As he did last summer, Benjamin is again working for Cultiva, an urban agriculture youth-initiative that offers organic produce to the Boulder community. After a few weeks of weeding, planting, and harvesting alongside kids who might have silently wondered about Benjamin’s various autistic mannerisms, he spoke to the group, educating his peers with the power-point presentation that has garnered so much praise.
The kids were surprised to hear that, as a two-year-old, Benjamin was completely nonverbal and socially isolated, taken over by obsessions and self-stimulatory behaviors. After he was diagnosed as having a classic case of regressive autism, I embarked on an intensive course of intervention, stimulating Benjamin to learn and expand his horizons. Over the course of many years of uninterrupted work, Benjamin became verbal, learned important life skills, and has grown into being an exceptionally social person, in spite of his difficulties with interpreting other people’s signals and communications.
Despite his autism, Benjamin has developed into a tremendously caring individual, and he becomes deeply concerned when he sees instances of unfairness and bullying, and also when he considers the small slights and hurts that come with daily life. He himself was the target of much teasing and bullying from his late elementary school years through the beginnings of high school, and Benjamin now works hard at educating people about “being different”, trying to grow understanding and compassion in others. Benjamin’s natural talents lie in the area of stage performance (theater, music, public speaking), and he is using his gifts to make an impact on the world.
In Benjamin’s words, “I use my personal story as a way to teach people about autism. My presentation is a 28-slide power-point where I give a lot of basic information about what autism is and how it can affect people, and at the same time, I show lots of great photos from my life that illustrate what I’m talking about. I’ve done many different kinds of therapy—and am continuing that, even now—and so I can give people a good summary of what’s involved in learning to speak and also in learning to use social skills; plus, I talk about the various body-therapies I’ve done. I also talk about how my life is now, and the challenges that still come up every day. I want people to become more understanding and compassionate. I’m also working to inspire college-age students. I’m hoping that some of them will become autism-specialists—so that they can help the many kids that are being diagnosed nowadays.”