Paul Morris, an adult with autism, gave a compelling and inspiring account of his journey from childhood to adulthood at ASF’s Science & Sandwiches event last night. Paul asked his psychiatrist, Dr. Andres Martin, Psychiatrist at the Yale Child Study Center, to help him share his story. In a candid discussion, Paul asked Dr. Martin a series of questions about what he was like when he first became his patient, and how he was different as an adult.
During the discussion, Paul explained that he used to be non-verbal and faced significant challenges as a result of his autism. As he grew older, his determination to achieve independence and lead a life comparable to his neurotypical siblings motivated him to become the self-sufficient, happily employed member of society he is today. Remarking on Paul’s growth, tenacity, confidence, and passion for autism advocacy, Dr. Martin called Paul a source of inspiration for families affected by autism.
This is a transcript of the speech Paul gave at the event:
My name is Paul Morris. Many of you know me from the past. Some of you worked with me. I was non-verbal until age 5. I had to be taught how to speak, how to listen and how to think. The years were hard. Sometimes I just didn’t understand. But look at me now. I graduated from the College Internship Program at the Berkshire Center in Lee, MA.
I have always wanted to do public speaking at various colleges for people who major in psychology and special education. I want to talk about my life with autism.
Autism is a genetic disorder that affects the brain and communication. When I was a little boy I did not know that I was different. When I became an older person, I wanted to do my own things, like hang out with friends, like my brothers Jesse, and Tyler, and my sister Sabrina. I did not know how to hang out with friends.
My parents wanted me to learn how to speak and communicate. It is not only about words, it is about behavior. It took me a long time to learn how to socialize with people. I am still learning what that means.
When I went to Middle School, the kids didn’t understand me. I think they were afraid of me because of my autism. It also took a long time for people to know how to socialize with someone like me. I didn’t understand when kids told me to do wrongdoings. Sometimes kids are rude.
Then there were the kids that were nice to me. They were kind and they sat next to me in the cafeteria but I did not go to recess because they said it wasn’t good for me. Today, I would suggest that special ed kids should go to recess and have an aide help them.
I learned that language is not only about speaking. It is about relationships. I was taught relationship development intervention. It was very hard for me. Eye contact was hard for me to do in the beginning but “Look me in the eye”, I am good at it now.
I met Dr. Martin in 1999. I couldn’t control myself. I would explode. I would obsess. I would cry in pain. He tried to help me with medicine.
The best things about High School were small classes in English and Math. I also enjoyed lunch groups in the guidance office. We made a friendship blanket and everyone signed it. Some of those kids were very nice to me and still contact me by phone, email and Facebook.
I started the College Internship Program in Lee, Massachusetts on July 3, 2006. The program was called ASPIRE. I looked up the definition of aspire. It means to dream, to pursue, to try, to wish, to struggle. I struggled in the beginning. Living on my own, I learned about hygiene, cooking, cleaning, how to get a job, self-awareness, taking care of money and figure out my problems.
Classes like theory of mind, realizing about how others talk to you and hidden curriculum were challenging. The C-STEP (Career Skills Training Employment Program) is very important for people who don’t go to college. I took classes in Self -awareness, critical thinking, English, Math, Working with people, Office procedures, Succeeding in the world of work, Business correspondence, and Internships. My best internship was at the Norman Rockwell Museum doing data entry and mailings to colleges for Art History Programs.
Advising sessions were very important at CIP. We did self -assessment forms. I rated my performance every week, and my advisor did it too. The ratings are listed as Under-performing, Average, Honors & Mentor.
One day freshman year my parents invited me to a Brewers/Mets game. My Mom gave me an option A: Do you want to go and find a way to get yourself home? Or B: Do you want to stay at school? I picked A. I researched Peter Pan Bus on the Internet and learned that I could take a bus from Lee, Massachusetts to Danbury, Connecticut. I bought the ticket and traveled by myself. When I stepped off the bus I said “The mentor has arrived!”
When I graduated in May, I was on Mentor status for 26 weeks in a row. At our graduation convocation ceremony I won the award for Most Improved Student. I also earned a certificate for 44 hours of community service, because I performed in a puppet show for children and sent toiletries to Africa. My favorite award, which I won 3 years in a row, was for Recreational Excellence. I never missed a meeting on Monday nights, where I made suggestions for weekend activities. I researched directions on map quest, how much it cost and assisted the Residential Coordinator in planning. I also was an officer in student senate.
It has been a very long way for me. I have worked very hard to achieve.
I now live in New York. I work at New York Medical College as a human resource assistant. I do data entry, scanning, shredding, copying, filing, and mailings. My supervisor, Tom is my mentor and friend. I wrote a letter to President Obama in 2009:
Dear President Obama,
My name is Paul Morris and I am a 21 year old guy who is high-functioning autistic. I was non-verbal until the age of 5. Now that I am looking for work and living with roommates, I am worried about my life. It’s going poorly for autistic adults because the funding is over. I want you to create programs for autism spectrum disorders. Today, you donate lots of money to autism.
From, Paul Morris
I want new interventions to help with autistic people. I want good education for them to learn. I want jobs and help with living. I want to do great things.
Thank you for listening.