By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC

Vanessa Karbowski of Sayresville, New Jersey, was diagnosed as a child with developmental delays, but didn't find out until recently, at age 26, of having a milder form of autism spectrum disorder, one that used to be called Asperger's syndrome.

The National Institute of Mental Health states that autism spectrum disorder, in part, is characterized by deficits in social communication and social interaction, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities.

Karbowski said over the telephone about growing up, “I was picked on a lot. From middle school to high school I was bullied. Girls would bully me, make fun of me, and do things like try to untie my shoes to make me fall down. Another kid in high school drop-kicked me between my legs while I was at a football game.”

In 2009, she was able to graduate from high school, even though academics were challenging. Lately, she has been searching for employment, which has been difficult for her to find due to her disabilities and the currently soft economy. She may be enrolling soon in a skin care esthetician school.

Her parents have been great. “They've taken me out to places to keep me busy, helped me get jobs, and they helped me with school,” she said. “They help keep my mind off the things that have been troubling me, such as having a hard time making friends. My family is very important to me.”

Karbowski said she had “given up” on having close friends, and said past friends often used her to her detriment. She said friends “come and go,” but her family would always be there. Most of her time lately has involved spending quality time with a one-year-old niece and a family dog, a mutt born in Puerto Rico.

Just being interviewed for this column was a big first step for her. For example, she said, “[Having been diagnosed with autism recently] sometimes makes me want to hide and not be honest about having it. I kind of feel ashamed and embarrassed that people may look at or treat me differently.But yet, people saying you can't do certain things just makes you want to fight all the more to overcome your obstacles. I want to be published (in this column) so people can hear my voice and know they can overcome difficulties like the ones I've experienced.

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