Teen Helps Others with Autism
Rather than be interviewed over the telephone for this column, 17-year-old Meghan Rodo of Reisterstown, Maryland, chose email.
In part, here's why: "In the past, I had diagnoses of selective mutism, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, auditory processing disorder, and expressive and receptive language delay, and anxiety 'not otherwise specified.' No doctor ever put this all together as autism until I was 15 years old," wrote Rodo. That diagnosis came as a relief because she finally had the answer to many lifelong questions.
A National Institutes of Health website describes autism spectrum disorder as causing "severe and pervasive impairment in thinking, feeling, language, and the ability to relate to others."
Rodo said her toughest life challenge involves having to talk with people. She feels afraid to talk, and seldom knows what to say. For example, referring to her church youth group, she said, "It can be a scary place to talk because it's loud. The people talk a lot there and they talk really fast. That makes me scared and anxious. The kids and adults encourage me to talk and ask questions. Sometimes kids ignore me, which makes me feel sad. In the past, kids used to make fun of me, saying I was dumb. That made me feel sad, too."
Rodo has made great strides through a social skills group that has helped her learn how to talk with people. She said, "In the group, I write what I want to say on paper first before I talk. There are ten kids and we take turns talking. We start with a 'check in' where we talk about what we did on the weekend and how we're doing. I feel like the social skills group has helped. I also meet with a speech therapist to work on conversations needed on the job. "
She also has improved her life skills through occupational therapy, a recreation group for teens with autism called Disability Express, a Young Life group, and a family friend who teaches her art and talks and plays games with her.
Rodo has authored a book to help girls with autism. It's called, Are You a Girl with Autism? Me Too, and is available on Amazon.com.
Advising other girls with autism, she said, "Keep trying to talk, don't worry about whatever worries you, and join social skills groups to work on answering questions."
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Daniel J. Vance is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor from Vernon Center, Minn. His weekly newspaper column Disabilities has been published in more than 260 newspapers.
Daniel J. Vance may be reached at www.danieljvance.com