Autism Spectrum: “Gregge” A Whole New Life

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Gregge Sandusky

greggeI would like to introduce myself to you. My name is Gregge and I’m 13 years old (1999) with Autism. When I was around 2 years old I became weird acting. Something began to change in me according to my parents. I became a stranger to my family and had a lot of symptoms such as I quit talking, cried a lot of the time and threw tantrums if I was disturbed or made to leave the house. I was non-social and I didn’t understand what people said to me. Words didn’t sound then like they do now. At times I would repeat an activity over and over again. Sometimes I would hold something and examine it for the longest time. I was echolaic. If my parents asked if I was hungry I would either ignore them or repeat, “Are you hungry?” back at them if I was hungry. The hungrier I was the louder I yelled it at them. During that time I couldn’t respond to questions. I was in my own world. There were other things I did, like I walked awkward and on my toes, constantly flapped my hands, rocked back and forth, made a constant groaning noise and banged my head on things to relax. Loud noises really upset me and I would become scared and scream or plug my ears. Some odors bothered me so much that I would pull my shirt up over my face so I wouldn’t have to smell them. My parents said it was difficult to find something I would eat. That was because tastes and textures were offensive to me, but they didn’t know that. They saw I had geographic tongue, but the doctors couldn’t help. Another thing that was different about me was that I was very sensitive to temperatures. Something that was lukewarm to anyone else was scalding hot to me no matter if it was a bowl of soup or the bath water. I liked to be cuddled, but I didn’t really cuddle back. Sometimes I lined my toys up, but didn’t play with them as they were meant to be played with. I didn’t understand how to play make-believe games. Instead I wanted things to be in order. Also, I washed my hands a lot because I was afraid of germs, and in preschool I would run around the room waving my arms screaming. I was told I always played alone and did my own thing. If any kids bothered me I would bite them. It’s obvious I had “NO FRIENDS”! I didn’t realize friends were something good. I didn’t understand a lot of things. I knew my colors, alphabet, shapes, and numbers 1-100, but if anyone other than my family asked me anything about them I would not answer correctly because I didn’t want them to intrude into my world. I was in preschool for 2 years before the teachers knew I had learned those things at home. There are many more things that I didn’t list that describe my symptoms. I needed a whole new life.

My parents said they were devastated in the beginning because they didn’t know where to find answers and were unable to help me. I was first misdiagnosed as severely mentally retarded with an I.Q. in the low 70’s. Then later I was misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Central Auditory Processing Disorder. The school district wanted me bused to a school far away from home for the severely challenged. It was suggested by a panel of “experts” that I be institutionalized for the rest of my life. My parents were furious when they heard that! Sometimes moms and dads know more about their children then the experts do and tests don’t always show the truth. So they decided to search for answers somewhere else. That’s when they found NACD and got me on the program right away. In a matter of three weeks they were already noticing a difference in me! Our lives became better as we dared to hope again! Of course I wasn’t aware of most of this, but I do have memories from my “autistic days”.

Ever since those first days with NACD, I have become a successful person. I can do anything I try because I am not disabled anymore. Because I have come so far in my life, when I tell people I am autistic they do not believe me. That’s a good thing! I’m not ashamed to be autistic, but I like the fact that I can turn something bad into something good. What this means to me is that now I can help other people.

I was lucky to have my parents who stood by me the whole way through and I bet you want your kids to feel the same way about you. Some of these kids can’t speak for themselves, but I can speak up and I want them to have the same opportunity that I have had. All of us kids with disabilities don’t need your money, what we need is your time. Sometimes that is harder to come by. We need you to spend whatever time you can on giving us a chance to have a normal life with friends, laughter and happiness. I think of us as beautiful little birds stuck in our eggs. We can’t get out. We are stuck. That’s where you come into our lives! All you need to do is gently help us open the shell so we can emerge out into the world. Once out we can spread our wings and show everyone our true beautiful colors! With this little bit of help, we will give you ten-fold back for what you have done for us. Never stop believing and don’t ever listen to those who say things aren’t possible. My parents didn’t listen and I have a whole new life because of it.

My life now is filled with so much happiness and completion. There are so many things I do now and I love my life. I play very well at goalkeeper and defender in soccer. The kids like me and I am very popular with many friends. My favorite interests are computer and electronic games that require complex strategies and codes. It is easy for me to memorize codes, maps, floor plans, hints and other things from these games. There are many other things I like to do that are normal for boys my age, too.

Currently I am at least one year above grade level in all school subjects and over that in some. I like learning. Someday I want to go to college so I can become an electronic game maker and programmer. I would also like to help others by giving public speeches about Autism to give hope to families like mine.

My parents worked on emotions with me and now I feel all emotions, which wasn’t always the case. I had to be taught how to feel emotions and then what other people feel in different situations. My dog Joey also helped me with this. There has been a lot I have learned from him. I’ve come a long way in a few years. Someday I want to get married and love my children like my parents love me.

The quality of life can be improved for everyone by taking the time help us kids out of our shells. What this did for me is real and it can happen for you too. Never give up. I’m not going to. My life is great. I thank NACD and their loving supporters who gave me A Whole New Life.

Reprinted by permission of The NACD Foundation, Volume 13 No. 2, 2000 ©NACD