By Leya Aronoff
My name is Leya. I am 16 years old and will be a senior in high school next year. Today, I would like to share with you something special about myself.
When I was two and a half, I was diagnosed with autism. At the time, fourteen years ago, there weren’t many programs specifically for autistic children readily available. I attended a special education preschool, where I learned my first words. In 1st grade, when my classmates learned to read and write, I couldn’t. During that time, we found out that I also had dyslexia. Reading was so hard for me that after attempting to read two or three sentences, I would burst in tears. My parents tried to resolve the problem by taking me to an intensive reading course, which didn’t help very much. This problem lingered until the end of 2nd grade. My parents came across a therapy program, which is a series of exercises that stimulate the senses, and were tailored specifically for autism. This helped me more than anyone could imagine. After six months of the program, I started to catch up to my classmates, and learning how to read wasn’t physically painful anymore. I continued on the program for almost a year and a half. Slowly, other aspects of my life started changing as well. I started eating more diverse foods and being in loud places or new situations stopped being scary. My earliest memories are from when I started this program. In fact, I don’t remember anything before 2nd grade.
By age 13, I had overcome most of the symptoms of autism and dyslexia, but I hadn’t found my “voice.” Sure, I answered questions and talked to people. But I couldn’t talk to people about my feelings and opinions and realizations. I hadn’t figured out how to show or express these things in a way that would make people understand.
In 8th grade, my family went on a ski trip. At that time, I had been homeschooled. So, one of my assignments was to write a descriptive essay. Naturally, I looked out the window, saw the snow-covered mountains and skiers, and thought about writing about skiing on a mountain. After I finished writing, my mom (my teacher), took it and corrected little mistakes here and there. Then, she took another look through it and said, “You know, your essay has a rhythm. If you cut the lines shorter, it can be read as a poem.” And that is exactly what I did. Out came my first, wonderfully-written poem. Knowing how I struggled with reading and writing earlier in my life, I was stunned by the fact that I just wrote a poem in the first place. This is how it went:
Up the chair lift
Cold creeping up on you,
Numbing every part of your body.
Takes hours for it to wear off
So it seems
While hanging in the cold,
You seek the better skiers
Skiing beneath you
With grace and aggression blending
Feeling happiness and joy as they go
Finally, off we go
Feet on the ground again
Brings your power back
Looking for the place to go,
Not too easy, not too difficult
With powder, but not moguls
Groomed, yet not icy
With fresh snow, not slush
We choose, we go
Down, down through the snow
Trails show the way
Trees keep the boundaries
Smelling the fresh snow
While fresh cold air hits your face
Skis carving snow
Joy and happiness on the skis
Make you feel powerful
Make you feel unstoppable
Make you feel professional
All of a sudden,
One little hesitation,
One little ditch,
One little mistake,
And you take to the ground
Tumble after tumble
Seeing only whiteness of snow
The sound of your breath
The pounding of your heart
Then, it stops.
All the aching
Snow in your cloths
No skis on your feet
Power starts to fade
You find your skis,
Snap them back on,
Ski the rest of the way,
Down to the chair,
And you go through it
All over again.
Once I got home from that trip, I dashed straight for the computer and wrote poems all day. I had found my voice. Every time I finished a poem, I felt amazing, like I just got let out of my cage. My poetry unlocked a door that no one, not even myself, knew was there.
Now, writing poems does so much for me. It helps calm me down. It helps me figure out what is actually going on in my life. It helps me find myself in times when I feel lost.
Here is an example:
Whenever the world feels like
There is no room for you,
You don’t belong,
Or nothing seems to work out,
That’s when you need
To stand out the most.
And show yourself to everyone
Let them know you are unique,
Special, one of a kind
Make them want to be with you,
Learn from you,
And even look up to you
Because you are special
You are your own person, and no one else
And you just have to know the person you are
And believe in the person you want to be.
Because you are the only person who can
Show the world who you are.
I have spent half my life without communication. Only three years ago did I find my “voice.” I believe everyone has a voice. If you haven’t found yours yet, it isn’t too late to start looking. Even if the barriers between you and your voice seem impossible to overcome, you have the power to find it in yourself.
Your “voice” can come out through anything, not just through spoken or written language. It can be expressed through dance, sports, visual arts, photography, film, music, or even through fashion. It can be shown in more wacky, non-conventional ways, like bouncing on a pogo-stick or making strange concoctions of food. It doesn’t matter how far-fetched or seemingly crazy your idea may seem, as long as you can express yourself while being safe and respectful, then that is all that matters.
Since I found my voice I made a resolution to share my story with the people who need it. To help others who are still searching. I started an inspirational blog on Tumblr: AndSeeWhereItTakesYou.tumblr.com. If you too need some happy thoughts and encouragement from time to time it’s a great place to get some inspiration. I also took my story to the stage at TEDxYouth in Hollywood. Please watch: You Only Live Once
Being autistic is not your final destination. It is just another milestone in the journey of being alive. It only means that your “voice” is hidden somewhere in the fog of your brain. But through hard work and believe in yourself your “voice” can break free.
Now, it’s your turn to believe in your inner “voice,” let the world hear it, and see where it takes you.
Editors Note: I am so proud of Leya. She is such a strong positive force for families and individuals living with autism. She truly has shared her personal story and feelings to help educate and empower families. I admire her success story and triumph over coming obstacles. She has such a promising future and I cannot wait to see what she does next!! ~ Lisa
More recovery stories can be found on the TACA website: https://www.tacanow.org/category/family-stories/recovered-from-autism/
What therapy program is she referring to?
Sensory Enrichment therapy. This therapy has now gone through clinical trial at UCI. It is also available to parents through the portal http://www.mendability.com
– does SET (Sensory Enrichment Therapy) have some potential to help 14-15 years male with Asperger’s syndrome?
The long winded answer: We currently have a few teenagers and even some young adults using Sensory Enrichment Therapy on the Mendability site. From my personal (non-professional) observations I can say that we can see progress with these children but results vary. I think that the issue is one of cooperation and motivation. In many ways SET is like workout. Some people quickly get accustomed to a workout regime, set goals and achieve success and others cannot get themselves off the couch. The children that are motivated and are disciplined about the therapy usually see the best results. I found that with teenagers the best thing to do is to explain to them the goal and let them participate in the management of the therapy (i.e. to log into the website and report progress, respond to questioners, etc.). What Leya has successfully done is set specific social and communication goals: when I go to that party I want to get to the point that I will________. Then fill in the blanks. These are “willpower” goals. The therapy builds the confidence, improve overall social/communication skill and provides a mental crutch to garnish the confidence to “make a move”. BTW, we talked with Leya a lot about self-confidence. I should probably write a blog about that too….
Leya, we are so proud of you. Go girl!
Your parents and brother.
In the cheering crowd with the rest of your family Leya! YOU GO GIRL!! Thank you so much for sharing hope and empowering others. That is truly wonderful. Hugs ~ Lisa
How long stay at general edu class and/ or homeschool ?
What is the most helpful to break speech/language ? ABA therapy ? Game play ? , play date with peer , reading book ?
God bless your future ! So awesome to read your story !!!
Leya learned to talk using an ABA like program. Initially she used sign language, then “pre canned” language, and finally by the age of 5-6 she was able to use free flow language. During that time we used a combination of therapies and tutors while we too engaged in trying to help Leya with game play and travel.
Then we registered her to public school for K through second grade. But it became obvious that it is very hard for Leya to read and write. In second grade we enrolled her in Lindamood Bell reading program, but that was a torture for Leya.
We started Sensory Enrichment therapy between second and third grade. That is when Leya broke out of her shell and started to really interact. However, she was still way behind. We tried private school but it was not much help. So Yael decided to homeschool her. We homeschooled Leya all the way to high school. Then at 14 she went to a regular (private) high school. No one in school really knew anything about Leya’s past. As you could see by clicking on her TED talk, she initially struggled with the social aspect of high school. But she managed to overcome that challenge too. Leya turned out to be a very good student. Next year she is even taking AP Literature (can you believe that?)
Today Leya has this amazing combination. She has the great analytical and math brain power typical to autistic kids, but it is coupled with this amazing outgoing personality that she recently developed.
I wrote a blog about our journey with Leya. Look for it to come on this blog soon 🙂
Leya, which program were you in, that helped you immense
HI Sean – Leya’s father Eyal replied in another comment on this blog.
We love you always, and now even more.
By telling your personal story , you are making a difference and inspiring others.
Keep up this optimism and hard work and get to places you want to be-nothing will stop you.