By Brian Lafferty
May 7, 2012 (San Diego) – I recently thought about my future. I contemplated my dreams and wrote them down. Some of them are easily achievable while others are quite grand. I may not have accomplished much as an adult other than graduating from college, being a film critic and Autism columnist, and acquiring paralegal certification. But it’s not too late to dare myself to do great things.
Dream #1: Get a full-time job. Despite the economy, this is easily the most achievable dream for me. Being a paralegal is a dream job. I knew this once I started my certificate program. I used Westlaw to research cases, and I was required to compose memorandums of law. I felt an overwhelming satisfaction every time I found a relevant case – it’s rarely easy to find them – and finished writing a legal document. I can only imagine the sensation I would get in a real-life setting.
As an Autistic, I need some structure in my day. I’m not the type of Autistic who needs a stringent hour-by-hour schedule of when to exercise, eat, and do activities. That’s never worked for me. But when I get a full-time job, I know when I’ll be at work, what my workday entails, and when I’ll be home. I can then plan everything else in my day around it. This lack of structure is one of several things missing in my life.
Dream #2: Live independently. I will need a job in order to live on my own. The ideal place for me to live would have a lot of action and things to do. Downtown San Diego or any of the immediate surrounding areas fit those criteria. Almost all the major law firms reside in downtown, and I don’t have a car. Despite living almost my whole life in San Diego, my family rarely, if ever, went to the beach. Wherever I live, a short bus ride away will let me spend weekend mornings swimming in the waves or just listening to the sounds of the ocean.
Dream #3: Have a girlfriend and get married. For most of my adult life I asked myself why I wanted a girlfriend. I couldn’t answer it. Companionship? I didn’t know. I didn’t concern myself with it in college. I made a personal vow not to date until I graduated, had a full-time job, and lived on my own. Three years later, I’ve fulfilled only the first. I’m not ready to date, not while there are so many uncertain variables in my life.
It wasn’t until seeing my father in the months following my mother’s death that I discovered why I wanted a girlfriend and to get married. Love is about sharing. Mom and Dad were married for forty-two strong years. They shared half a lifetime together, and shared many things, most importantly a love for each other that will never die. Being a bachelor has its perks, but someday I’d like to share a lifetime with someone I will love and cherish, the same way Mom and Dad did.
Dream #4: Become a Jeopardy! contestant. In 2004, my sister, Karen, was on Jeopardy! Since then I’ve always wanted to follow in her footsteps. That’s why I plan on auditioning for Jeopardy in a few years. I do need to work on being presentable for TV. I have a few years to work on smiling a lot, not rambling when I talk, and not speaking in monotone. I will, after all, be on television in front of millions of viewers. But it’s achievable.
Dream #5: Run a marathon. One day in second grade, I took my clothes off and looked in the mirror. It was then that I realized I for the first time I was overweight. I needed to do something about it. In the nearly twenty years since, I’ve made little progress aside from dropping from 234.5 pounds to 216 pounds last summer.
Next to swimming, running is my favorite form of exercise. My first 5K was quite an experience. Doing a marathon would be the pinnacle of competitive running. When I cross that finish line, I’ll remember the grueling middle school P.E. classes that favored well-fit and athletic kids, my years of being overweight, the teasing from other kids at school, and that day in second grade when I looked at my birthday suit. Crossing that finish line would symbolize my overcoming those obstacles and living a healthy lifestyle.
Dream #6: Be a bestselling author. Screenwriting was my original dream career. During my first year writing film criticism for East County Magazine, I discovered I enjoyed writing about films more than I did writing them. I eventually concluded that the entertainment industry wasn’t for me; I preferred to be on the outside looking in.
I still have a desire to write fiction. That’s why I decided to become a novelist. Much of it has to do with writing for myself, and not for other people, and writing original, fresh stories that I want to write. I’ve always been adept at prose.
Dream #7: Travel around the world. I remember when my family and I went on long vacations in the early to mid-1990s. In 1993 we went through the Midwest – encountering the Great Flood of 1993 along the way – and in 1995 we visited the Pacific Northwest and Canada.
I recall only fragments of them, as I was 7 and 9 at those times. The furthest east I’ve been is Chicago. Someday I’d like to take a cross-country trip by train. Europe and Australia would also be fantastic places to visit. In order to do that, however, I need income. When I do get to go to these places, I’ll relish and cherish every moment of it.
Dream #8: Start my own Autism organization. Autistics aren’t “different,” they just think differently. Far too often the news media and certain Autism organizations give Autistic people a bad reputation. Many people tend to focus on the negative aspects while ignoring the positive ones. Worst of all, some of the bigger Autism organizations have been trying to find a cure for Autism, which I adamantly oppose.
I want to start an Autism organization that gives a positive image of people who are on the Spectrum. ONLY those who are actually Autistics, and people who have Aspergers, would run this organization. Rather than spewing fear, prejudice, and despair, my organization would show unconditional love and support for Autistic people and their families. All proceeds would be donated to schools, school districts, career centers, and other social services to help in special needs accommodations.
When I die, I hope to leave this world knowing that Autistics are treated and viewed positively and fairly, and that people see Autism not as a disability but as an asset.
Notice I didn’t use the term “goals.” Goals often set me up for disappointment if I don’t accomplish them. Dreams are more positive and hopeful. Obviously some of these dreams are grander than others. But someday, somewhere I will achieve them.
These dreams cannot happen unless I make them happen. At my high school graduation, the headmaster spoke about how Winston Churchill – for whom my alma mater is named after – dared himself to do great things. And he did. I’m fully capable of doing great things. If Churchill dared himself to do great things and succeeded, so can I. I’m up to the challenge.
Brian Lafferty is an Autistic adult currently living in San Diego, California. He graduated cum laude from California State University, Fullerton with a degree in Radio/TV/Film, and has been East County Magazine’s film critic since 2009. He welcomes letters at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @BrianLaff.