By: Perri Schwartz
I had trouble saying “I love you” back to my parents right after I turned 3 years old. I would only say “too” instead of “I love you too”. My parents did not know what was wrong, and I was not a late bloomer, either. On May 9th, 2006, the answer was finally found, and I was diagnosed with Autism.
This was my barrier that needed improvement. How could I have made it this far to break through the barrier? For 8 years, I learned proper communication skills in speech therapy. On December 5, 2008, I finally said “I love you” to my parents. This day is celebrated every year in my family as “I-Love-You Day”, which aims to shrink the divide between myself and neurotypical people.
The traditional teaching methods in my earliest school days proved to be ineffective for me. My neurotypical peers never needed to “break through a barrier”, and this made the experience frustrating. So, when I went to a school for kids who are similar to myself, I began to learn much more thoroughly and effectively, and I began making huge strides in my education journey. In 6th grade, I discovered my affection and passion for journalism. The news felt like my only escape from how I was being taught. Enraptured with real world relevance, it provided clarity on complex topics, and I was fully engaged with the newscasters’ constant eye contact. Inspired by the charisma and eloquent-speaking styles of journalists, I was inspired to become one myself.
There aren’t many autistic journalists, and by being a force within industry, I will make it more inclusive.
In high school, I made the life-changing decision to join BBYO, a Jewish youth group which has allowed me to make friends from all over the world, voice my experiences to my peers through their newspaper, The Shofar, and gain leadership experience by attending leadership conventions serving as a co-chair of the 2020-2021 All Abilities Inclusion Task Force, which will propel young Jewish teenagers to become advocates for those of all abilities.
I am the only Autistic journalist on the staff for The Shofar, where I utilize my communication techniques I learned in therapy while noticing details other writers don’t. By finding my voice through The Shofar, I’ve explored the power of words.
Outside of journalism, I serve as President of my school’s Interact Club, where I lead a club of approximately 12 other students through community service. Using my communication skills, I’ve created flyers and written proposals. Given the stereotype that Autistic people can’t be empathetic, it’s important to be involved in advocacy work.
Becoming a champion for these issues proves that someone who has once struggled with words can now be a voice for the voiceless.
Doctors thought I would not make it this far. I proved them wrong. I’ve pushed past many boundaries associated with Autism, but I couldn’t have made such stunning progress on my own; my parents’ unconditional care and friends’ supportive mentality allowed me to thrive. And so, I always go above and beyond to accept, include, and love people no matter who they are; I “pass it forward” because with me, that attitude made all the difference.
My mission is to prove the prefix “dis” has no place in front of the word “abilities”.