By Brian Lafferty
May 3, 2011 (San Diego) – Today marks the debut of East County Magazine’s newest column. In addition to writing film criticism, I will pen a biweekly column about another subject I’m equally passionate about: Autism. I am qualified to talk about the subject for a good reason: I am Autistic myself.
In early 1997 I was diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism at the age of eleven. It was around that time that Autism was discovered to be a spectrum disorder. Before then, people were only diagnosed if they didn’t talk, isolated themselves, had constant overly repetitive behaviors, or were extremely sensitive to anything that touched them. Today this would be classified as Low-Functioning Autism.
My parents realized I was “different” at a very early age. My vocabulary was extremely limited but I showed signs of intelligence (my mother used to recall how I learned the word “trapezoid” at age three). I did well in school and everyone was amazed that I taught myself to read.
Sociability was a different story. I had trouble making friends on my own. The only friends I had in elementary school were those who wanted to be my friends. Kids noticed I was “different.” They picked up on some of my peculiarities.
I went to a private school in Del Mar called The Winston School starting in 8th grade. Named after Winston Churchill, it is a college preparatory school for students with learning differences (The Winston School and I do not use the term “learning disability”). I went there from 8th grade until I graduated from upper school in 2003.
Going to The Winston School was the best thing that ever happened to me. Practically every success I have had and will have in my life is owed to this institution.
After three and a half years at Palomar College, I attended film school at California State University, Fullerton. I graduated cum laude in May 2009 with a degree in Radio/TV/Film
There are several reasons for this column. The first has to do with the prevalence of Autism. It seems to me that many people I meet either know or are related to someone who has the disorder. One of my film critic colleagues has an Autistic daughter and another works with Autistic children. Autism affects a lot of people and I feel it is important to let people know what it feels like to be Autistic.
On a related note, that is another reason why I’m writing this column. I feel there isn’t enough of a voice from people with the disorder. A lot of the perspectives shared are from parents, teachers, friends, and family members. I have no problems with that; it provides a lot of insight into raising or being around someone with the disorder.
But I feel it’s important that I share a perspective none of these people have. Granted, I cannot speak for all of us on the Spectrum. However, I at least want to give those who aren’t Autistic a glimpse of life from my own unique perspective.
Lastly, I believe Autism has a lot of negative connotations associated with it. Three years ago, I wrote in an essay in the anthology book Voices of Autism that Autism is not a curse. I still stand by that and always will. People who are Autistic can lead fully productive lives.
This column’s purpose is to tell you what it’s like to be Autistic and how my mind works. I will also offer my own opinion on current events in Autism.
There is, however, one topic this column won’t discuss and won’t even try to discuss.
I will not go anywhere near the vaccination debate. This is America and everyone has the right to his or her opinion. However, there are some opinions that simply should be kept to oneself. I state this because my opinion on the subject won’t matter; I will only alienate half of my readers.
So if you’re looking for any sort of validation for your side in this ongoing debate, you won’t find it here. So please don’t ask me if I think vaccines cause Autism. I won’t answer.
After I was diagnosed with Autism my life changed forever. It took me until college to fully comprehend my condition. Today, I fully embrace it. It is a part of who I am.
I will end by dedicating this column to my mother, Deborah Sue Lafferty, who passed away on November 26, 2010. Before she died, she told me that when I was very little the doctors told her the chances of my being able to function were slim at best. She refused to accept that. She dedicated her life to making sure I would succeed. Until the day she died she taught me a lot about life, from shampooing carpets to driving. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t be where I am today.