~ 3 minute read
During these unprecedented times, it is more important than ever to show compassion and empathy for others. To help those who are in need. To be open and upfront by speaking out regarding mental health.
During a global pandemic, I know this past year has taught me a lot. It taught me to be positive, humble, show dignity, reveal uncomfortable facts, appreciate the little things (the little things matter) and, of course, to inspire and lead by example. Living my life on the autism spectrum, I have struggled with so many mental health challenges related to living with the complex neurological condition. This includes:
- Behavioural traits
- Communication issues
- Forming relationships
- Making eye contact
- Reading social cues
- Anxiety issues
- Occasional fixation on certain topics
Important note: autism is a broad spectrum. Everyone living with the condition will identify differently and have different levels of support needs, ranging from minimal to 24/7 care. My condition is Pervasive Developmental Delay (PDD), a mild and high functioning form of autism, causing my development growth to be delayed a few years. At 31 years of age, I tend to possess the mentality of a 25-26 year old. Uniquely, my personality may also resemble a 40-45 year old character too, putting a Days of Futures Past combination lifestyle talent together.
In light of this past year's social justice movement, I reflected deeply and concluded that I have been a lifetime victim of systemic discrimination. This means I have been unconsciously and unceremoniously mistreated, misunderstood and looked at differently by all walks of society simply for being autistic and behaving and doing things differently than neurotypicals. From being bullied, named called, labelled and told I couldn't do this or that - it was truly a horrific feeling. I want to be crystal clear - this is not about being "good or bad", "better or worse", or "black and white." I am just perceived as "being different" or "neurodiverse." Instead of being put down, I got back up and only became more motivated to prove everyone wrong that I could get far in life.
Much of autism being highly misunderstood is due to lack of education, naivety, misleading and simplistic notions (leading to false narratives and stereotypes), and limited resources to help families dealing with autism. While I have been fortunate to have the means and support system to help me overcome my injustices, I want to acknowledge the reality that not every family dealing with autism will be as fortunate.
After years of struggling to cope with autism, I have learned to accept and acknowledge that autism is truly a gift that has provided me many unique talents. Through the thick and thin, I persevered and worked through great lengths to be able to achieve anything I set my mind to. From driving a car, getting a business degree, joining social circles, making lifelong friends, moving downtown and owning my own condo, working at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, engaging in forms of social activism, being a world geography nerd and of course - travelling the world to 34 countries on four continents, I am truly proud of all these achievements and I would not have accomplished this without autism being part of my identity. The challenges are harder, but the rewards have been greater. I left my comfort zone and succeeded (and still succeeding).
I am here to be an advocate to help people deal with forms of autism and mental health issues. Know that if you are feeling fearful and afraid - I want to let you know that you are not alone. I am here to help. I am here to talk to you. And I am here to show compassion and listen.
I will sum up this conversation by providing friendly advice on how we can educate ourselves and others on learning about autism awareness. To be a part of the solution and enact positive change. Some recommendations I have:
- Ask me uncomfortable questions regarding autism - I'm here to speak about my own experiences and inspire others leading by example
- Research platforms that do work in Autism Awareness and education
- Talk to families and organizations that currently deal with loved ones living with autism
- Have more uncomfortable conversations with people living on the autism spectrum and learn about their firsthand experiences
Stay safe and keep healthy, everyone. Sending all my positive vibes, support and leadership to you all.
With Courage & Kindness,
About Paul Walderman
Paul Walderman is a young adult who lives independently and owns a condominium in downtown Toronto. Paul currently works as a digital content specialist in marketing with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, primarily focused on Toronto Argonauts related content and has successfully published a variety of articles on Argonauts.ca including 3rd & 5, Tale of the Two Chads, & Shovel Pass. He has future aspirations to become an international autism education advocate, using his own life experiences on the spectrum to inspire and enact change for the inclusion of autistic individuals in society, notably to advocate for autistic representation in leadership roles. Paul holds a diploma in business administration from George Brown College and liberal arts knowledge in history and world social issues. During his spare time, Paul enjoys hanging with family & friends, watching sports, cycling, fitness, reading books, astronomy and has travelled the world across four different continents including adventures in Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
DISCLAIMER: This document reflects the views of the author. It is Autism Ontario’s intent to inform and educate. Every situation is unique and while we hope this information is useful, it should be used in the context of broader considerations for each person. Please contact Autism Ontario at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-246-9592 for permission to reproduce this material for any purpose other than personal use. © 2021 Autism Ontario 416.246.9592 www.autismontario.com