By Mary Ellen Bogucki
When my daughter was diagnosed with Autism, I immediately started researching and learning all I could on the subject. One of the first people I learned about was Temple Grandin and I immediately became a big fan of hers. Temple provided insight into what my daughter was experiencing, long before Bree could communicate with me.
There are so many things I learned from Temple, but one important lesson was to focus on what our children can do and not what they can’t do. Temple encouraged concentrating on their strengths and not their weaknesses. Something else I learned was that we should help individuals with Autism pursue their interests and talents. Temple often suggested turning their interests into strengths.
Bree’s older brother was 7 years old and her sister was 2 ½, when she was born. I couldn’t keep her in a safe bubble, although I wanted to, because she needed to go with me to school and sports events. These events were not enjoyable for my sensory overloaded child. So, I brought along the weighted turtle, the pacifier, fidgets, and anything I could find that would calm her. Most days they worked long enough to get done what I needed to do, but unfortunately, if we had to make an extra stop or go to an unfamiliar place, the volcano would start grumbling until BOOM! The lava was spewing and before I knew it, nothing could stop the flow, a.k.a. her meltdown.
I love music, and always had it playing, even when my kids were babies. We discovered early on that music was the one thing that worked the best with Bree. I played music in the car, all day long at home and even for the few hours she would close her eyes and sleep. I believe we owned almost every “Wee Sing” and “Kids Songs” video, those popular children videos in the late 80s and 90s. If Bree wasn’t watching Thomas the Tank Engine, she was learning every nursery rhyme known to man.
Music calmed her and made her happy and still does. After a stressful day, she still needs time to be alone to listen to music. It resets and calms her mind. At the time, I just was looking for a way to calm her and keep her mood positive. I never realized it would one day turn into a strength of hers. When she was about 7 or 8 years old, my husband and I were driving with the kids and we heard this voice singing along with the radio. We both looked at each other in disbelief, because it was a voice we rarely heard. A child that once had very little language was now singing a song and knew all the lyrics. What was even more amazing was she was in key and had good pitch.
As time went on, she continued to sing and when she was 9 or 10 we started voice lessons. Usually, she wouldn’t perform for the teacher. When she did, it would be very quietly, but she was listening and learning and she did keep getting better. She has even had some pretty incredible opportunities that have come about through her singing. She never takes any of it for granted. Today, she donates her voice to give back for all the good she has received. She often performs for charitable and/or sporting events and school assemblies. Along with singing, she also tries to teach others about not judging people. She will perform at an elementary school or a junior high and starts off by singing a song the students will recognize. Next, she continues by describing her disability and how she has been a victim of bullying and was regularly excluded at times during her junior high and high school years. The students’ reactions are many times that of shock, never guessing she has a disability or was a victim of bullying. She educates them on not bullying or judging others, and discusses disabilities, both visible and invisible. She explains how often we know very little about a person that we may be judging poorly.
This is just one way that she has turned her interest/talent into something that she can use to hopefully help others. There are so many strengths and talents among the Autism community. We have friends who can draw and create beautiful pictures. They are being encouraged to create and sell their work. They could go on to be illustrators or find other jobs in the Art/Design field. Some with Autism are extremely good on computers or smart phones. Many find jobs working with technology.
Although, unemployment is still very high among those with disabilities, conversations are happening and some companies are listening. Bree is a Special Olympics Illinois athlete and Global Messenger. Special Olympics are taking a positive role in helping in this area. They are starting these conversations with different companies and Special Olympics Illinois recently held an Employee Readiness Training for young adults/adults with intellectual disabilities. With this training and others like it, hopefully it will open doors for them in the future.
When thinking about what Bree would do after she finishes school, we looked at all the things she can do. She was already advocating, speaking, singing, and has a desire to help others, so her goal is to graduate with a degree that will allow her to work in the human services field and continue her advocacy. I also thought that she may make a good copy editor, because she remembers all the rules in grammar and is very good at picking out mistakes. Unfortunately, this is something that can drive me crazy, because I am usually the one making those errors. Actually, I wish she would proofread my stuff more, because I have a bit of a weakness there.
Temple Grandin has written many articles and a book on “Developing Talents” which I found helpful. Think about what the individual can do and where their interests are and then be creative in finding good direction, where they can be appreciated and excel. The biggest hurdle is finding those employers who are willing to give them a chance. That is, why I advocate, and hopefully someone is listening and will realize just how talented these individuals are.
Mary Ellen Bogucki is the mother of Breanna (Bree.) Bree is a twenty-year-old college student, runner, singer, special needs advocate, Special Olympics athlete and Global Messenger. Bree has been diagnosed with high-functioning Autism, OCD, anxiety, situational depression and sensory processing disorder. Follow along as her mother describes where Bree began and how she arrived where she is today. Mary Ellen will explain what helped Bree improve, along with some mistakes they made on their journey. By telling their story, they hope others will find hope and comfort. Bree currently is attending Harper College in Palatine, Illinois pursuing an Associates Degree in Human Services. She is a member of their Cross Country and Track teams and the President of the Access and Disabilities Success Club. Harper College offers a Transition Autism Program (TAP) to help those with Autism transition from high school to college.