Jillian Mathews, who is 21 and will graduate from the Charlton program in May of this year , is very excited to share some important information to increase autism awareness. “It’s important to understand people with autism and what their interests are,” says Mathews. “For me, it’s Special Olympics, theater, comic books, and Nancy Drew books.”
Learning about the interests people have helps us form connections and increase understanding. “Sometimes,” notes Mathews, “people with autism are different from people around them. They may have difficulty with something and may say the same thing over and over or ask the same question over and over. Other people may not understand this.” Mathews wants us all to know that sometimes individuals with ASD may only need patience or to have something explained further or in a different way.
Diagnosed with autism at three, Mathews wants us to know that, while she occasionally thinks it’s not a good thing that she has autism, she often thinks it is good because “you’re doing all sorts of special things!” The experiences and opportunities that she has had and the people that have helped along the way are magnificent, she explains. For example, she enjoys the Very Special Arts (VSA) time at school, where she works on theater activities with peers who both do and do not have disabilities. And she has loved being able to participate in a play every spring. Mathews is thankful for VSA’s Ms. Stefanie, who rehearses her theater group at school, as well as for all of her teachers at school.
Mathew’s parents, Cindy and Bill, agree that having autism has provided Jillian with positive experiences and opportunities. They have gotten to know so many wonderful people through their journey, people who they would not have met otherwise, “like Coach Butch at the Rookery, who volunteers his time to teach the youth golf. We didn’t know when Jillian was three how far she would go, but it’s because of all the special activities, programs, schooling, and things, like Autism Delaware, that she has far exceeded all expectations. We are so grateful and so proud of her!” says Cindy.
Mathews and her family want us all to remember this: “It’s tough sometimes, but you get through. It can all work out to be good!”
This text was edited for consistency of language and message and appears in the April–June 2016 issue of the Autism Delaware™ quarterly newsletter, The Sun.