Whew, it's been a hot minute since I have posted on here. In fact.. it's been a few years! SO much has happened since my last post and I have been incredibly busy speaking around the state and working as an advocate. Since our last check in, here are some things I have been busy with..
Some days are challenging and filled with meetings and activities but I am so grateful for all the opportunities I have had and continue to have. The shy and unsure middle school Ashley would be so proud of who I am today.
My goal is to continue to share my story, my journey and all my ups and downs with you right here on this blog. I promise to be transparent and open always.. as we know life is full of the unexpected. Autism certainly poses many challenges but I will continue to let it motivate me to help others.
Be kind to yourself and others.
Until next time
As we start the beginning of 2018, I begin to reflect on this year for me. 2017 has definitely been a year of up and downs. First, on a positive note this year, my sister and I started a company called Soap Sisters and we have been very successful. If you haven't already checked out our products go to soapsisterswi.com or facebook.com/soapsisterwi. I have been a keynote speaker in Marshfield in front of 150 people and asked to speak around the state of WI at several major conferences. Also, I graduated from an Entrepreneurial program at Nicolet College. But to be a advocate, I have to realize that sometimes my autism has a major impact on my life with this year being no different with anxiety, panic attacks and feeling depressed. With that said, I couldn’t help think of the song ‘’ Roar" by Katy Perry, because the song "Roar" is about falling down and getting back up. I don’t know what 2018 will hold for me but I am a determined woman and I know I can do anything I set my mind too. I am confident 2018 will be a GREAT YEAR! I have several major goals for this year including making state for track in the 200M, 400M and 800M, start working towards independent living in my own apartment, continue my advocating and aggressively push for more Job Opportunities for the Special Needs Community, grow our Soap Sisters business and make a dent in this world one step at a time.
What are your goals? I would love to hear from you!
Cheers to all of us having a great 2018
As I think about the last year in review I have had a lot of accomplishments but always some more obstacles to overcome. I couldn’t help but think of the song “I Will Rise Up” by Andra Day. The song is about overcoming barriers. One of the things I have been taught recently is that we learn from our failures; either it’s a lesson or there is going to be a positive outcome. I don’t mean to talk everyone’s ear off about failure, but what I have learned is I would rather fail then never try. In the past two months, I have been thinking about moving on my own. It’s going to be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. In my journey to get my apartment I am having to prove to my parents I am capable of living on my own. I’m like a child learning how to walk, the mother doesn’t hold the child back from walking, but like anything it takes time and patience. The child keeps trying to get up and walk! I have the drive and commitment to prove I can be independent. Yes, I am going to make mistakes, everyone does, but I would rather learn than live my life locked in a box. Because; you see we learn from our failures, whether we have a disability or not. Before I end this message, I thought I would end with a word about confidence. Even the most confident people have their moments when they feel down and let failure or pressure take them, but we rise from falling. That’s how we learn, that’s how we grow together! We can become the best we can be by failing and at the end of the day we will rise up!!
As 2016 comes to a screeching hault and the new year begins to unfold, I wanted to take some time to reflect on whats happened over the last 365 days. The past week or so, I've seen some really funny memes on social media where people are classifying this last year as an "ugly" person or bad hair day and having high hopes for the new year. Although I too am excited to begin a whole new year, I have to say that 2016 wasn't too shabby.
Over the last 365 days, I really transformed from a shy, sheltered girl into a bold, confident and determined woman. As part of this blog, I wanted to share with you, my year in review. This timeline is for everyone out there who's dreams don't break the ceiling, who's hopes are not high as the sky. I was the girl who sat in the corner, the girl who had no hope. Today, I am here not because of dumb luck but because people believed in me and most importantly, I believed in myself. Get up, get a pencil and a piece of paper and make your dreams happen, make a plan, and get it done.
Before we officially wave goodbye to the year 2016, I want to first thank everyone who has believed in me and helped me get to where I am today. First and foremost, I want to thank my mom, dad and sister for their continuous support every single day and for everything they have done to get me here. The traveling, the rearraging of schedules and the dedication to my dreams has been unreal, thank you fam!
I also want to thank Katherine Garrison; without you, I know I would never have been given the opportunities I have. You have instilled in me a confidence I would have never thought thinkable and I cannot thank you enough for that.
Finally, I want to thank all of my extended family and friends for the continuous support and following me along on this crazy but exciting journey! Every person who has reached out to me, congratulated me, followed my blogs, etc, has played a huge part in my successes and I thank each and every one of you.
I wish all of you a happy and blessed new year. I cannot wait to see what these next 365 days will hold. Always believe in yourself, set your dreams higher than you can see and make this year count!
Until next time
First and absolutely foremost, I wanted to apologize for taking so long to post another article. I have been INSANELY busy lately and haven't had a spare minute to sit down with my computer. Over the past couple months, I transitioned back up north where I live for the winter months. So much has been happening, it has been such a whirlwind. First, I started an internship at a local newspaper as a journalist. I also started CNA classes, booked 3 speaking engagements, was named the Assistant to the Assistant of the Dean of my local college and have interviewed two Wi Senators. Life has truly been crazy but an absolute blessing!
Any who, with everything that has been happening in my life lately, I really got thinking about how life wasn't always this great. I wasn't always this happy, I didn't always have so many people surrounding me. In fact, I used to stand alone in the corner.. every. single. day. I used to be so alone and so depressed that my family was incredibly worried. In middle school, I was alone. I mean, no friends at all. At lunch, I would eat alone. At recess, I would walk to the corner of the building and face the wall, just staring at the brick wall pretending no one saw me and I couldn't see them. When my parents caught wind of what was happening, they immediately put work on hold to take "shifts" to come have lunch with me to make sure I wasn't alone every day. Despite the, ever so tremendous efforts by my parents, I still just wasn't happy. Kids were so mean back then, middle school was just a nightmare. Never, I mean NEVER in a million years did I think I'd ever end up doing something great, where even the most popular kids were congratulating and looking up to you. Turns out what people say is true, anything is possible.
After middle school I was quite worried about what high school might bring. To my surprise, it wasn't as bad as middle school was. The kids became nicer, I made several friends, and I finally saw some happier days. When high school came to an end, I had no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I learned about a program up north where I could take some college classes and from there I met some amazing people who have really built the foundation for all of my successes there after.
I don't mean to talk everyone's ears out about every step of my journey but, I did have a point to make. As I reminisced on the (not so great) days of middle school and compared them to where I am now, I couldn't help but think of Toby Keith's, "How do you like me now?". Anything truly is possible. You might be in a place right now where no one is believing in you, where you feel absolutely alone. But, that doesn't matter. Believe in yourselves and prove to all those who didn't think you could, that YOU CAN. You are capable of more than what others think and more than what you think. And when you finally get where you're going, it's okay to stand up proud, show off your biggest smile and ask them, HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW? (In your most humble voice, of course)
Until next time
When I tell people for the first time that I am on the Autism Spectrum, I find that I get a wide variety of responses. However, I find that very rarely is the response filled with positivity and excitement. I'm not saying that having Autism is the most exciting thing in the world but, I decided recently to think about what DOES make Autism exciting. Instead of talking about my struggles with my "disability", I want to shed some light on all the things I love about being "different".
1. People with Autism are brutally honest
Honesty is something that everyone and anyone can value but few can say they have never told a little white lie before. Those on the spectrum are the few and far in between. I have found that it is almost impossible to tell even the smallest white lie. When we give you our word, we mean it!
2. Individuals with disabilities get to participate in Special Olympics
This is one of my FAVORITE things about having a disability. Special Olympics has allowed me to make the greatest friends, gain a large amount of confidence and to feel incredibly special.
3. People with Autism are empathetic and passionate
Of course, people without Autism can be very empathetic and passionate as well. However, I have found that living on the spectrum, you have more empathy for others who are different. I also find that people with Autism are passionate about everything they do and love with everything they have. Pretty cool, huh?
4. Autistic people have incredible memories
When I was in high school, I had a friend of mine (on the spectrum) that could, on command, tell you every state with their capitol and at least one fun fact about it. Our memories are something that really sets us apart. My family sometimes laughs at how well I can remember every detail about an event (usually one they hoped I had forgotten). Even the highest dosage of fish oil won't get you this memory!
5. Having mild Autism allows me to advocate
There are a wide variety of forms and variations of Autism. A lot of people diagnosed are even non-verbal. Having a mild case and being gifted with a voice allows me the opportunity to advocate and share my story with hopes of spreading awareness and respect for everyone on the spectrum.
6. People with Autism are non-judgemental
High school can be a living hell for a lot of people, especially girls. Everyone is always judging each other on their outfit choice or who they are friends with. One thing about living with Autism is that we don't judge people. I don't care what you're wearing to school, what brand of backpack you have draped over your shoulder or what clique you hangout with. If you're nice to me, I'm cool with you! "Did we just become best friends?"
7. Autism keeps you young at heart
This one is for all the parents out there who need a little Autism pick me up. My mom has told me countless of times how thankful she is for my innocence and how I will always be a child at heart. Rarely do you have to worry about us at some sketchy rave. Instead, you can find me curled up with a teddy bear watching some Disney Channel Original.
8. Those with Autism are persistent
Because of our impeccable memories, we are able to stay persistent because we do not forget. If I have a goal in mind, I won't be able to stop until I have reached that goal. Giving up, or forgetting about it, just isn't an option.
9. Autistic people have a superb work ethic
Because we can't lie and because of our persistence, we make great employees. We are driven and dedicated, loyal and detail oriented. If you ask us to perform a task or do a job, I can promise you that job will be done to perfection (it just might take a little time).
10. People with Autism are intelligent and gifted
I am sure you have heard stories before about the unbelievable minds of people with Autism. Each of us is gifted in a different way, with different talents. However, one thing is said to be true for all of those on the spectrum, we are beyond smart. It is even said that Albert Einstein and Mozart would be diagnosed with Autism in the present day.
Although this list stops at 10, the reasons why I love having Autism could go on forever. Yes, I have days where I really wish I could change things about my disability. However, I know that the only thing and the best thing to do is focus on what makes my life so great. So whether you are on the spectrum or not, here is a friendly reminder to think about all the things that make your life the BEST!
Until next time,
Random Human: "Hi, how are you today?"
Me: (looking down) "good"
Random Human: "Are you alright, is something wrong?"
NOOOPE nothing is wrong, random person, this is just me communicating in the most "normal" way I can even if that means I'm looking at this concrete floor.
Educating people on Autism and creating awareness is by far one of the biggest goals of mine. My entire life I have had to deal with people either not understanding or completely misunderstanding me. Autism doesn't have a logo and each and every person on the spectrum is unique. We are your neighbors, your waiters and your clerks and we look just like anyone else. Thats the thing that makes being on the spectrum so difficult; you don't slow down for us because we're sitting in a wheel chair and you don't become more patient because its apparent we have Down's Syndrome. Instead, I have found that people look at you like you're the "weird girl" who walks a little sideways, stutters when she talks and doesn't pick up on your everyday social cues. Don't even get me started on how difficult it can be to go out in public and shopping sometimes. The weird looks we get when my sister has to explain she needs to join me in the dressing room to help or the eye rolling when I ask if my food can be placed on separate plates; the list goes on. However, I'm not here to complain. But, I am here to educate and inform.
In general, this world could really benefit from everyone being nicer to their neighbors. When you ask people what they would do if they could change the world, I bet you 9/10 will say world peace. I know we live in a fast paced world and I know how hard it is to be a teenager who just wants to fit in. But let me tell you something, as you grow older you will find that it isn't "cool" to be a bully. Take the time to understand people, learn to have patience and live without judgement. So what if I start to flap my hands when I talk; I'm talking. And, I think its pretty darn cool that I was gifted with a voice to do so. Autism isn't the only "invisible disability" out there. There are millions of people living with conditions that you can't see. Instead of scowling or raising an eyebrow at the girl who talks to you while looking at the floor, smile at her, listen to her, and be a friend.
Anyways, enough rambling for the night. In the end, we can all work on being more kind and patient, myself included. There is no sense in downgrading people because they do things or think differently then you. If we were all the same, this world would be a pretty boring place. If you take away anything from this post, I hope its this: We rise by lifting others. Be kind, be patient, and be the reason someone smiles today.
DISCLAIMER: This post is full of positivity. Negative Nancy's, read with caution.
Lately I've found myself continuously repeating Chumbawamba's famous lyrics, "I get knocked down, but I get up again. You're never going to keep me down". These lyrics have been keeping me strong through some, not so bright, days. Recently, I had an opportunity to meet one of my BIGGEST idols, whom I have looked up to and admired for several years. I have related to her as a fellow adult on the Autism spectrum and have truly looked up to her drive and determination to make a difference in this world. Preparing for my encounter, I wrote up several questions and even purchased a book to have her sign. I couldn't wait to share my own story with her and hopefully learn from each other. The excitement that filled me was evident and I shook in anticipation as I entered the building where my idol was waiting. As I walked up and introduced myself, my world was turned upside down. I was immediately cut off, talked down to, ignored, humiliated, and left holding onto crushed dreams. In this moment, I was left speechless and frozen. I couldn't help but think of Hazel from The Fault In Our Stars when she traveled across the country only to be completely disgusted in her own idol and favorite author. Oh, Hazel I feel your pain girl.
The truth is, I never got the chance to tell this idol of mine who I really was. I had so many things to share with her, so many accomplishments and dreams I was eager to discuss. Minutes, hours, and even days after this event I have taken the time to really think about this experience. I have pondered and thought about things from every which way and direction imaginable. I've lost hope in my future and found it again countless times. Finally, more than two weeks later, I have settled all these negative feelings that have taken control of me and am (finally) at ease.
When it comes down to it, a huge part of life is based on perspective. Are you a glass half full or half empty kind of lad? Go and Google search quotes about positive thinking and you get almost 5 million hits! The past few weeks have certainly been a huge test for me but have also reminded me to always look on the brighter side, find that silver lining and believe in yourself. There are always going to be people in your life that will bring you down, sometimes even the people you admire most. But, at the end of the day you can either let them make you or break you and quite honestly, I'll be damned if I ever let the opinion of one person ever break me. The truth is, I am proud of my accomplishments. I have overcome battles that no doctor ever thought was possible. I have jumped over hurdles and broken down walls, and I'm not even close to being finished. My journey is full of up's and down's. I have a lot more to learn and a long way's to go but, I am proud of me. And, you should be proud of you! Life is crazy and people will bring you down but theres no excuse for not getting back up!
" No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" - Eleanor Rosevelt
"When you attend a Special Olympics Games, you begin to realize there is much more at work than simply athletic competition. On one hand, it is the story of years of tragedy transformed into pure joy, driven by the beauty of sheer effort. But at the same time, it is a profound statement of inclusion - that everybody matters, everybody counts, every life has value and every person has worth." -Nelson Mandela
For the fourth year in a row, I have had the AMAZING opportunity to participate in the state summer games for Special Olympics. This past weekend I was an Olympian as I raced my heart out in both the 200 meter and 400 meter track and field event. Before I get into the nitty gritty of this amazingly spectacular weekend (yes, I use the word amazing quite a bit), I want to tell you all how I got here in the first place.
It all started during my freshman year of high school when I was (sadly) denied a place on the track team for my high school because of a lack of "help" for my special "needs" and requirements but, thats a whole other story. During an IEP meeting, a staff member from my school had suggested that the high school track team was not the place for me but, instead I should consider Special Olympics. As we walked out of the meeting my mother's eyes filled with tears at the thought of me joining this team. She remembers thinking about how wrong this person was and that the individuals in Special Olympics were much more severe than her little baby. We were so wrong. Joining Special Olympics was and still is, hands down, one of the greatest decisions of my life. The positivity, the friendships, the teamwork, the unity, the love, are just a few reasons why I call my spot on this team home and why my teammates are like family. Truly, we are like a oversized family; we all have our little quirks but thats what makes us fit together so perfectly. Like, close your eyes and imagine being surrounded by those who GENUINELY wanted to see you succeed, encouraged you, cheered you on, picked you up when you were down, supported you and loved you unconditionally.. thats what its like to be apart of this team and this organization.
This past weekend was, to no surprise, another amazing experience. From the opening ceremonies to dancing with old friends and making some (pretty awesome) new ones, every moment was entirely heart filled. Although not every single one of us can receive the gold medal in every event, we know that we are all winners. We are winners of love, of friendships, and of support. We won acceptance as athletes and individuals and we won the love of the millions of people who support us and such an amazing organization that stands behind us. I am incredibly proud of my fourth place ribbon and bronze medal I went home with this past weekend but, I am even more thankful for the teacher who turned me down because, without that door closing, this one may have never opened. I am PROUD to be a SPECIAL OLYMPIAN.
"Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt" - Special Olympics athlete oath.
Until next time,