or not I would succeed.
My first year was challenging, but I ended up loving university. I met wonderful people who have continuously supported me and helped me gain more confidence. In second year, I joined a club called Best Buddies — an organization that pairs students and people with intellectual disabilities for friendship – and have I loved my experience! I’m really proud that I’m helping to make a positive difference in the lives of buddies we support.
I’m now in my third year of university and very happy! To get here, I’ve overcome multiple obstacles: Adjusting to the school environment (ie: finding classes and knowing where to go to for support), feeling comfortable interacting with professors, developing valuable life skills like cooking, and advocating for myself. I’ve learned plenty of valuable lessons, too, such as that people can surprise you in beautiful, interesting ways. I’ve met people who I didn’t think would want to be my friend but ended up becoming my friend. As a result, I’m more open to meeting new people. I’ve learned that, although I’m a bit reserved, I can be a social butterfly and that I can adapt to various situations like parties. And I’ve learned that I love being independent; and am looking forward to how the future unfolds.
I’m so appreciative of all the work my ABA therapists did for and with me. I hope that, after graduating, I can provide the same results when I do IBI or ABA work with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Photo courtesy of Tamar