By Odysseas Protopapas – student volunteer for Voice for Autism

Writing this is easy because it is something that is very special to me.

I have had experience with autism since I was very small. My mother is a special education teacher who specializes in autism. She included me in her work, shared her experiences and taught me to always accept people as they are. I never understood what that meant
exactly, until after a lot of years of experience around people with disabilities.

I was three when my mother took me to meet her students for the first time. I loved it. When you are three everyone that wants to play with you is a special person. They wanted to play with me all the time and I was special to them because I was their teacher’s son. I started going to their parties and events and as I grew older, I noticed they couldn’t communicate very well, but their face lit up every time we met and they wanted to play. I loved how that made me feel.

Since then, I have met a lot of autistic people and I have learned a lot about autism. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication. That’s a complicated explanation that actually means their communication
skills are poor and they have a hard time interacting with other people. This often leads to anxiety.

I never see people with disabilities as different or feel uncomfortable around them because of this early experience and because it’s a natural part of my life. As I grew older I saw that I had to make an effort to communicate with them but I also saw they could communicate in their own way. I could be friends with them even though some were non-verbal. We had our own communication code and it was usually around play.

As we grow older, it is less about play and more about friends. My special friend is Aris. He was at my school and attended some classes such as music and physical education but he couldn’t attend math as he found it too challenging. Aris is nonverbal but I can understand him clearly. We used to have a lot of fun together: playing puzzles, jumping on the trampoline, running in the school yard like there is no one watching.

My other friends wandered what the connection was, but I didn’t care. The connection was there and Aris was my friend. We laughed a lot together. It’s been a long time since I last saw my friend because of the Covid 19 pandemic. I feel bad because I can’t call him. I think
the pandemic has been very hard on people with disabilities.

I have a dream that people like my friend Aris always have the support they need in all stages of their lives. Whether they are young boys jumping on a trampoline or young men trying to communicate with the world.

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